In preparation for my trip to Bordeaux in March, I am wandering back through my sample closet and I came across this box of Cru Bourgeois from an online tasting last year. Sadly, the wine didn’t arrive before the tasting, so I’ve been waiting for a god opportunity to work through them. And here we are!
Many, myself included, shied away from Bordeaux because it was imposing, expensive, and somewhat of an old man’s drink. Anyone who has watched Downton Abbey can imagine Carson in his office, accounting for the bottles of Claret he carefully curated for every meal. I used to be somewhat afraid of, and frankly didn’t care for, much of the Bordeaux that I have tried in the past – until I attended my first Bordeaux tasting.
But, the big, bold, tannic Bordeaux of that event overshadow the delightfully affordable and approachable wines that the Bourgeois showcase. The bourgeois, the merchants and craftsman of the region, thought to be inferior, slowly acquired some of the best land, while simultaneously being exempt from taxes for the sale of wines.
In the original Bordeaux classification of 1855, which was as much as a popularity contest and legacy fraternity as anything else, many of the Cru Bourgeois producers were excluded. Making Cru Bourgeois a lower class wine than Cru Classé, and yet still higher than the old Cru Artisan classes caused quite a stir; meanwhile, the quality of the Cru Bourgeois is widely regarded as a similar and sometimes higher quality level wine than the Cru Classé.
First, let’s have a Bordeaux Primer:
The Grapes (red)
- Cabernet Sauvignon
- Cabernet Franc
- Petite Verdot
Left Bank (Médoc included)
- Cabernet Sauvignon (usually 70% or more)
- Cabernet Franc (~15%)
- Merlot (~15%)
- Merlot is most common in Saint-Émillion and Pomerol
The first Cru Bourgeois list was drafted in 1932, with 444 estates. Further refinements and tiers were developed in 2003, creating a final list of 247 properties. After a short period of being Banned in ‘Bama … or rather France, the term Cru Bourgeois was finally allowed back at court in 2010 in a very different form than originally intended. In this modern iteration, there is one level of quality, awarded to specific wines rather than Châteaux, and particular attention is paid on production as well as the finished product.
Now you you’ve had your history lesson, it’s time to taste some of this wine!
Silky smooth Merlot based blend with a hint of Cabernet Sauvignon and Petite Verdot. Muted forest fruits and berries with a touch of coffee, it finishes with black pepper and cocoa powder.
Voluptuous Merlot, Cab Franc and Cab Sav blend is a screaming value at only $21. Rich cherries with a smoky finish, the tannins are still firm and this could age well for a few more years. Merlot focused, it was probably the most fruit forward and plush, with blackberries, black cherry, fig and earthy notes.
Probably my favorite of the tasting, this $17 beauty was easy to drink, with intoxicating dark chocolate and espresso notes. Rich red fruit and juicy plum flowed freely with a hint of fresh tobacco and leather. Let’s just say this bottle was empty!
Another budget friendly beauty, this $20 bottle is clearly a Bordeaux. Reminiscent of much more expensive bottles, the blend is dominated byMerlot and Cab Sav, with touches of Cab Franc, and Petite Verdot. A spice box of tight tannins, it was slightly green but with rose petals and dark fruit brooding under the surface.
If you were afraid of Bordeaux in the past, rest assured – the Cru Bourgeois is approachable, affordable and awesome. That’s a AAA in my book! These are just a hint at the possibilities in the region. As I explore the wine business practices and the wines of Bordeaux next month, I look forward to exploring more to the diversity of Bordeaux. It’s not just for collectors any more!