It’s been two years since the Alliance of Crus Bourgeois du Médoc has staged a tasting event, last week’s London tasting being the first anywhere since Covid. In that time it has implemented a new 3-tier quality classification, got Latour’s ex assistant winemaker as its new president, and is set to host Good Wines Only, a tasting-music festival with 6,000 Parisians invited – to help prove that Bordeaux can be fun as well as simply traditional.
After hearing about some of the plans for the Alliance of Crus Bourgeois, Peter Dean gives an insight into the 2019 vintage and picks 12 Crus Bourgeois 2019 that stood out from the crowd.
Funk and hip-hop might not seem to be the most obvious of bedfellows with the Crus Bourgeois of Bordeaux but it is quite clear that, under the direction of new president Franck Bijon, the Alliance of Crus Bourgeois du Médoc, this group of 249 Bordeaux châteaux is out to confound expectations.
Early next year at Paris’s La Defense, DJs will be mixing it up as 6,000 wine lovers take part in Good Wines Only, a music cum wine festival organised by the Alliance to open Parisians’ palates to the pleasures of the 2018 and 2019 vintages of Crus Bourgeois.
“Too often Bordeaux is seen as just traditional,” Bijon tells me, “but we’re also modern, there’s no reason why we cannot be traditional and fun.”
Bijon used to be the assistant winemaker at Chateau Latour, now manages the Allianz properties, and was sworn in as the Alliance’s new president in June of this year. As such he oversees the new Crus Bourgeois classification that runs from 2020-25 and covers the five vintages 2018-22, two of which were on show at London’s Institute of Directors last Tuesday (November 16), the first time that the Alliance has ventured anywhere since the pandemic struck.
The timing of the London trade tasting and Good Wines Only is significant also because the 2018 vintage marks the return of the three-tier quality classification that has been re-instated having been declared null and void in 2007 on account of cronyism. The Crus Bourgeois wines now run across the three categories of Crus Bourgeois, Cru Bourgeois Supérieur and Crus Bourgeois Exceptionnel, with only 14 properties making it to the top tier.
This new classification has been created to enable more visible, and transparent, marketing for the next five years and to explain further to the consumer what Crus Bourgeois are all about.
“The hierarchical structure enables a clearer explanation of this very large family of wines, highlighting the premium quality of châteaux at the top, thereby motivating them to stay with us, or in some cases to come back,” explains Bijon.
Quick recap on the 2019 vintage
Tuesday’s tasting was the first chance the UK press and trade had of tasting the finished bottles of the 2019 vintage from the Crus Bourgeois, a vintage that was generally regarded as being of “very high quality”, although there are some properties that felt it was one of the vintages of the decade and as good if not better than 2018. Some reports from the UK wine trade are suggesting that tasting the classed growths is like tasting 1982. As always with Bordeaux the results depend upon a number of meteorological and viticultural factors as well as where the vineyards are situated.
Because 2019 had a very hot and dry, sunny summer, pHs were high, the grape skins were thick and the tannins were strong. Alcohol was raised particularly with the Merlot-dominated Right Bank but about the same as 2018 on the Left.
Another key factor in determining the character of the vintage was the rain at the end of September which helped the Cabernet Sauvignon in particular recover lost ground – ending up with yields that were just below average. The high pHs, however, led to many estates acidifying their reds with up to 1g/l tartaric.
2019 was an unusual vintage also because the En Primeur campaign was limited in time and scope by the pandemic restrictions and it witnessed a rare feat – prices actually came down compared to the previous year rather than the customary rise; Pontet-Canet which kicked off 2019 en primeur released at prices that were 31% down on 2018.
Another notable aspect of the 2019 vintage is that there is plenty of wine, even though the overall production was just shy of the 10-year average, in 2017 volumes were 40% down and it won’t be long before 2021 (and 2022 for those badly affected by frost) will be coming round, so buyers will be wise to look at 2019 as a vintage with which to replenish stocks.
So how were the Crus Bourgeois 2019 wines tasting?
I tasted 40 Crus Bourgeois 2019 wines from the eight AOCs: Médoc, Haut-Médoc, Listrac-Médoc, Moulis-en-Médoc, Margaux, Saint-Julien, Pauillac and Saint-Estèphe. Overall the quality was very good to excellent, although the styles varied considerably between classic Left Bank, where the Cabernet Savignon played a large part and a lusher, more concentrated, ripe style, where the Merlot was more dominant.
Generally speaking the wines were more structured than 2018, with higher acidity and more robust tannins, the fruit was less lush, and the wines overall more classic than 2018. Although at the London event one couldn’t taste the same chateaux in both 2018 and 2019 to compare and contrast (presumably to give 80 of the 248 members a ‘crack of the whip’), the 40 wines from 2018 that were on show were drinking beautifully, as are the press samples that were sent out last year during Lockdown. I can imagine we’ll have to wait for a lot longer with the 2019 vintage before some of the wines start to show their true colours, however.
