Bordeaux, is one of the world’s leading and most prestigious wine regions known for its very fine wines, but also its very high prices, especially with regards to its top flight wines. However, simply just ordering a ‘Bordeaux’ (or if you’re that way inclined ‘a drop of Claret’) the chances at what you get in your glass can be anything from the good, the bad or the damn right ugly!
Yes, yes, the more you pay, the more likely it is that what you get is something that will (hopefully) be of a better quality, but at what price? Prices that most of us can ill afford?
Since the top-flight Grand Cru Classé wines are on the pricier side of wine, where most of us might only get the opportunity to try on very special occasions, there is however a much larger percentage of ‘other’ Bordeaux wine produced, and most of this is at a reasonable price. So how do we go about finding out more about these wines and their producers? Well, we would like to say that it’s easy, but being Bordeaux, that’s not always the case!
To begin with there are a number of different appellation wines, that is, wines that have to be made in accordance with a set of rules with tradition at their core. This mostly has an effect on style rather than quality, but there are some that are obviously more quality focused than others. For the consumer, just dipping into the wines of Bordeaux can be a tad confusing, and believe us when we say, that we can still get very much confused when trying to not only remember these appellations, but also what the rules and regulations specific to each one are!
Therefore, if we just stick with what is known in wino circles as the ‘left-bank’ of Bordeaux, which chiefly translates to an area known as the Médoc.
This is where the Grand Crus or ‘Growths’ (as they are known) reside, and reside they do in stone, as their status is almost certain to never crumble. Now this is not always entirely down to reputation however, but there seems to be no amount of money or clever lawyer who can or who has been that successful with making any significant changes towards the status of those producers within this classification of wine.
To try to begin to explain what this status actually embodies, would be to say that in short, the Grand Cru Châteaux of the Médoc are the actual ‘Cru’ and not the land (as is more the norm in many other parts of the Grand Cru wine world). They represent about 25% of the Médoc’s Production, this being from 60 estates. They are or have become a sort of super brand, by way of the actual regions prestige (which has been led by them), the sub-regional areas that are also held in esteem (also led by these chateaux), and finally the name of each of the chateaux have become luxury brands names within their own right.
And like we have already said, this status remains with them no matter what, even if they buy-up or give up certain bits of land, or in some cases, don’t perform like you would expect them to (even with so much esteem attached them, and prices to match). Set in stone since 1855, into what we can only describe as a kind of league table from 5 up to 1 (1 being akin to the premier league), these guys have been more or less placed in their respective ‘league’ since that date, and this is despite it being clear that occasionally those in a lower league have shown themselves to be better!
Therefore, the problem for the 75% of non-classed ‘growth’ producers who want to go that bit further, by stepping-up the quality of their wines in order to get into the finer wine market, have first had to wade through a sea of wine, with quite a bit of that not even worth pouring into a glass in the first place. Therefore, to get the opportunity of getting themselves noticed has been a bit of a hurdle.
The answer to this could be the Crus Bourgeois designation. This classification incorporates presently around 270 or so estates that have applied. This relates in percentage form to around 40% of the Médoc’s production.
It is not a new classification, in fact, it has been around since the early 1930’s, and during this time it has evolved into what it has become today.
However, it is not without its very own carry-on’s and shenanigans, with lawyers probably making far more money than the actual producers! At last sense seems to have prevailed, and the classification has been able to put a bit more flesh on it vinous body, which at least gives those within this classification not only a better chance of upping their game, but also the opportunity for the consumer to have a better idea of which wines to go for. Cru Bourgeois unlike the 1855 Classification is not set in stone, here, producers are requited to apply for the classification every 5 years, and because it is itself split into 3 sub-designations: Cru Bourgeois, Cru Bourgeois Supérieur, and Cru Bourgeois Exceptionnel, then the consumer can understand the bridge between price and quality. For example those in the Exceptionnel category are often perceived to be as good as those estates that are at least in the 5th Growth level of the Grand Cru Classé 1855 Classification.
So, as we entered The Academy at Carlton House Terrace without a whiff of Chino/tweed or indoor scarf amongst us, could we pass the Crus Bourgeois tannin test?!?
It is safe to say that Guest Wines managed to taste every yes EVERY wine in the house (you can tell we are from up’t north!)! Numb and looking rather like Dickensian street urchins by the end of the day, it was however certainly worth it!
