Tips For The Wines And Vintages To Buy In 2023
by Ken Gargett
New year is traditionally a time for taking stock and wine lovers are no different. Many will review their own cellars, assess what is ready for drinking, what needs more time and in some cases, what might have passed its best window. They will also look to the future. What should they target? Just what are the wines that they should add to their cellars.
Before we go any further down that rabbit hole, much will depend on your location – some places will provide opportunities that others are denied, not just because many places see wines others do not but it also depends on the quality of local retailers and what they stock.
Even more important is what you like to drink, now and in the future – yes, tastes change over time so a little clairvoyance is a useful skill – but there is little point in filling your cellar with great Champagne or Barolo, for example, if you don’t drink the stuff. And of course, there’s the question of your budget.
We have entered a brave new world when it comes to wine. The top wines – Grand Cru Burgundies, First Growth Bordeaux, great Napa Cabs, top Tuscans, the list goes on – have reached stratospheric prices compared to what wine lovers have enjoyed for many years.
Many of us who thought little of picking up at least a smattering of these wines every year now can only look on in envy or perhaps sell the firstborn to pick up a bottle or two. We simply have to make do with perhaps Premier Crus or Second and third Growths and so on. The good news is that these wines have rarely been better. One can still drink exceptionally well with a little thought.
Perhaps even more importantly, taking the opportunity to fill your cellars today will mean you can do so for the years ahead. Hard to see the prices of the best wines retreating much in the near future (or perhaps ever).
Champagne is a good place to start. As a friend says, you can never have too much good champagne and I heartily concur. We have seen some wonderful vintages released in recent years and many are still coming. There are still some 2008 champagnes around and this is a truly sensational vintage, for me the best since 1988, and there are serious similarities between the two years. Anyone serious about champagne needs as much 2008 in their cellar as they can get.
If you missed ’08, fear not. There is plenty more. 2009 and 2010 have produced some decent wines (I’d be avoiding 2011), but 2012 is the next ‘vintage of the century’ – trust me, there is no approbation thrown around the wine industry more than that phrase. Remember that, however, every great year has its failures and even poor years can throw up some crackers.
While 2008 has finesse, elegance, persistence and focus, a great Chardonnay year, 2012 is richer and more generous. Here, Pinot Noir really shines. Some will prefer it. Both are superb, but when one labels a year a Chardonnay vintage or a Pinot harvest, it does a disservice to a great many fine wines.
2013, 2014 and 2015 have all exceeded early expectations and there are plenty of wines you’ll love. I’m not much of a fan if the style of 2016 – to me, the wines seem to lack the class of the best. 2017 is unlikely to thrill anyone.
During 2023 we may start to see some 2018 champagnes and this is the next truly great year, according to the hype, since ’12. Even better news, it is the start of a great trio – 2018, 2019 and 2020 all have received rave reviews, the best trio since the legendary threesome of 1988, 1989 and 1990.
For many years, when one spoke of great wine, it was Bordeaux first and daylight second. That has obviously changed, but Bordeaux is still the yardstick for many. The wonderful twins of 2009 and 2010 are largely gone (auctions or perhaps some specialist retailers might be able to assist). 2015, topped by 2016, are the next pair that lovers of Claret should acquire. Then we come to another very fine trio of 2018, 2019, and 2020. These are years to investigate in depth.
Burgundy is undoubtedly the flavour of the month, as seen by the stratospheric price rises. As with Bordeaux, 2009 and 2010 were brilliant years. 2009 the richer and more generous of the pair, but I love the elegance and finesse from a top 2010. For Burgundy, 2015 far exceeded 2016 and subsequent years, at least until we hit that wonderful trio again, 2018, 2019 and 2020. If Burgundy is your thing, these are the vintages to target.
2018 is seen as potentially legendary by many. It is the hottest year since 2003, a year that never excited me – I always thought it a great Burgundy year for lovers of rich and ripe Shiraz – but it has been handled much better than ‘03. Experience counts. Good examples will age superbly. Exciting stuff. A fine year for White Burgundy as well.
2019 was another very hot year in Burgundy. Many Burgundians felt that this was the year that climate change really started to wreak havoc. Certainly, some stressful, hot periods. The result was a very small crop so grab these wines if you can. Both the top reds and whites are destined for a long life.
2020, granted early days, was another hot, rich and generous year, though more variable than many. The whites have really excited some with richness and potential longevity.
For me, the concern with all these recent vintages is that the years of finesse and elegance may be a thing of the past. For that, one may need to look elsewhere – New Zealand or Australia perhaps. Germany or Oregon as well. But expect Burgundy to continue on as the superstar wine on the planet for a few more years at least.
The Rhone Valley has been making stellar wines for many years and price increases elsewhere have seen more attention diverted to them. 2015 was a brilliant year. Definitely worth picking up any stragglers. It was perhaps a year more for the Northern Rhone wines, whereas 2016 was just as exciting for the South. 2017 was superb for both and, even though a small production, it is probably the year with a little age that you are most likely to find available today.
There will be few regrets from the 2018 wines, but opt for 2019 if given the choice. Again, early days but looking really exciting. I do try and put my money where the mouth goes, I have just grabbed some top Rhone reds from both 2017 and 2019.
Italy? 2016 was legendary for both Barolo and Brunello and we are seeing some of the Riserva wines arriving. 2018 got a great deal of early support but some are wavering on that now. Personally, while I stocked up as best as I could on 2016 from both regions, I’ve also grabbed some wines from the 2018 vintage. Early reports suggest wines of great power from 2019 so keep an eye out. Tuscany? From 2015 to 2019, a run of superb years, with one exception. Save your money when it comes to 2017 and buy the others.
Germany has recently enjoyed some of its greatest years – seems that there are some places on the planet delighted by climate change. 2017, 2018 and 2019 are all thrilling and if you are a fan of German Riesling, your cellar cannot have too many.
To cover this concept fully would take tomes, but this has hopefully given you an idea.
To conclude, if I may turn to my home country, Australia, it is pointless to try generalizations with a place so huge and with such a variety of regions and conditions. That said, if you are a fan of Riesling, look to the Clare and Eden Valleys from 2021 and 2022. These are scintillating wines, glorious now but which will easily age and improve over a decade or two. Two of the best vintages in memory. Adelaide Hills whites from those regions are also rather special.
For reds, 2018 in the Barossa Valley and McLaren Vale is legendary and 2021 is looking like it might even top it.
Finally, the last time Margaret River had a dodgy vintage, was around 2006 (I’m not making that up), so if you love their Cabernets and Chardonnays, and who doesn’t, you are fairly safe with any year – yes, there are variations, but it tends to be variations on the theme of great years.
All that remains is for you to fill the cellar with the wines that you love.
Happy new year.