Saturday, January 14, 2017

For Bordeaux Bargains, Check Out Cru Bourgeois

I can’t afford high-end Bordeaux. I taste them whenever I can, but most of the greatest wines carry price tags that keep them out of reach for few but the very wealthy.

While the best wines remain out of reach for most of us, there are surprisingly good Bordeaux reds available for those who can drop $15 to $35 a bottle. And these aren’t necessarily drink-me-now, chuggable reds. They’re legit, ageworthy blends worth checking out.

I’ve been on an inexpensive Bordeaux kick for a while now. The Cotes du Bordeaux appellations offer quality and value; ditto for this mixed Bordeaux case I tasted recently. A recent tasting of wines classified as Crus Bourgeois reminded me that these wines deserve the attention of savvy Cab and Merlot-loving wine enthusiasts.

The history of the Crus Bourgeois dates back to the Middle Ages. Obviously, the classifications and quality of these wines have gone through dramatic changes over the centuries. (Check out a full history here.) For our purposes: the past decade has proven pivotal for these wines, and, like Bordeaux in general, improvements in across-the-board quality have been very impressive.

Between 2007 and 2009, wine producers of the Médoc region (on Bordeaux’s Left Bank) got together and jumpstarted this classification by forming the Alliance des Crus Bourgeois du Médoc. This collective established legally-recognized quality assurance guidelines, as well as an official selection process. Two years after each vintage, eligible wines are submitted to an independent panel, blind-tasted, and ranked. If they pass muster, they can be labeled Cru Bourgeois, meaning this language may appear on a wine in one vintage, but not another. The most current vintage classification (2014) contains 279 Chateaux, so the styles, production levels, appellations, etc., all vary widely. Seeing Cru Bourgeois on the label is not a guarantee that you’ll enjoy the wine, but it’s a good indicator that the bottle contains legit vino.

The numbers vary, but about 1/3 of the Médoc’s wine (some 30 million bottles) receives this classification. Crus Bourgeois wines come from eight different appellations: Médoc, Haut-Médoc, Listrac-Médoc, Moulis en Médoc, Margaux, Saint Estèphe, Saint Julien, and Pauillac.

I recently attended an event sponsored by the Crus Bourgeois du Médoc to taste through some 2014 vintages. Overshadowed by the highly-touted 2015 vintage (and early word is that 2016 may be even better), this isn’t a classic vintage. But there are plenty of solid young red blends available, many of which over-deliver for the price.

The tasting was spearheaded by international wine guru, Bordeaux aficionado, and all-around cool guy, Panos Kakaviatos, who writes for Decanter and blogs at Wine Chronicles. Ripple, which has a new Executive Chef Ryan Ratino, hosted us and provided us with wonderful food. While I’ll miss Marjorie Meek-Bradley’s cooking, all signs point to Ripple continuing as one of DC’s most delicious and wine-friendly restaurants.

I’ve included average retail prices where they’re available, although some of these wines don’t have much (or any) distribution in the U.S., so the prices are not included. But it’s safe to say most of these wines would retail in that $15-25 range.

My notes…

2014 Château Lalaudey - France, Bordeaux, Médoc, Moulis en Médoc
Aromas of juicy black cherries and earth. Vibrant acidity meets firm tannins and juicy currant fruit. Earth, leaves, oak and coffee. Could age nicely for in the near-term but quite pleasant now. 52% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc, 4% Petit Verdot. Aged 14-18 months in 50% new French oak. (87 points)

2014 Château Meyre - France, Bordeaux, Médoc, Haut-Médoc
Smoky nose with fresh black cherries and earth. Fleshy but firm with black cherries and red currants and notes of tilled soil. Accessible, not too gritty. A blend of 44% Merlot, 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 11% Petit Verdot and 5% Cabernet Franc. (86 points)

2014 Château Moulin à Vent - France, Bordeaux, Médoc, Moulis en Médoc
Open and juicy aromas of red cherries, anise and pepper. Structured quite nicely with vibrant acidity and solid tannins. Deep cherries and currants with smoke, anise, iron and earth. I love the smooth texture despite the bold foundation. 70% Merlot, 23% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Petit Verdot and 2% Cabernet Franc, aged 12 months in 30% new oak. (88 points)

2014 Château Peyredon Lagravette - France, Bordeaux, Médoc, Haut-Médoc
Brighter aromatics but still juicy, more floral tones and potting soil. Tannins show serious grip. Spiced tea, herbs and campfire on top of black currants and cherries. Seems powerful and built to last quite a bit. Cabernet Sauvignon with 37% Merlot. (88 points)

2014 Château Rollan de By - France, Bordeaux, Médoc
A voluptuous and inviting nose of creamy black fruit, earth, sage and coffee. Velvety but plenty of grip, rich fruit (cherries and plums) but softer around the edges, with notes of earth, anise and vanilla. 70% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Cabernet Franc, 10% Petit Verdot aged 18 months in French oak. (88 points)

2014 Château Tour Seran - France, Bordeaux, Médoc
Similar in style to the Rollan de By (same ownership and winemaking team), but with a bit more pepper and soil aromas. Plush, rich, lots of dark cherries and plums, and a good dose of peppery smoke and dark soil. Very attractive and accessible but good tension to unravel in the cellar. (89 points)

2014 Château La Haye - France, Bordeaux, Médoc, St. Estèphe
Bright but rich aromas, the lively currant fruit is topped in violets, peppers and smashed rocks. Rich texture, bold tannins, fresh acidity, the currant fruit is rich but precise and laced in pepper, earth and black tea. Impressive. 65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Merlot, aged a year in about 50% new oak. (89 points)