And it is also safe to say that we came across some lovelies, of which, some will go on to shine for years to come. So without further ado here is a selection of some that caught our attention (all wines are from the 2016 vintage):
Château Bégadan – 60% Merlot, 40% Cabernet Sauvignon. Pleasant dark fruits, lifted and crisp, with a sour fruit finish
Château La Branne – 55% Cabernet Sauvignon, 43% Merlot, 2% Petit Verdot. A little subdued on the nose, but really comes to the fore on the palate with plenty of spice and earthy tones
Château Escot – 70% Cabernet Sauvignon. 28% Merlot, 2% Petit Verdot. A lovely floral perfume interplays with oak spice essence and blackcurrant fruit
Château Fontis – 50% Merlot, 50% Cabernet Sauvignon. Clean, fresh and lifted with ripe plum and dark cherry, embraced by fine tannin
Château Haut Barrail – 60% Merlot, 40% Cabernet Sauvignon. Meaty, savoury and spicy, then giving in to wafts of wild flower and bright cherry
Château Loirac – 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot. Lifted and fragrant with plenty of fresh raspberries, and just a hint of spice, wrapped up in finely grained tannins
Château Lousteauneuf – 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 29% Merlot, 14% Petit Verdot, 7% Cabernet Franc. Concentrated blackberry fruit, with a dash of spice and plenty of tension
Château Méric – 52% Cabernet Sauvignon, 34% Merlot, 14% Petit Verdot. Blackberry Spangles, lifted and precise
Château Moulin de Taffard – 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Franc, 3% Petit Verdot, 2% Carménère. Bright blackcurrant, graphite and tight tannins – lovely!
Château Les Ormes Sorbet – 65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 5% Petit Verdot. Mmm…spicy blackcurrant, textured and warming
Château Peu de Pont – 55% Merlot, 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Cabernet Franc. Quite light on the nose that gives way to fresh raspberry fruit on the palate, with a nice tension and balance
Château Pierre de Montignac – 50% Merlot,45% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Petit Verdot. A nice touch of oaky spice marries the blackcurrant fruit with hints of charcoal, whilst an underlying violet note gives lift
Château La Ribaud – 69% Merlot, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Cabernet Franc, 1% Malbec. Lifted, poised and cut through by fine grained tannins. Plenty of bramble fruit, especially blackberries
Château Rollan de By – 70% Merlot, 10% Petit Verdot, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Cabernet Franc. A bit of a beefcake displaying full-on spicy blackcurrant and dark cherry notes, with a dusting of earth and a dash of spice
Château Tour Castillon – 40% Merlot, 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Cabernet Franc, 3% Petit Verdot, 2% Carménère. Lingering, tense and bright, with blackcurrant fruit running right the way through to the finish
Château Tour Prignac – 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot. A lovely concentration of dark fruits, with juniper and clove sprinkled on for good measure, help up by racy acidity
Château Vernous – 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 36% Merlot, 4% Cabernet Franc. This comes with that spicy Spangles nose, and a touch of sweet oak that is balanced nicely with the cool acidity, which makes the raspberry fruits shine all the way to a lasting finish
Château d’Arcins – 55% Merlot, 45% Cabernet Sauvignon. Bright, spicy blackcurrant with a nice touch of oak towards the finish
Château Arnauld – 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot, 10% Petit Verdot. Concentrated, dark, brooding fruit with freshly cut green bell peppers, and herbs entwined within sturdy tannins
Château Bibian – 60% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Petit Verdot. Freshly picked raspberries burst out along the finely curved body, and all the way through to stop at a pleasant dryness on the finish
Château de Braude – 65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Merlot. Herbal blackcurrant, with rosemary and violets, lifted and poised
Château du Cartillon – 65% Merlot, 25% Petit Verdot, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon. A bit of a banger! With concentrated, slightly cooked blackberry fruit encased in violet scent and a dash of oaky spice
Château Charmail – 41% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Merlot, 13% Cabernet Franc, 11% Petit Verdot. Elegant blackberry, blackcurrant fruit with a touch of liquorice, polished and nice!
Château Cissac – 68% Cabernet Sauvignon, 27% Merlot, 5% Petit Verdot. Savoury, meaty concentrated fruits now then, balanced by oak spice and fine tannins
Château Clément-Pichon – 92% Merlot, 8% Cabernet Sauvignon. Just look at the pecks on this! Iron, blood, sour elderberries with grainy tannins and lifted acidity
Château Clément-Pichon Dasvin Bel Air – 80% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc. Liquorice stick dipped in blackcurrant compote. Firm and meaty
Château Dillon – 53% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, 21% Petit Verdot, 5.5% Cabernet Franc, 0.5% Carménère. Spicy blackberries mingle with red bramble fruits and a nice touch of spice
Château Doyac – 80% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon. Fragrant, savoury, full but with a lightness as well, carries itself well right through to a long lasting end
Château Fontesteau – 53% Cabernet Sauvignon, 45% Merlot, 2% Cabernet Franc. Perfumed violet essence with meaty spicy dark cherry fruit, giving way to lighter, fresher raspberries, all tied to grainy tannins
Château Lacour Jacquet – 55% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot, 3% Petit Verdot, 2% Cabernet Franc. Ripe, concentrated fresh rapsberry fruits, a hint of spice and herb, quite delightful
Château Larose Perganson – 66% Cabernet Sauvignon, 29% Merlot, 5% Petit Verdot. This had a pleasant blackberry freshness running all the way through it, making it rather nice to just sip and while away a moment or two
Château Lestige Simon – 95% Merlot, 2% Cabernet Sauvignon, 2% Petit Verdot, 1% Cabernet Franc. Blackcurrant precision, cutting through a dash of herb and oaky spice
Château Magnol – 48% Merlot, 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Petit Verdot. Juniper, liquorice spice that accentuates the dark brooding fruits, lifted with a light dusting of tannin
Château Malescasse – 46% Merlot, 45% Cabernet Sauvignon, 9% Petit Verdot. Gorgeous raspberries and violet notes collide nicely with a hint of clove – more please!
