Tuesday, 20 April 2021

Crus Bourgeois - Bordeaux’s hidden gems?

The last year has been odd to put it mildly. Many of the things that we previously took for granted - and often under-appreciated - we simply haven’t been able to do. For very good reason, as we have had to keep people safe and this has meant sacrifices across the board. Nonetheless, the absence of many of the things that we used to do will have left a holes in a lot of our lives. 
For me one such thing has been the ability to attend wine industry events. There has been great innovation from the industry through the rapid development of online tastings and at-home sampling sessions, but quite frankly I have missed the ability to walk through a room, meet the people who make all of this amazing wine that we love, talk to them about their wares and, of course, try their wines. One event I have always looked forward to is the yearly Crus Bourgeois Bordeaux tasting. It was always held in such lovely venues, I tended to bump into friends there and also it was a great opportunity to try these exciting wines. 


Steven Spurrier with his Bride Valley wine
I am reflecting on this with a slight melancholy this year as it was at a Crus Bourgeois tasting a few years back that I first met Steven Spurrier (who recently passed away). Of course, he was dressed up in a very dashing suit resplendent with a pocket square, and I was far too star struck to introduce myself to him. Fortunately I put that right at a later event where he was exhibiting his Bride Valley sparkling wine and it was wonderful to meet the great man.
For obvious reasons the usual Crus Bourgeois tasting couldn’t take place in 2020, however I was very lucky that I was sent a few bottles to try out this year by my good friends at Phillips Hill Wine PR (many thanks to Jo, Louise, and the team). A great opportunity to reacquaint myself with these wines and a reminder of why I would recommend that you check them out for yourself. Worth also noting that the 2020 Bordeaux En Primeur offerings will be out shortly - definitely worth checking out as 2020 was a very promising vintage (despite all the Corona challenges). 

What are Cru Bourgeois wines?

Before I tell you about the wines I tasted, a little bit of background and information to set the scene. Crus Bourgeois wines are a classification of wines used in the Medoc, which is on the left bank of the Bordeaux wine region. This region is renowned for its classified growth wines, a system established in 1855 of five classes of wine, representing wines of exceptional quality. The Crus Bourgeois is a very recent addition, which seeks to provide a framework and a promise of quality of wines that sit below the classified growths. This makes them necessarily a lot more wallet-friendly then the wines classified in the 1855 system - more on that below.


Image taken from the Crus Bourgeois association
It is fair to say that the system for establishing the Crus Bourgeois system has not been smooth sailing and there have been a few revisions to the system over the last few years since it was first launched in 2010. However in 2020 an agreement was made on the longer term structure for this system. Wines will be reviewed every five years for quality and consistency, and will be grouped into three levels of increasing quality: Crus Bourgeois, Crus Bourgeois Superieur, Crus Bourgeois Exceptionnel. Encouragingly environmental sustainability is one of the significant factors in the grading. The whole Bordeaux region is making remarkable strides in this field - which is great to see. To achieve the higher accolades there is a significant amount of scientific and sensory testing that takes place, including tasting by an independent jury. It is a pyramid system of quality; in 2020 249 estates were classified: 179 were awarded Crus Bourgeois status, 56 were awarded Crus Bourgeois Superieur and only 14 were awarded Crus Bourgeois Exceptionnel. This is big business if you want to receive the highest levels! The 2020 awards will stay with the estates for five years when all will be re-assessed. 

What wines did I try?

I tried three wines - all of them from the Haut-Medoc region. For each of them I’ll indicate the grading the estate received in the 2020 classification (although noting that these classifications only apply to the 2018 vintage onwards, so the wines below are all technically Crus Bourgeois), the grape varieties used in them, along with the price point and where you can buy them.

First up was a 2016 Chateau D’Aurilhac (2020 categorisation - Crus Bourgeois; 49% Merlot, 46% Cabernet Sauvignon, 2.5% Petit Verdot, 2.5% Cabernet Franc), £18.50 from Lea and Sandeman. Sitting a nice deep ruby in the glass, it was quite light and pretty on the nose with blackcurrant and blueberry notes, accompanied by touches of smokiness. I also thought I detected a slightly floral note to the wine. On the palate, the tannins were soft. I was immediately struck by how well balanced the wine was, which gave rise to an impressively long finish. Primary notes were dark fruits (mainly black cherry), but the savoury notes were there to give the wine its balance.


Next up was a 2015 Chateau de Malleret (2020 categorisation - Crus Bourgeois Exceptionnel; 56% Merlot, 42% Cabernet Sauvignon, 2% Petit Verdot), £24.50 from Lea and Sandeman. This was a lot deeper in the glass - a properly dark crimson to it. A little bit spicier and more exotic on the nose, it had the same dark fruit notes - but I felt with added concentration. To taste this was certainly a bigger wine. More tannic structure to it, but accompanied by a more luxurious mouth-feel. I felt that the wine had a much deeper and more savoury after-taste - slightly more ”serious“ than the first wine, but that does not mean that the wine was less enjoyable. The finish was similarly long. This was my pick of the three wines.

Last up I tried a 2011 Chateau Lamothe-Bergeron (2020 categorisation - Crus Bourgeois Superieur; 50% Merlot, 50% Cabernet Sauvignon), £14.19 from Co-op. You could tell this wine had more age on it than the other two, it was brick red/brown around the edges, but a faint ruby red in the middle. Lovely ripe berry fruit on the nose, but there were some accompanying savoury notes to add depth to the bouquet. On tasting the tannins had all but gone, but there was some decent acidity to the wine still which gave it some structure. This was a very pleasant wine to drink, not overly showy - but in the perfect spot for drinking now - and also priced very reasonably.


Overall, I was very impressed with these wines. They were all wines of great quality and with them all being priced at under £25/bottle, I feel they represent excellent value. To get into the classified growths you are looking at spending £50/bottle and up (and up and up!). These are well made wines that will go with food wonderfully, but also make for great drinking on their own with friends (now that we can do that kind of thing again…). 

I think it’s interesting that all of the wines were made up of a large amount of Merlot, something that the left bank is not known for. I suspect that is a deliberate ploy to make the wines softer and more approachable. These aren’t wines to be collected and hoarded away for years before you finally open them - they are wines designed to be drunk and give pleasure. I’d definitely recommend checking them out. If you find any good ones let us know in the comments below!




I was sent these wines as a press sample (thank you again Jo and Louise!). The opinions contained within this article are my own.