2014 Château Labadie - France, Bordeaux, Médoc
Really digging these aromas of plums and wet earth and smoke and tobacco. Plush on the palate but great grip, fresh acidity. Black tea, charred earth, anise and campfire smoke on top of deep but tart plums. I’d love to see how this ages in three to six years. Merlot with 33% Cabernet Sauvignon and 4% Cabernet Franc. (89 points)

2014 Château Patache d'Aux Médoc - France, Bordeaux, Médoc
Interesting nose of violets and black tea on top of black cherries. Vibrant acid frames the wine, firm tannic backbone, but this has some vibrant red fruit in here. Anise, gravel, smashed rocks and black tea flavors. Minerals and freshness on the finish; a few years in the cellar for sure. 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 7% Cabernet Franc, 3% Petit Verdot aged a year in 1/3 new French oak. (88 points)

2014 Château Hanteillan - France, Bordeaux, Médoc, Haut-Médoc
Fresh aromas of cherries and violets and lots of earth tones. Silky, smooth, structured but approachable. Herbs, tea, leaves, minerals, lots going on here, lots of improvement over the coming years. For this price… yeah. Merlot with 35% Cabernet Sauvignon and 5% Petit Verdot, aged 14-16 months in 30% new barrels. (89 points)

2014 Château d'Arsac Margaux - France, Bordeaux, Médoc, Margaux
Smells of tars, pepper, soy, smoke and black cherries. Very pretty despite its density. Smoky earth, mocha, pepper, iron gravel, these are mixed in nicely with black cherries. Should age nicely. Cabernet Sauvignon with 47% Merlot, aged 10 months in oak (30% new) and 20% vats. (89 points)

2014 Château Larose-Trintaudon - France, Bordeaux, Médoc, Haut-Médoc
Tart strawberries and green beans on the nose. Light and acerbic, far more so than any other wines in the tasting. Green beans and green pepper. Off balance. Merlot with 35% Cabernet Sauvignon and 7% Petit Verdot aged 12 months in 1/4 new barrels. 

2014 Château Larose Perganson - France, Bordeaux, Médoc, Haut-Médoc
Light red fruits on the nose. More structured than the Larose-Trintaudon and a lot more balance. Juicy black and red cherries with earth and rocky notes. A hint of astringency on the finish, but maybe time will mellow this out. 49% Cabernet Sauvignon, 47% Merlot and 4% Petit Verdot aged a year in 40% new French oak. (85 points)

2014 Château Arnauld - France, Bordeaux, Médoc, Haut-Médoc
So dark and saucy on the nose. Palate is dark, bold and concentrated but packed with flavor. Plump plums and juicy currants topped with anise, smashed rocks and vanilla. Oaky but very pretty. Modern in style but should age very nicely. Cabernet Sauvignon with 30% Merlot and 10% Petit Verdot, aged 18 months in all new oak barrels. (89 points)

These older vintages were tasted during the dinner.

2012 Château La Haye - France, Bordeaux, Médoc, St. Estèphe
Lots of pepper and smoke on the nose. Full and grippy but fresh acidity keeps it relatively smooth. Cassis laced with tobacco, pepper and gravel. Young but quite good. (89 points)

2012 Château Haut Breton Larigaudière - France, Bordeaux, Médoc, Margaux
Wow – this is a pure and silky wine with currants and plums blended nicely with graphite, violets and pepper. Packed but lush. Highly delicious. (89 points)

2012 Château Lalaudey - France, Bordeaux, Médoc, Moulis en Médoc
Smells of green pepper and incense. On the palate, this is bizarre. Lots of green pepper, so unbalanced, biting, acerbic. Nope.

2012 Château Moulin à Vent - France, Bordeaux, Médoc, Moulis en Médoc
Juicy red cherries, red plums and flowers on the nose. Smooth but nice grip. Red/black currants mix with rose petals, pepper and loamy earth. No rush. (87 points)

2012 Château Meyre - France, Bordeaux, Médoc, Haut-Médoc
Softer approach with sweet plums and roses. Fresh with tart currants, flowers and wet earth. Showing nicely now but still some tannin/acid strength to go a few years. (87 points)

2010, an amazing vintage, shows the heights of
quality the Cru Bourgeois Bordeaux can reach
2010 Château Larose Perganson - France, Bordeaux, Médoc, Haut-Médoc
After a bunch of 2014s and 2012s, this 2010 popped out and demonstrated why I love this vintage so much. Tart but deep berries and violets on the nose. Full and tannic but it has this smooth, velvety presence on the palate. Straight up deliciousness with its juicy currant fruit, which is matched by anise, graphite, campfire and coffee. This will improve for quite some time. (90 points)

2010 Château Larose-Trintaudon - France, Bordeaux, Médoc, Haut-Médoc
I really didn't like the 2014 but this is solid. Bright and spicy red fruits. Still going with the tannic structure, some tartness, vibrant red cherries with notes of herbs and pepper. Good for a few more years, I think. (87 points)

2010 Château Patache d'Aux Médoc - France, Bordeaux, Médoc
Very pretty and floral on the nose. Deep and full but well-balanced on the palate. Dark but fresh currants with earth, savory notes. Very nice! (89 points)

2010 Château Tour Seran - France, Bordeaux, Médoc
Rich, dark currants on the nose with sweet coffee, clove and tilled soil. Chewy but fresh on the palate, dense but luscious. Currants and plums and earth and coffee, woven together nicely. Long finish. Very pretty stuff, showing nicely now but improvement to come. (90 points)

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