Bordeaux for the everyday drinker – Cru Bourgeois du Médoc

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  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 Merlot Petite Verdot Malbec Carménère Left Bank (Médoc included) Cabernet Sauvignon (usually 70% or more) Cabernet Franc (~15%) Merlot (~15%) Right Bank 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! Chateau la Haye Saint Estephe 2014 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. Château Tour Castillon Medoc 2014 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, […]

Please pass the Claret Carson!

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If you’re a fan of the period piece Downtown Abbey as I am, you are no doubt experiencing withdrawal symptoms now that they are on hiatus for the rest of the year.  Yet, I am always enthralled at the ritual involved when the wine is selected by Carson and Lord Grantham, and the elaborate pouring rituals begin. This ritual is, of course, part and parcel for the Bordeaux wine trade in years past.  British “Claret” increased in popularity in Britain when Eleanor of Aquitaine married in to the royal family, paving the way for Bordeaux exports.  At that time, most wine was from Graves, and was called “clariet”, which is why the name still sticks today.  Until relatively recently, the English would buy barrels of wine, import them across the channel, and bottle them themselves, translating the somewhat confusing French labeling system in to a more English friendly naming convention. Today, we don’t have to go to such great lengths to get the delicious wines from the Bordeaux region.  We are able to purchase, and taste, wines of wide variety and price point; In fact, we don’t have to go through quite the elaborate decanting rituals that Carson the Butler does in Downton Abbey, in thanks to modern bottling techniques and cleaner process. This month, as I study for my CSW, we are meandering through France.  I’ve already talked a bit about the Loire Valley region, but now we are delving in to serious, hard core, confusing, amazing, enthralling, Bordeaux.  Bordeaux is located roughly halfway down the western coast of France, where the Girdone river meets the Atlantic Ocean, and moves inland to the southeast where there Gironde and the Dordogne meet to form the Garrone River.     Bordeaux is a challenge for me, with over 30 distinct subregions, Left Bank, Right Bank, middle bank (Entre-deux-Mars) and the uniqueness that comes with each of these.  After tasting a beautiful array of Bordeaux a the Union des Grand Crus last month, I have come to discover that my heart lies on the Right Bank, with the silken elegance of the Merlot based wines, but there are several areas of the Cabernet driven Left Bank that call to me as well.  The myth of Bordeaux as an old man’s luxury has been dispelled, and today, it is an accessible option to even the most budget friendly wine drinker. First, some 411 on the basics.  Yes, I know this is overly simplifying the details quite a bit, but going in to detail on the 37 distinct regions is just too overwhelming for most wine lovers, unless you are a Francophile.  For a long time, I didn’t like the tannic, seemingly thin, overly astringent flavors in the Bordeaux that I had experienced.  Fortunately, there is such a wide array of wine available, that there really is a wine for everyone, at every budget. The primary regions of the Left Bank are Graves, Medoc, and Pauillac, and are Cabernet based blends.  The Right Bank includes […]