“Drinking a wine like this every once in a while reminds you of why people make such a big fuss about Bordeaux,” said Kenneth.
We don’t drink a lot of Bordeaux at our house, but it was a Sunday night, and we had bought some lamb from our favourite Jean-Talon market butcher earlier in the day. So I’d gone down to the cellar and grabbed a bottle we’d brought home from a trip to Bordeaux a few years ago, a Château Rauzan-Gassies Margaux 2001.
When first opened, it was all charred wood and smoke (from the oak), but with a few hours in a decanter, the primary fruit and the perfume showed up. It transformed into a seductive tango of raspberry, mocha, and plum, reminding me that I do have room for some Bordeaux in my wine drinking dance card.
This particular iteration of my Bordeaux revelation was also inspired by a recent tasting put on by the Crus Bourgeois du Médoc.
The Médoc region of Bordeaux includes eight (and a few of Bordeaux’s most famous) appellations — Médoc, Haut-Médoc, Listrac-Médoc, Moulis en Médoc, Margaux, Saint Julien, Pauillac and Saint Estèphe. Cru Bourgeois is a designation unique to this region. It was created with the goal of acknowledging the high quality of some producers left out of the famous 1855 Bordeaux classification, which ranked châteaux into first growth (premier cru), second growth (deuxième cru), and so on.
The Crus Bourgeois designation has a checkered history in recent years, but the term has been used in the region for centuries, though not always officially. A written mention occurred as early as 1740. An official classification was drawn up in 1932, though not without some controversy.
Starting in 2000, authorities attempted to revise and further classify the Crus Bourgeois regulations, and these changes were made official in 2003 with a ministerial order that bestowed 247 out of 490 candidates with the designation. Many producers were not happy with these results, and 78 of them joined forces to challenge the ruling. They argued that there was a conflict of interest, since a few jurors owned Cru Bourgeois vineyards themselves. The 2003 decree was finally annulled in 2007, and suddenly use of the historic term was made illegal.
Many weren’t ready to give up on “Cru Bourgeois”, however, and campaigning for its revival started in 2009. The rules were changed, and an official selection process was published, with the idea was that individual wines (instead of the château) would be awarded the designation as a marker of quality. Any winemaker authorized to produce wine in one of Médoc’s 8 AOCs can submit their wine once per year. All samples are tasted blind and evaluated by a jury, and must receive a certain score to qualify for “Cru Bourgeois” status.
New sticker denoting Cru Bourgeois status on bottles
For the 2010 vintage, 260 châteaux were awarded the designation, and I recently tasted nine of them. If you’re looking to buy Bordeaux and don’t want to shell out for the first or second growths, these wines can offer great value with a certain assurance of quality. My tasting notes below.
Château Lousteauneuf, Médoc 2010 ($24.55 at SAQ): Bursting with fruit and a bit easy yet pleasant. Goes a touch flat on the mid-palate, but comes back with a strong finish. Hints of herbal notes and more savoury flavours if you give it a chance.
Château Les Grands Chênes, Médoc 2010 ($31.75 at SAQ): Soft red fruit that’s not as explosive as the previous wine. Spicy wood notes and a certain “smoothed-out-ness” from new oak and malolactic fermentation.
Château Cambon La Pelouse, Haut-Médoc 2010 ($28.20 at SAQ): More tension to the fruit, more acidity, and generally more going on. Red fruit with underlying savory smoky notes. Approachable.
Château D’Agassac, Haut-Médoc 2010 ($31.00 at SAQ): More exuberant and berry flavoured, with hints of mint and more tannic structure. The most charming of the bunch, with luscious, seductive fruit.
Château Cap Leon Veyrin, Listrac-Médoc 2010 ($27.10 at SAQ): Complex and aromatically interesting, with perfumed violet notes. Red berries, spice, and a mouth-coating tannic structure. Enjoyed the freshness and tension running through it, like small red berries dancing and bursting on the tongue.
Château Anthonic, Moulis-en-Médoc 2010 ($29.35 at SAQ): More discrete, elegant, and restrained, with a nice maturity to the fruit. Well balanced and evolving toward more savory, umami balsamic flavours and a certain salinity. A hint of mushroom along with the red fruit. Smooth, yet not too smoothed out like some of the previous wines, resulting in more character. Silky elegance to the not-too-present tannins. Love the tension between silky texture and tannic structure.
Château D’Arsac, Margaux 2010 ($39.25 at SAQ): More evolved aromas of smoke, meat, and humus, with a hint of green pepper. A more mature, savory and tertiary-driven palate; moving away from primary fruit toward meaty, animal, and leather notes. The fruit is darker and more stewed. Prune, mushroom, wood underbrush, a touch of cedar. Enjoyed this wine a lot.
Château Haut-Bages Monpelou, Pauillac 2010 ($40.25 at SAQ): Evolved woodsy, mushroom, animal, and spicy aromas like the previous wine, but with more polished fruit on the palate, like someone’s come along to round it out with a polishing cloth. Yet there’s still a freshness to the fruit, and a pleasing depth. To me this was less interesting than the Margaux, but I think this is a style many would enjoy and indeed look for when they think Bordeaux.
Château Tour des Termes, Saint-Estèphe 2010 ($40.25 at SAQ): Pure aromas of cassis and fresh herbs, like a breath of fresh air. Same purity of cassis fruit on the palate, almost like blackberry syrup. Smooth, with a certain quiet elegance, although the fruit does again feel rounded out. Love the purity and grace even if the concentration of fruit brings it to an overly loud whisper.