“Cru Bourgeois” is one of those many French wine terms which sound unnecessarily complicated, but it is one that is certainly worth remembering and looking out for. It applies to around 250 (256 for the 2011 vintage) Médoc châteaux which missed out on the 1855 Classification but which still believe that they are a cut above the rest. Many are near neighbours of Cru Classé chateaux and work their vineyards and wine-making to the same rigorous standards.
A review of the classification in 2008 means that the châteaux have to submit each vintage for blind tasting to ensure that they are of Cru Bourgeois quality and really, it is the wine rather than the château which is classified. Unusually for France, this process actually has some teeth and between 5% and 10% of wines are rejected each year. The wines that qualify as Crus Bourgeois should be good examples of Médoc and, of particular interest, often represent some of the best value to be found in the region.
A recent mini tasting in London gave us the opportunity to taste 100 wines of the 2011 vintage – a vintage that has found it hard to gain admirers, not least because it followed the wonderful vintages of 2009 and 2010. It was a welcome surprise that, on the evidence of this tasting, there are plenty of wines that are well worth looking out for: on the whole, they are not big wines but many of them show fine, natural balance and will make good, flavoursome drinking over the next 3 to 5 years. Reassuringly, it is a vintage that also seems to justify the hierarchy of appellations in the Médoc: the more “senior” appellations of Margaux, Pauillac and Saint Estèphe seem to have produced more impressive wines than the larger appellations of Médoc and Haut-Médoc.
Château de Panigon 2011 Médoc** (The Wine Society list the 2009 vintage at £9.95 which sounds great value). Lovely aromas, balancing fruit and oak, will make good early drinking.
Château La Roque de By 2011 Médoc Surprisingly richly flavoured for the vintage.
Château de Braude 2011 Haut-Médoc (Oxford Wine Company) Plenty of oak, but definitely has the depth of fruit to balance.
Château Duthil 2011 Haut-Médoc* (Laithwaites £20) Good, juicy fruit for the vintage, lent complexity by oak ageing.
Château Mongravey 2011 Margaux** (3D Wines £20) Really polished Margaux aromas leading to a palate of fine, black fruit and real flavour.
Château La Fleur Peyrabon 2011 Pauillac** (Millesima £17) Maturing relatively fast and now showing fine, cedary flavours. Balanced and rounded. Waitrose Direct has the 2010 for £27.99 and it’s a delight.
Château Fonbadet 2011 Pauillac* (Costco £23) Firmly structured as it should be in the heart of Pauillac. Serious wine, best in 5 to 7 years.
Château Lillian-Ladouys 2011 St Estèphe (Bibendum Wine £16) Heavily oaked but has good underlying fruit, needs 5 to 6 years to harmonise.
Château Serilhan 2011 St Estèphe** (Fine & Rare Wines £20) Consistently one of the most exciting Crus Bourgeois, rich, gutsy and flavoursome.
Laura liked those starred above (those with ** she liked a lot!) and also these:
Château Preuillac 2011 Médoc (£20 Soho Wine Supply sell previous vintages) Dense ripe fruit, rich and one of the Médoc wines that has a long life expectancy. Richard felt unable to recommend this one as he has a vested interest, working for them as he does, but Laura has no such restraint.
Château Larose Perganson 2011 Haut-Médoc (Liberty Wines £26-£29) This may seem expensive but it tasted of Cru Classé quality.
Château Magnol 2011 Haut-Médoc (stockist/price to be confirmed) Attractive with easy cassis and minty flavours.
Château Deyrem Valentin 2011 Margaux (stockist/price to be confirmed) Pretty complex, showing weight and length.