For Affordable Quality From Bordeaux, Look To The Crus Bourgeois
Franck Bijon is president of the Crus Bourgeois du Médoc, a group of mainly family-owned wine properties in Bordeaux. This category is a reminder of the value, quality, and diversity found in this part of France. While visions of fancy châteaux and towering prices tickle the imagination, the truth is that much of the wine produced in Bordeaux is totally accessible.
Bijon describes Cru Bourgeois as a large range of terroir with vineyards producing the five well-known Bordeaux varieties: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, and Malbec.
Crus Bourgeois are backed by a responsible environmental management program and Bijon says consumers should expect these bottles to be “accessible in both taste and price” meaning they don’t have to cellar for a long time and most people can afford them. “You drink them,” he says. “You don’t collect them.”
A Bordeaux Wine History Lesson
Bourgeois may sound like complicated phrasing, but it is tied to heritage. In the 15th century rich merchants — a social class, la bourgeoisie — acquired some of the best plots in the Médoc. It is worth noting that prior to the formation of this class, which occurred in the middle ages with the expansion of cities, there were only two classes: peasants and nobility.
One of the most recognizable features of the Bordeaux wine system is the 1855 classification, which was requested by Napoleon III to identify top châteaux for an exhibition. This arrangement has persisted, and to this day if a château has a lineage tied to that original list, the cru classé (classified growth) title remains. Crus Bourgeois are different from this list, though they share the Médoc growing area with many of these châteaux and were born out of the merchant class described above.
The Cru Bourgeois system was established in 1932 and includes designated estates in Médoc, Haut-Médoc, Listrac, Moulis, Margaux, Saint-Julien, Pauillac, and Saint-Estèphe. This category is responsible for 40% of Médoc production. In 2020 the classification was revised, starting with the 2018 vintage. The list of included châteaux is revisited every five years by an independent verification body.
The Modern Outlook of Cru Bourgeois
Each estate holding a spot in the modern classification has a forward-look approach, proven by their application and confirmation of participation. Within the category there are three quality levels: Cru Bourgeois, Cru Bourgeois Supérieur, and Cru Bourgeois Exceptionnel.
Wine from these estates has been blind tasted for quality and has the capacity to age in the bottle. Winegrowers must maintain a High Environmental Value (HVE) level of at least two. (More on what that is here.) Each bottle also contains a code and sticker that can be used to verify the origins of the wine.
The association encourages resiliency, promotion of the group as a whole, and improved virtues in the vineyard, vintage by vintage. “What a great job to have a new challenge each year,” says Bijon.
Vincent Fabre is proprietor of Château la Tonnelle. His bottle of 2018 Haut Médoc generally sells for between $20 – $24 USD. Fabre indicates that this bottle can age for 20 – 25 years but it can also be enjoyed now.
He says the wine comes from a plot that is an “old terroir” shown on map from 1797. (He jokes that he’s “not the first winemaker” to work with this land.) The vineyard holds an HVE level three certification and is farmed mostly with organic practices and some biodynamic trials. “The effects of the new classification will continue quality,” he says.
Pierre Maussire is the general manager at Château Laffitte Carcasset in Saint-Estèphe. He believes in an obligation to constantly improve quality, make investments, and spawn new ideas. He calls the new classification “a gift” for the region.
Château Laffitte Carcasset is the midst of progress — a renovation project with an innovative cellar, a soil study, and the use of augmented reality on the label. A bottle of Saint-Estèphe Cru Bourgeois Supérieur 2018 runs about $29 USD. “In the Médoc there is not only Grand Cru Classé,” says Maussire. “There is also Cru Bourgeois.”