There is Nothing Bourgeois about Cru Bourgeois


I did not really know much about wine when I started my junior year abroad studying in Strasbourg, France. At the time I was far more worried about the inebriating effect of wine than I was about aromas of pear skin or tayberry jam. In fact, I was more of a beer guy then, and I can recall several instances when a group of us would stop by the gas station in town to pick up a few liters of Kronenbourg, which was brewed right there in Alsace (to this day, you can buy alcohol in most gas stations in France, which must not help recent efforts to curb drunk driving).

I lived with a French family that year and my French mother did her best to rid me of my rather pedestrian penchant for pilsners and replace it with a much more virtuous veneration for the vine (particularly those from France). She was clearly successful for the most part with one notable exception: Bordeaux.
From the beginning, I was not much of a Bordeaux fan, preferring instead the wines of Burgundy, which my French mother attributed to youthful ignorance. She claimed that most young people prefer Burgundy, but as their tastes “matured” and become refined, they invariably changed their preference to Bordeaux.
My French mother said a lot of crazy things, but at the time I thought this may have been near the top (in retrospect, she was a xenophobe and a racist so this was rather tame in comparison). Part of the reason that I was no fan of Bordeaux was that even though there were myriad classifications, it remained difficult to find decent wine without having to take out additional student loans.
Back in 1855, Napoléon III called for a classification of the top Bordeaux producers and, for the most part, it has remained unchanged (despite clear changes in quality--both up and down--over that time). Since then, there have been other classifications in St. Émilion and Graves, the former of which being fraught with contentious reclassifications and legal challenges.
No classification, however, has had a more colorful history than Cru Bourgeois. When I first learned of the classification, I thought of it as rather odd--I had most often heard the word “bourgeois” used as almost an insult, meaning to demean someone as having a "middle-class” small-mindedness approach to life (in fact, I always thought of the classic play by Molière, Le bourgeois gentihomme, which certainly did not maintain that being "bourgeois" was a good thing).
In fact, “bourgeois” simply means "of the bourg" or “of the town" and in the case of Cru Bourgeois it indicates that the wines are accessible for the masses (i.e., not ridiculously expensive).
The classification was initially drawn up in 1932 and included 444 Châteaux. It remained unchanged until 2000 when there was an attempt to reclassify the wines. And close to 500 Châteaux applied for the classification. After three years of work, just about half of the applicants were accepted and they were classified into three tiers: Cru Bourgeois Exceptionnel, Cru Bourgeois Superieur, and Crus Bourgeois.
In true French fashion, however, those that felt slighted by the new classification sued, and in 2007, the entire system was scrapped. Those pesky Bordelais did not relent, though, and in 2010 introduced Cru Bourgeois not as a classification, but a mark of quality (and thus somehow skirting, at least for now, legal challenges). All wines from the Médoc could apply to have their wines judged by an independent body based on production and quality standards. 290 wines from the 2008 vintage were submitted in 2010 and 243 were accepted.
It remains to be seen if this new approach to Cru Bourgeois will stand, but for now, it does seem to provide the consumer with some guidance when trying to find a quality Bordeaux wine at a reasonable price. I recently tried the following Cru Bourgeois wines, all of which would be welcomed on my table any time.
Retail $25. 67% Cabernet Sauvignon, 31% Merlot, 2% Petit Verdot. This wine is not labeled as a “Cru Bourgeois” on the label, but it has been a Cru Bourgeois since the 2013 vintage. Black cherry and blackberry exude from the deep violet wine along with earth and a touch of forrest floor. Fairly rich on the palate, with great red fruit and richness and it finishes with considerable backbone and tannic structure. This easily has another 4-6 years ahead of it (perhaps more) but it is lovely right now. Outstanding. 89-91 Points.
Retail $22. 45% Merlot, 45% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Cabernet Franc. Deep purple color with a bit of blackberry wafting out of the glass along with a touch of balsamic, but really, even after open a few hours, the wine was rather muted. A different story on the palate with more expressive fruit and depth all the way through to the finish. More proof that the pundits just might have been right about the 2009 vintage. Outstanding. 90-92 Points.
Retail $20. 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot. 2012 is not regarded as an incredible vintage, but rather a "classic" one, meaning that this vintage is more typical than most. Inky dark in the glass with plenty of cassis, blackberry, and anise on the nose. An interesting wine as there is plenty of fruit, but it is also reserved and even a bit austere. When I have a bottle of wine like this, I kick myself for not drinking more Bordeaux. Very Good to Outstanding. 89-91 Points.
Retail $22. Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Carménère, Merlot, Petit Verdot. A blend of all the classic Bordeaux varieties, with perhaps the most vegetal nose of the quartet, from the least remarkable vintage of the lot. It seems as though U.S. wineries strive to rid their wines of that green pepper on the nose, but I am not entirely sure why, as I feel it aids in the pairing of food. There is also a host of other sensations: black pepper, red berries, and some anise. On the palate, there is fruit, but it is in the second row behind the acidity and the earthiness. You might want to gulp down this wine, but with a shade more introspection, you will be rewarded. Very Good. 87-89 Points.

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