At long last the Medoc Cru Bourgeois hiatus is over. Following the legal challenges that overthrew the controversial 2003 classification, Frederique de Lamothe, the director of the l’Alliance de Cru Bourgeois du Medoc [www.crus-bourgeois.com] announced last week, after three years of painstaking effort, the first new selection of wines entitled to the Cru Bourgeois name. It is not, in fact, a classification at all this time round, rather a list of those wines that have met a set of standards which entitles them to use the term. 243 Chateau have been selected from a total of 290 that applied for inclusion, a selection made following blind tastings based on the 2008 vintage conducted by a panel made up of professional tasters, this time with no chateau owners involved, one of the main gripes of those who felt unfairly treated in the 2003 classification.
The selection, called the ‘Reconnaissance’ system, is intended to be an annual survey, a vintage by vintage guide if you like, so theoretically wines can move in, or out of selection. The official list will be published annually each September, this first selection entitling chateaux to the term for the 2008 vintage only. This new Cru Bourgeois group represents 3,500 hectares of vines in the Médoc, or 22% of the vineyard area and 30% of the region’s production.
One of the main differences between this selection and the 2003 classification is that this time round there are no hierarchies at all. Gone are the ‘Superieur’ and ‘Exceptionnel’ categories, now the wines selected are all simply Cru Bourgeois. On the face of it this actually seems a bit strange. Although it has the benefits of a flat, democratic structure, it is also a lowest common denominator approach, that won’t in itself act as an incentive to excellence amongst the chateaux. The Alliance have not ruled out hierarchies in the future, however, and it will need them if the system is to develop further and reward ambition and achievement. Given the legal wrangling that broke out following the 2003 classification, however, largely over disputes concerning the hierarchies themselves, it’s hardly surprising that the Alliance has opted for a less contentious approach. Spare a thought for Frederique de Lamothe and her colleagues who spent the last three years putting this new system together. It must have required the skills of a high flying group of international diplomats to pull it off.
Not everyone has been kept satisfied of course. Decanter.com has reported that a number of higher achieving properties, including Chateau Siran, Chasse Spleen, Chateau Poujeaux, Chateau Ormes de Pez, Chateau de Pez and Chateau Potensac, principally those classified as ‘Exceptionnel’ in 2003, have said ‘that’s it, we’re off!’ and quit the system altogether, with a view to establishing a group of their own.
Despite this, the new Cru Bourgeois system is certainly a good start to re-establishing the brand after a rather sorry period. Any system based on proper qualitative and independent assessment is to the benefit of the consumer. It does mean something and has much more legitimacy than the 1855 Classification which is still much bandied about by those estates fortunate enough to have been included all those years ago but which in reality doesn’t actually guarantee a thing. The stakes are high here and there is much to play for. As the top classified growths of Bordeaux continue to take all of the limelight and probably most of the money that flows into Bordeaux, it’s high time that the so-called lesser chateaux have an organisation and an official selection that they can get behind. Given the speed at which the top chateaux are now accelerating away in terms of price, there is much middle ground to be filled by ambitious chateaux owners looking to occupy it – and a not inconsiderable band of consumers of Bordeaux [me included] who have been left high and dry as their favourite chateaux have doubled, tripled and even quadrupled in price. I, for one, am a very eager consume more Beau-Site, Beaumont, Charmail, Cissac, Le Boscq, Malescasse, Patache d’Aux and Tour St Bonnet, all chateaux amongst the wines included in this first selection.