Château Maurac – 55% Cabernet Sauvignon, 45% Merlot. Rich plum and fresh prune bump up a wonderful mouthful, bursting with freshness, and held in check by grainy tannins
Château Retout – 71% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Merlot, 4% Petit Verdot. Aromatic and spicy blackcurrant, sits well on the palate, and joined by dark cherry as we move towards a lip smacking finish
Château Rollin – 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 50% Merlot. Liquorice spice and all things nice, with dark cherries and bramble fruit all garnering for attention, and then comes along a hint of juniper and a touch of herb. What a ride!
Château Tourteran – 66% Cabernet Sauvignon, 34% Merlot. Tight, meaty, with spicy dark fruits, a hint of herb and a touch of spice. Lovely bramble fruits come to the fore midway and then all the way to the finish
Château Baudan – 52% Cabernet Sauvignon, 45% Merlot, 3% Petit Verdot. Fragrant, poised and polished with fresh herb and fine tannins
Château Donissan – 60% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Petit Verdot. Fresh, ripe blackcurrant and sour raspberries run along a taught body
Château Semeillan Mazeau – Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot (no percentages given). Sour meaty fruits, rosehip and herb – lots of nervy tension
Château Branas Grand Poujeaux – 50% Merlot, 50% Cabernet Sauvignon. Polished concentrated dark plum and cherry, lifted and spicy
Château Pomeys – 60% Merlot, 40% Cabernet Sauvignon. Lifted and fresh dark plum collides with bracing acidity, and submerged in fine grainy tannins
Château Bellevue de Tayac – 70% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Petit Verdot. Fragrant dark cherry and plum, full and fresh, with just a hint of spice that just keeps in giving…
Château La Fortune – 74% Cabernet Sauvignon, 26% Merlot. Meaty concentrated cassis with clove and liquorice spice, firm and precise
Château Mongravey – 65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 33% Merlot, 2% Cabernet Franc. Oooo! Concentrated, opulent blackberries and blackcurrant fruit that simply curl and caress the tongue, add to this a touch of freshly cut green bell pepper and a sprinkling of herb – get in!
Château Fonbadet – 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 50% Merlot. Dark, warm and enticing with plenty of fruit, dusted with baking spice, with lifted freshness and grippy tannins
Château Le Boscq – 48% Cabernet Sauvignon, 47% Merlot, 5% Petit Verdot. Smooth, rounded, textural, generous blackberry fruits with an essence of something that bit more savoury, embraced by dusty tannins
Château Le Crock – 45% Cabernet Sauvignon, 44% Merlot, 8% Petit Verdot, 3% Cabernet Franc. Blackberries, dark plums, layered and silky, yet so fresh, but kept in line by dusty tannins that draw this wine to a fine close towards the finish
Château La Haye – 50% Merlot, 50% Cabernet Sauvignon. Medicinal, spicy dark cherries, lifted and with a dash of finely grained tannins holding on tight
Château Petit Bocq – 50% Merlot, 49% Cabernet Sauvignon, 1% Cabernet Franc. Blackcurrant Spangles meet a tide of freshness, disciplined by taught tannins
Château Plantier Rose – 62% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 8% Petit Verdot. Big, meaty, with a dollop of gravy juice to boot. Whilst on the other hand this wine also holds a sweet cherry charm, after which we are then transported back in the room by a decent dose of grippy tannins
Château Tour des Termes – 60% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Cabernet Franc, 5% Petit Verdot. Polished, dark brooding plum and cherry interplay with a dusting of spice and plenty of tannin, lifted by crisp acidity
Château Tour Saint Fort – Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot (percentages unspecified). Fragrant, perfumed dark cherry and plum fruits, poised but firm
And there we have it. It will be interesting over the next few years, and then the five years and beyond to see how things work out for the Crus Bourgeois designation. It would be good to think that this framework will be given a chance to thrive and allow those producers who are a bit more committed to enhancing quality but also at a fair price (and in some cases, very reasonable indeed), is a good thing indeed, and also good for the consumer… and you don’t have to wait years and years for most of these wines to reach their peak!
It is also all to easy to get bogged down with this and that appellation, this designation, that classification, especially when you are just after a decent bottle of Bordeaux that comes with a decent and affordable price tag. We would like to think that hopefully this classification does at least make a fair attempt at sifting the wheat from the chaff. Fingers crossed hey?!?