Bordeaux demystified

Buying wine from Bordeaux can be a minefield, but help is at hand with the Cru Bourgeois classification

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 Bordeaux demystified

When, a few years back, renowned FT critic Jancis Robinson slipped a bottle from a lesser known Bordeaux producer into a dinner party line-up of stellar uber expensive Cru Classé wines, including Chateaux Latour and Lynch Bages, she secretly thought the rogue bottle would be overwhelmed by its classier companions. But, as it happened, the bottle acquitted itself well and was far from disgraced. The bottle in question was a relatively modest bottle of Chateau Belle-Vue (2009 vintage) which, according to Wine Searcher, you should be able to pick up for around £25.

The nice thing about Bordeaux is you don’t necessarily need to spend anything like £25, or even a multiple of that in the case of the off-the-scale “Cru Classé” wines. When Bordeaux is good it is one of the favourite red wines anywhere on the planet, delivering accessible character and a wonderful balance of structure (tannins and acidity) and delicious black fruit flavours. But when it is bad, it is far from people pleasing and not the food friendly wine you're looking for.  In short, it will be a let-down and you may feel ripped off. And the problem is, with so much choice – the output from the region is vast – there are plenty of wines that can severely let you down. 

This is where the Cru Bourgeois wines come into their own. These wines, including the already mentioned Chateau Belle-Vue, are one level down from the top-tier Cru Classé wines. But, reassuringly, they are subject to their own rules and regulations to ensure quality, integrity and traceability, and on a purely bang-for-buck basis they are more than a match for their lofty Cru Classé neighbours.

The Cru Bourgeois classification was set up in 1932, designed to recognise some of the best chateaux that were not celebrated in the 1855 Cru Classé classification. And the good news is they are easily recognisable in shops as each bottle now carries the cru bourgeois seal on the neck – there is also a QR code which takes you through to a website with all the key information on the wine.  

Today there are 267 Cru Bourgeois du Medoc in the Official Selection. They come from seven Medoc AOCs in Bordeaux. These are in the main familiar names: Médoc, Haut-Médoc, Listrac-Médoc, Moulis-en-Médoc, Margaux, Saint-Julien, Pauillac and Saint-Estèphe. The vineyards are located on great terroirs, and the wines undergo rigorous assessment ensuring every bottle delivers great quality at an accessible price. The latest 2019 vintage has been widely praised by the critics (along with 2018, 16 and 15) for producing high quality wines that are fresh, generous, round and balanced. 

There is widespread acknowledgement that the Crus Bourgeois represent excellent quality and undoubted value in the market. Some Cru Bourgeois estates in certain appellations are neighbours to Grand Crus wines. And in 202O the latest classification introduced two superior ranks to go alongside the simple Crus Bourgeois rank and add further depth to the classification – Crus Bourgeois Superieur and Crus Bourgeois Exceptionnel.  

One key reason why these wines are less expensive than the Cru Classés is the fact that there is no secondary market for them, and hence no great history of past vintages or related glamour.  They are, pure and simply, that wonderful thing: wines for drinking rather than wines for investment!

Check out the Bordeaux selections of some of these popular websites, some of which will be Cru Bourgeois