Story by Manos Angelakis
Bottle photo by the importer
Three classic Cru Bourgeois bottles showed up recently for tasting.
It’s been quite a while since any Bordeaux wines were sampled by our “gang of the usual suspects” and we were thrilled that we have not been forgotten by the French wine-powers that be.
The Cru Bourgeois classification has been a designation since 1932 that lists many of the producers from the Médoc that were not included in the famous 1855 Classification of Classed Growths.
Cru Bourgeois is considered a level below Cru Classé, but still indicates considerable quality. I personally think that today, there is enough similarity in quality between a number of the Classed Growths and many of the better Cru Bourgeois, but the Classed Growths are still thought of as representing the top quality of wines produced in the region. Let’s not forget that wine making is now a business that depends on the knowledge and talent of winemakers as much as the climate and terroir where the grapes are grown. As my Chilean winemaking friends say “wines are made as much in the cellar as at the vineyard”.
In 2010, the Cru Bourgeois designation was reintroduced in a revised form. It was supposed to be awarded annually, as a mark of quality, to individual wines rather than to a châteaux; it was supposedly based on the assessment of both production methods and the final product. Because these wines can reach maturity earlier than their Classed Growths cousins, they do not age as well in some cases; most of the wines will be at their best between 5 to 10 years after the vintage date.
Being from the Left Bank (Rive Gauche), most Cru Bourgeois wines are dominated by Cabernet Sauvignon. But, over the past few decades, many estates have added more Merlot and/or a few other allowed varieties to their blend, to soften them. The classification of Cru Bourgeois Bordeaux wines became the only French classification based solely on the results of blind tasting. All wines are tested by two juries of 5 individuals each. If the results are contested, two completely different juries of five people each are then convened.
Last year (2020) the Alliance des Crus Bourgeois du Médoc announced another change in the classification. The designation is no longer for a single vintage, as it has been since 2010, but for five years and the three quality tiers were added back, as the classification was designed in its 1932 initial incarnation:
All the samples we received were from the 2015 vintage, before the new designations were implemented.
The Château Arnauld, from Haut-Médoc, is now considered an “Exceptional” estate; the Château Larose Perganson and Château Clement Saint-Jean samples, were considered less exalted but to our testers they were almost as good on the palate.
All prices given are for retail sales on the East Coast of the USA.
Château Larose Perganson; this wine was rich, smoky and full of blackberry fruit. It’s warm character contrasted with the juicy fruitiness and firm backdrop of tannins, giving a wine with good aging potential. It is a blend of 60% Cabernet Sauvignon and 40% Merlot. Our tasters rated it in the 89 to 90 range. It retails between $26 and $30 per bottle.
Château Clement Saint-Jean is a classic blend of 60% Merlot and 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, this gave us a wine with both generous fruit and a core of firm tannins. New-wood aging adds spice but it doesn't overwhelm the palate. We rate it at 89 points, which is excellent for a wine selling for $13 to $ 17 per bottle, depending on the location of the seller.
Château Arnauld was considered the top wine at the tasting.
It is an ancient property that dates to medieval times, when the land was owned by a monastery and was a pilgrimage site en route to Santiago de Compostela. The grapes are harvested by hand and sorted twice before destemming. Fermentation takes place in temperature-controlled, stainless tanks. After a long maceration on the skins, the wine is gently pressed and then racked into 100% new oak barriques. It is a blend of 63% Cabernet Sauvignon, 27% Merlot and 10% Petit Verdot. It has classic aromas of blackcurrant and cedar with smoky undertones and a well-structured palate with intense notes of blackberries and plums. We rated it at 92 points. It retails between $41 and $ 69 per bottle.
To your health!
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