I totally approve of the new tasting format – picking 40 wines from each vintage – which was a wise choice. In previous years there have been 250-odd wines from one vintage which makes comprehensive tasting almost nonsensical. I always pity the writers from some esteemed journals/ sites who have to do notes on every wine who stumble out with black teeth beyond repair!
A dozen standout Crus Bourgeois 2019
These were the wines that were showing best on the day. I didn’t take into account the new quality tiers when tasting but, interestingly, four of only five ‘Exceptionnel’ wines that were being shown made my final list which goes some way to say that the quality was evident ‘blind’.
Château Lousteauneuf, Médoc, 2019
Cabernet Sauvignon 70%, Petit Verdot 15%, Merlot 15%
This Supérieur has appealing floral notes, elegant and bright with a savoury undertow, and a hit of liquorice. Red fruit on the palate, ripe, fine-grained tannins, great balance and finish (£16)
Château de Panigon, Médoc, 2019
Refined nose with cherries and cloves; mouthfeel: rounded, ripe tannins, juicy, great balance; textural with a nice edgy finish, bit of grip. (£15-20)
Château les Trois Manoirs , Médoc,2019
Cabernet Sauvignon 60%, Merlot 40%
Semi-transparent purple, elegant nose with spice and wood; the palate shows off the percentage of Cabernet – lean, structured, refined, elegant with bags of fresh blackcurrant. (£15-20)
Château d’Agassac, Haut-Médoc, 2019
Cabernet Sauvignon 72%, Merlot 25%, Cabernet Franc 3%
This Exceptionnel had complexity and freshness pouring out of the glass; the palate was elegant, refined, juicy, flavoursome, great balance with a grip on the finish. (£15-20)
Château Charmail, Haut-Médoc, 2019
Merlot 40%, Cabernet Sauvignon 30%, Cabernet Franc 15%, Petit Verdot 15%
This Exceptionnel was my wine of the tasting; great complex nose – blackberry, mulberry, cassis, vanilla pod, cheese cloth. On the generous palate it had ripe black fruit, a great spine of wood-tinged acidity, fine-grained, ripe tannins; great grip on the finish. Now it needs food but you can see it has many more years ahead of it and where it wants to go. (£20-25)
Château Peyredon Lagravette, Haut-Médoc, 2019
Cabernet Sauvignon 63%, Merlot 37%
Complex, floral nose, hit of vanilla; the palate has ripe, fine-grained, integrated tannins; elegant, finely-textured great balance and finish. (£20-25)
Château du Taillan, Haut-Médoc, 2019
Merlot 70%, Cabernet Sauvignon 25%, Cabernet Franc 5%
Bags of ripe Merlot in this Exceptionnel makes its presence felt – wonderful nose with complexity, ripe, concentrated and generous but not jammy; great balance in the mouth, velvety, dense ripe tannins. (£20-25)
Château Cap Léon Veyrin, Listrac-Médoc, 2019
Merlot 58%, Cabernet Sauvignon 39%, Petit Verdot 3%
Beautifully complex, refined nose with a hint of wild mint; on the palate the wine is ripe and generous, fresh black fruit, ripe, primary, tannic, beautiful flavours with a citrus twist in the tail. (£20-25)
Château Mongravey, Margaux, 2019
Cabernet Sauvignon 70%, Merlot 28%, Cabernet Franc 2%
This Supérieur has red and black fruit, beautiful register on the palate, texture, structure and great balance between the fruit and acidity. Tannins just about integrated at this stage; great flavours, gorgeous. (£25-30)
Château Coutelin Merville, Saint-Estèphe, 2019
Merlot 50%, Cabernet Sauvignon 25%, Cabernet Franc 25%,
Pretty and quite beautiful nose; flowers, black cherry, plum; ripe, balanced, nice presence in the mouth texturally. (£25-30)
Château Lilian Ladouys, Saint-Estèphe, 2019
Merlot 59%, Cabernet Sauvignon 37%, Petit Verdot 3%, Cabernet Franc 1%
This Exceptionnel had lots going on including mocha coming in on the nose; ripe, generous, plush fruit – lovely balance between generous fruit and structure; this needs time, some of the elements felt disjointed but this will be up there with the very best in a few years. (£30)
Château Petit Bocq, Saint-Estèphe, 2019
Cabernet Sauvignon 50%, Merlot 48%, Petit Verdot 2%
This Supérieur had real energy from the aromas of ripe fleshy black fruit through to the firm structure. Lovely balance, great finish. Feels more complete. (£25-30)