The 2023 anniversary vintage wines are a mixed bunch…
A year that began in crisis, 2022 did not conclude with peace and goodwill.
The biggest armed conflict in Europe since World War II rages on as Russia, with barbaric intensity and kamikaze drones, seeks to eviscerate its neighbour Ukraine.
Covid, diminished but not destroyed, continues to kill people across the world.
Annual inflation in the USA is running at more than 7%; in the Eurozone at over 9%; in the UK it is over 10%.
(It could be worse. In Zimbabwe, inflation was at 244% in December 2022.)
Planet Earth, understandably, remains in a sour mood.
There is more cause than ever, during these gloomy times, to break bread and open bottles with family, friends and neighbours.
How about an anniversary bottle?
The 2023 anniversary vintages wines are a mixed bunch.
Forty-, 60- and 70-year olds will be happy with what‘s on offer.
But 20-year and 50-year olds might be underwhelmed if and when they open a bottle of their birth-year vintage.
Here we go…
2013: Hanging on, Ten Years Gone…
For tenth anniversary (not birthday!) celebrations in 2023, the best wines come from Italy (great reds were made in Piedmont and Tuscany); California; South Africa, Australia; New Zealand; Argentina; and Chile.
The classic regions of Europe were hit and miss. The red wine regions of Bordeaux endured wet weather and hailstorms, though Sauternes produced nice wines.
Ten-year old examples from Champagne, Burgundy, and the Rhône Valley should all be good.
2003: Some Like It Hot
The quality (or otherwise) of this vintage is a matter of taste.
The 2003 European heatwave was the hottest summer recorded in Europe since 1540. France was hit especially hard.
In viticultural terms, this very hot year meant fast ripening of the grapes; early picking; low acidity; and often high alcohol levels (14%+).
The resulting wines – in Bordeaux, say – were atypically “fruit-driven” and closer in style to modern Napa wines – which meant that they found favour in the USA.
Some years ago I was able to taste Château Pavie 2003 from a large bottle – a six-litre Imperial, I think.
The wine was an abomination, so drenched in new wood that it was a fire risk. The tannins were like barbed wire. It was no more drinkable than the contents of a fish tank.
As the late Clive Coates MW declared: “Anyone who thinks this is good wine needs a brain and palate transplant.” Of course the US wine critic Robert Parker loved it.
The good 2003s are like orchids in the desert. I have had much better experiences with Pichon-Lalande 2003 and – especially – Petrus 2003, which was an exceptional effort for the year. The moisture-rich clay soil at Petrus mitigated the extreme heat and meant that the resulting wine was not overcooked.
2002: “When we’re holding each other / I’m taken back to 2002…”
For a 21st birthday or anniversary, excellent wines were made in Germany and Austria in 2002, though the classic regions of France and Italy were mostly undistinguished, with the exceptions of Burgundy and Champagne.
1993 vintage wines: Slippery When Wet
A variable and very unfashionable Bordeaux vintage, the wines of which are rarely seen nowadays – mostly drunk-up, probably.
Sauternes was drenched in rain during the grape harvest and very little wine was made.
It was a decent year for red and white Burgundy from good producers who picked before the rain.
Tokaji was great.
1983 vintage wines: A Margaux I Should Turn To Be
A tremendous year in Margaux and Sauternes, inevitably always overshadowed by its glamorous predecessor the year before.
My favourite wine of this vintage is Château Margaux, the plump richness of which I have always enjoyed: drinking it was like diving onto a big, soft bed.
Palmer was also very good in 1983, though not as dense as the Margaux.
The 1983 Burgundy vintage was troublesome – frost, hail, heat, rain, rot – and yielded hard, tannic wines.
It was a good Rhône vintage and another big harvest in Champagne.
Vintage Ports from 1983 are often outstanding. The de facto “House Port” at Arden Fine Wines is 1983 Warre’s, several bottles of which have been enjoyed with friends and clients over the last couple of years, and it never disappoints.
