Richard Lane laps up wines from two contrasting vintages of Les crus Bourgeois – the hot, volumptuous 2018 and the cooler, tauter 2019.
One thing that always ties me up in knots is Bordeaux’s various classification systems. Don’t get me started on the Saint-Emilion classification, and I cannot honestly say I have had the opportunity to taste many of the class growths of the 1855 classification; but les Crus Bourgeois du Médoc seems altogether more familiar, and accessible. Created in the 1930s, it currently classifies around 250 Left-Bank chateaux deemed to be offering wine of very good quality at affordable prices. I won’t go into recent politics, let’s just say that the latest incarnation of the classification is dated 2020, covering vintages 2018-2022 inclusive, with a re-establishment of its three historic tiers: Cru Bourgeois, Cru Bourgeois Superieur, and Cru Bourgeois Exceptionnel, all allocations being co-ordinated by the work of the alliance des crus Bourgeois du Médoc.
The new 2020 Crus Bourgeois classifies 249 estates as follows: 179 Crus Bourgeois; 56 Crus Bourgeois Superieur; and just 14 Crus Bourgeois Exceptionnel, which amounts to around 28 million bottles in total, or just over 30% of the Médoc’s output. It is worth noting that success of entry to the two higher tiers is not solely down to the assessment of wine quality; evidence of a commitment to environmental sustainability, in technical excellence (assessed from vine to glass) and in marketing prowess are also key criteria.
On Tuesday 16th November in London, there was a fine opportunity to taste a cross-section of the classification, and from two vintages: 40 wines from the very warm 2018 vintage, and a further 40 from the 2019 vintage. Even before assessing the merits of the wines on show, it was also a good opportunity to taste and reflect on these two recent and fascinating vintages. It would be all too simple to just say that the hot 2018 vintage created rounder, fruitier, more voluptuous (the French say voloptu, my preference!) and early drinking wines than the more reserved 2019s; while broadly true, in the wines I tasted there was plenty of evidence of fine winemaking to keep some of the exuberant 2018s in check; and while many of the 2019s, obviously being a year younger and from a cooler vintage (but not that cool!) need more time to open up and evolve, there is some tantalising quality beginning to shine through.
I was lucky enough to be seated throughout at the tasting at the Institute of Directors on Pall Mall, benefiting from the expert guidance of Sommelier Alex whose brief was to ensure that I tasted an equal proportion of wines from the two vintages, and ensuring representation from the three quality levels. I deliberately tasted blind, not researching the chateaux in question until tasting notes had been drafted. I’ll spare the detail, other than to point out a few highlights, starting with the 2018 vintage, a few notable wines (CBS for Cru Bourgeois Superieur, CBE for Cru Bourgeois Exceptionnel, UK distributors added if known):
Médoc: Ch La Cardonne (CBS), really opulent and voluptuousous, delicious and bursting with fruit if this is your preferred style. Haut-Médoc: high alcohol common, 14 or 14.5%, my favourites being Ch Arnaud (CBE, Liberty Wines) and Ch Beaumont (CBS, Wine Society, Co-Op), both with singing ripe fruit but still underpinned with seams of fresh acidity and tannin. From the commune appellations my pick was Saint-Estèphe’s Ch Le Crock (CBE, Uncorked Ltd) holding its 14.5% alcohol well, rich and opulent, and with good structure; similarly Ch Biston Brillette (CBS) from the Listrac/Moulis 18s on show.
Highlights from the generally tauter, more structured 19s – probably my preferred style on balance, even if many are a bit closed at the moment: beautiful refinement and elegance from the Médoc’s Ch d’Argan, silky black plum, velveteen and classy; from the Haut-Médoc: look no further than the complex and brooding Ch d’Agassac, beautifully integrated oak and dark fruits, a fireside wine for sure; complexity too from Ch Charmail (CBE), olive-tapenade and spicey, another brooding, characterful wine to look out for. From the communes, Margaux’s Ch d’Arsac (CBE, Millesima UK) is vibrantly fresh with wonderful fine-grained tannins, expect this to be stunning with a few more years of bottle age but it’s already impressing. The same could be said for many other of the 19s of course, and from Moulis/Listrac Ch Caroline (CBS) is already singing with her 92% Merlot rooted in ‘muddy clay’, and perhaps the most exciting wine I tasted, Ch Malescas (CBE, Delivery Wine Company) offering great structure yet delicious and suave black fruit on a refreshing palate.
One other point I picked up from the highly detailed Crus Bourgeois press kit: much emphasis on the label/kitemark of all wines which qualify for Cru Bourgeois status. Look out for these, and if you’re more technical than I am, get ready to scan the label’s QR code to reveal more information about the wine and its estate. Note to self for me to figure out QR codes with the gabbling voice screen reader on my smartphone. Meanwhile: bravo les Crus Bourgeois du Médoc, and to you all: happy hunting for these generally high-quality and accessible expressions of Médoc. The 2018s will likely have a shorter shelf-life, some are already peaking, but the best of the 2019s will offer pleasure for at least another 5-10 years. As they say, ‘enjoy’.
Further information: https://www.crus-bourgeois.com/en/