The latest Crus Bourgeois classified wines have just been released. They are from the 2017 vintage which, by any standards, was a tricky one with the unusual extreme spring frosts being the biggest culprit for causing yields to be very low, as much as 50% lower than normal in some areas. The classification is only for wines of the Médoc, and those appellations closest to the estuary suffered the least and were able to produce very high quality wines. It seemed to me, admittedly tasting through only a small selection of only 32 wines, that location, which is always key, was particularly relevant in 2017. The vines of the communes of Margaux, St Julien, Pauillac and St Estèphe suffered little and produced good wines. Those of the northern Médoc were not so lucky and it seemed to me that because yield were so low there were some less than ripe grapes in the mix. Apparently, according to Jane Anson in Decanter there was some co-fermentation of different grapes to fill the tanks. There’s nothing wrong with this in itself if all your grapes were sufficiently ripe at the same time – unlikely for Cabernet and Merlot grapes.
This may all sound a bit negative and you might think I wasn’t impressed with the wines. Actually, I was. And this is the whole point of the classification. The wines have to be blind tasted annually (for now) and it seems that the fact there were far fewer châteaux which were successful in attaining the classification proves that it works. This year there were 226 Crus Bourgeois compared with last year, the elegant yet structured 2016s, when 270 wines were classified. And I should make it clear, it is the wine and not the château which is classified. The 2017s are wines which show a lightness and early drinkability in some, with an attractive balance and length in those from the communes, and, from my point of view, those with a good proportion on Cabernet Sauvignon seemed to do best.
Médoc: Château Vieux Robin (O.W. Loeb, Fine & Rare)
Haut-Médoc: Château d’Agassac (Hedonism), Château Bernadotte (Farr Vintners), Château Cambon La Pelouse (Millesima, Vinissimus), Château de Malleret (Crump, Richmond & Shaw), Château Peyredon Lagravette (O.W. Loeb)
Listrac: Château Fonréaud (Goedhuis, Tanners, Berry Bros, Fareham Wine Cellar)
Moulis: Château Caroline (Goedhuis, Tanners, Berry Bros, Fareham Wine Cellar)
Margaux: Château Deyrem Valentin (Waitrose)
St Estèphe: Château Le Crock (Uncorked)
I have always been a fan of this classification. There is value to be had in these wines in an area where prices can be steep for even the deepest pockets. There is a clarity and transparency about the wines and the châteaux they come from – you can scan the QR code on the label to have access to a lot of information about the wine before you buy it – the producers work together as the Alliance des Crus Bourgeois and I note a pride in this. I have faith that this will still be the case when things change a bit next year.
What’s afoot is a back to the future scenario. In the past, prior to 2003, the wines were classified in a three tier structure but since 2009 the wines were blind tasted two years after the vintage and declared Cru Bourgeois (or not) all at the same level. From next year, and the 2018 vintage, there will be three hierarchical levels – Cru Bourgeois, Cru Bourgeois Supérieur and Cru Bourgeois Exceptionnel – and the wine will be classified for 5 years. The selection process will be rigorous with several criteria needing to be followed including good agricultural and environmental practices, traceability at every point of production and active marketing of both the wine and the classification including reception of the public and trade to the property. The most important factor is what’s in the bottle and this will be judged on vintages between 2008 and 2016. For the next classification in 2025, the wines will be tasted blind from 2017 and 2021 vintages.
I approve of the direction the classification is taking. It’s clear and fair, and, for consumers, will explain why there might be a difference in price between one Cru Bourgeois and another. Do look out for wines with the Cru Bourgeois logo and note that wines from slightly older vintages are worth buying. I am can recommend the 2012’s and 2014’s for their freshness and elegance both drinking beautifully now, and 2015’s for their ripeness and generosity.
Here’s a few to whet your appetite.