Wine drinkers are often stereotyped as elitist. And in some cases, it’s true.
Take France’s Emperor Napoleon III, for example. Back in 1855 as part of the Exposition Universelle de Paris, he wanted a classification system to showcase the country’s best wines.
The Bordeaux Chamber of Commerce took the challenge seriously and created a five-tier system called the Crus Classé. Based primarily on price rather than an official measure of quality, it ranked fewer than 100 of the region’s best wines.
But Bordeaux is one of the largest producers of quality red wine in the world, so thousands of quality-producing châteaux were left off the list.
Worse yet, the region is so steeped in tradition that the wines on Bordeaux’s list remain exactly the same (except for the elevation of Mouton-Rothschild to Premier Cru Classé in 1973) more than 150 years later. Today, the inflexible and perhaps outdated classification system offers no chance for wines to be promoted, demoted or added regardless of ownership or improvements in quality.
So what about the wines that missed the cut back in 1855? They formed their own network of châteaux based on a three-tiered classification system called the Crus Bourgeois. (Take that, Napoleon.) First created in the 1930s, the top Cru Bourgeois wines are of superior quality and in many cases can easily rival the fourth- or fifth-tier wines of the Crus Classé. Muscle aside, many members of the Crus Bourgeois often price their wines in the $20 to $40 range, making them affordable and attractive to value-minded consumers.
Recently revamped for the 2003 vintage, Cru Bourgeois’ lineup includes nine Crus Bourgeois Exceptionnels, 87 Crus Bourgeois Superieurs and 151 Crus Bourgeois. Each bottle carries its rating on the front label located just under the name of the château, making it easy to identify.
Unlike its 1855 counterpart, the Crus Bourgeois classifications are up for review every 12 years, giving wines the opportunity to be upgraded or demoted based on performance.
So don’t be an elitist and overlook the little guy. The Crus Bourgeois can pack a powerful punch in your glass. Santé.
Marianne Frantz, CWE and founder of the Cleveland Wine School, was joined by the Cleveland NEOenophiles in selecting and sampling wines for this month’s Cellar Notes.
1998 Château Meyney, St. Estèphe, France ($25): Medium bodied with peppery black fruits, raspberry, red currants, cherry and a bit of oak on the nose. Crisp acidity, medium-firm tannins and medium alcohol give a long finish.
2003 Château Phélan Ségur, St. Estèphe, France ($46): Ruby red with lots of black cherry, plum, cherry tobacco and violet aromas with a hint of Turkish spice. Beautifully balanced, a winter sipper that is worth the higher price tag.
2001 Château Greysac, Bégadan Médoc, France ($23): Dark ruby red and medium bodied with medium tannins. Well-defined aromas of black cherry, cassis, oak, vanilla and mineral notes. Good value-wine that is table perfect.
2003 Château Les Ormes-de-Pez, St. Estèphe, France ($40): Medium-plus in body with ripe black fruits, Turkish spice and a bit of vanilla oak, crisp acidity and ripe firm tannins. Cru Bourgeois Exceptionnel that has earned its distinction.
2003 Château Paveil de Luze, Margaux, France ($25): Ruby red with lots of dark fruits, mineral, tobacco and a hint of cinnamon and licorice. Mouth-warming alcohol and firm tannins give the wine a long, lingering finish.
2003 Château Vernous, Médoc, France ($25): Medium bodied with flavorful cherry, cassis, cherry tobacco, gravel and spicy aromas. Crisp acidity and firm tannins lead to a slight bitter-chocolate finish.