1973 vintage wines: America Triumphant
Not great for red Bordeaux or red Burgundy and a difficult wine market at this time.
White Burgundy was better than 1970 but not as good as 1971. It was the second biggest Champagne vintage of the century and the wines were ok.
From California, it was the 1973 vintage of Chateau Montelena that triumphed over the French Chardonnays in the 1976 “Judgment of Paris” blind tasting.
1963 vintage wines: “life was never better than / In nineteen sixty-three…”
Philip Larkin’s poem “Annus Mirabilis” begins:
Sexual intercourse began
In nineteen sixty-three
(which was rather late for me) –
Between the end of the “Chatterley” ban
And the Beatles’ first LP.
(I quoted another line from the poem in this section’s title. I wouldn’t want anybody getting the wrong idea…)
Vintage Port didn’t begin in 1963 – but it sort of restarted.
It was a watershed vintage of high quality and high volume (like 1927) that marked the turnaround of Port’s fortunes after post-war struggles. Some producers sold more wine than since the 1896 vintage.
Well-cellared examples of 1963 Port can be great wines for 60th birthday or anniversary celebrations in 2023.
Elsewhere, it was an abysmal Bordeaux vintage, including a notoriously bad d’Yquem that some contemporary wine buyers thought should not have been released.
Burgundy made very unlikeable wines.
But oh those Ports…
1953 vintage wines: Coronation Street
A classic Bordeaux vintage in the year of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II – one of the best of the 2023 anniversary vintage wines.
Some of the red wines and sweet whites could still be very good if they’ve been well looked-after.
Attractive red Burgundy was also made in 1953, though they are extremely rare nowadays.
1943 vintage wines: Wor Vintage
The best of the wartime vintages, with most French wine regions making good wines in difficult circumstances.
A beautiful bottle of 1943 Château Margaux was acquired by Arden Fine Wines from a Newcastle auctioneer in 2022.
There was a wartime shortage of chromium, which gives glass a deeper green colour. Chromium was used – with iron – to make stainless steel rather than wine bottles. So wartime bottles like this Margaux are a pale green-blue.
From 1935 – when AOC was established – until 1952 Château Margaux had (unexpectedly, to modern eyes)“APPELLATION HAUT-MÉDOC CONTROLÉE” on the label. The Margaux AOC was not formalised until 1954.
1933 vintage wines: Down And Out In Bordeaux And Burgundy
Light, attractive Bordeaux and Burgundy red wines can be sought out for 90-year olds as one of the 2023 anniversary vintage wines.
1923 vintage wines: Egyptian Nights
In the year that Howard Carter opened the tomb of Tutankhamun (which contained three wine amphorae), it was a vintage of attractive, light red wines in Bordeaux.
Château Rausan-Ségla, for example, had only 11% alcohol (and the 1933 vintage of which was bought in its entirety by Berry Bros & Rudd).
In London there was a spectacular thunderstorm overnight on 9th-10th July 1923 after temperatures had risen to 29C in southeast England.
In Southend-on-Sea – 35 miles east of London – there were rumours of a drought. Actually, the local authorities cut off the water supply temporarily to prevent a shortage of water while the town was overwhelmed by day-trippers visiting Southend Pier, the world’s longest pleasure pier, which was opened in 1889 and extends over 7,000 feet into the Thames Estuary.
Following Arden Fine Wines’ trip to Southend, there might now be a shortage of 1923 vintage wines…
From the 18-acre Richebourg vineyard in Vosne-Romanée, a Bouchard Ainé & Fils bottling was a rare centenarian survivor from the 1923 vintage that came to us from an Essex cellar, in or near Southend.
1923 Bouchard Ainé & Fils Richebourg SOLD
To Infinity and Beyond…
Anybody celebrating a 130th birthday could try to find a bottle of 1893 Bordeaux.
Perhaps the best red wine of this vintage was Château Margaux. Château d’Yquem was also outstanding.
The last “3” vintage to mention here is 1863 – a great Port vintage.
And that is where we end the 2023 anniversary vintage wines…