Some of the best value Bordeaux out there comes from the Cru Bourgeois – a family of superb wines that pass vigorous quality control checks to guarantee you a glass of something rather special . . .
The Cru Bourgeois are a great source of extremely good wine at a fraction of the price you would splash out on a Grand Cru Classe. Made to the same exacting standards as the Grand Cru Classe in many cases (and often at the same cost) the Cru Bourgeois have clear-cut pedigrees and a rigorous quality control system. Unlike the Grand Cru Classe, which were ranked back in 1855 and have not been reclassified since, the Cru Bourgeois are assessed on a yearly basis. This is the most dynamic ranking of wines in Bordeaux (even Saint Emilion can not match it, their Classification is updated around every 10 years or so).
You may ask why wines are classified at all. Simply put, Classification provides the consumer with an authentic product and a guarantee of its quality.
What are the Cru Bourgeois?
The Cru Bourgeois are a legacy that dates back to the Middle Ages. The ‘bourgeois’ refers to the wealthy middle class wine merchants and craftsmen of the ‘bourg’ of Bordeaux. By the 15th century the bourgeois of Bordeaux had begun to invest in fine vineyards, which became known as Cru Bourgeois (‘cru’ means ‘growth’ when referring to vineyards and denotes recognised quality). They played an important role in the development of the Medoc vineyards and by the early 1800s there were around 300 Crus Bourgeois estates.
Instigated by the Emperor Napoleon III, the 1855 Classification ranked the wines of the aristocracy. Many estates were left out and typically, the Cru Bourgeois were not included. However the Cru Bourgeois were too good not to be recognised in some way. They represented the better estates across the Medoc covering the appellations Medoc, Haut Medoc, Listrac Medoc, Moulis en Medoc, Pauillac, Saint Estephe, Margaux and Saint Julien.
1932 – The unofficial list
In 1932 the Bordeaux Chamber of Commerce and Chamber of Agriculture drew up an unofficial list of 444 Cru Bourgeois chateaux and this remained unchanged until 2003. Things needed to change; the 1932 list badly needed revising and regulating as it was outdated and the range in quality was quite diverse.
2003 – The year of change . . . and court action
The 2003 classification was the first big step forward but, as you can imagine, it caused an uproar with only 247 chateaux included out of the 490 that were submitted. What’s more the chateaux were divided into 3 tiers: Cru Bourgeois Exceptionnel, Cru Bourgeois Supérieur and Cru Bourgeois (with Cru Bourgeois Exceptionnel being the top wines). The idea was to assess the chateaux every 12 years but thanks to the ensuing fracas, bitter complaints and threats of legal action from unsuccessful chateaux owners the Cru Bourgeois was annulled in 2007. Thankfully, after much wrangling and mulling over the best way forward, a brand new system was introduced and 2010 saw the Cru Bourgeois reborn.
2010 – The year of rebirth
The new Cru Bourgeois quality control procedure is independent and uncompromising.
Vintage, not vineyard – The class of Cru Bourgeois is awarded to the vintage and not to the vineyard or to the chateau which means that each year a chateau can lose or gain Cru Bourgeois status depending on whether the wine of that vintage makes the grade or not.
Independent Judges – To ensure impartiality, an independent agency called Bureau Veritas, checks that all applicants are worthy, examining the state of their grounds, vineyards and wine making facilities.
Blind Tastings – Bureau Veritas is also in charge of supervising blind tastings of each vintage by a jury of trade professionals – who are not chateau owners.
The new system does not include tiers so the higher-ranking Cru Bourgeois Superieur and Cru Bourgeois Exceptionnel categories that were used in the 2003 ranking are defunct. However there are movements to reinstate these, so I will keep you posted!
Any chateau can apply for Cru Bourgeois status but only their Grand Vin can be submitted ie no second wines or special cuvées.
Five years down the line and these exacting standards are bearing fruit. The Cru Bourgeois are well respected. Benchmark wines are being recognised and consumers are benefitting from Cru Bourgeois’ stable prices, consistent quality, provenance and rich history along with an ongoing commitment to offering genuine value.
My Recommended Cru Bourgeois
A consistent performer as a Cru Bourgeois and the 2011 vintage has also bagged a gold medal in the long established Concours des Grand Vins de France. Chantemerle is a petit chateau that belongs to the Cruchon family who have been wine makers for several generations in the northern Medoc. Under the direction of Frederic Cruchon, the Medoc’s traditions are respected and the vineyard managed meticulously.
Meltingly smooth Cru Bourgeois Medoc with splendidly rounded tannins. Deliciously deep flavours of cassis (blackcurrant liqueur), juicy prunes and ripe black cherry with expressive notes of vanilla, cinnamon, cocoa and cedar. A lovely floral hint of peonies. Powerful yet balanced. Aromatic, opulent and silky.
Food and Wine Pairing:
Being rich and full bodied, Chantemerle pairs very well with the rich flavours of duck and lamb. It’s good with a juicy rib eye steak or hearty beef casseroles, rabbit in mustard sauce, sausages and salamis, feathered game such as pheasant or grouse, kidney and liver.