Bordeaux is particularly well-known for its 1855 grand crus classé . Over last few decades, most of these magnificent wines have become out of reach for some wine lovers. But we have some good news for you, as in the Médoc, you’ll find many Crus Bourgeois wines which come from a classification started in 1932 and is regularly revisited.
A classification in perpetual motion
While there are some Bordeaux classifications that have remained near enough the same over the last 150 years, the Cru Bourgeois is revisited every five years, a decision that was made in 2018. To claim a spot, the châteaux have to be located in one of the prestigious Médoc AOCs (Médoc, Haut-Médoc, Listrac-Médoc, Moulis-en-Médoc, Margaux, Saint-Julien, Pauillac et Saint-Estèphe) and meet other, precise criteria including environment requirements,
The 2020 Classification – a new hierarchy with three levels
A tasting committee evaluates the wine, tasting them blind to remove any possibilities of bias. Following the 2003 classification being later annulled, some top Bordeaux châteaux turned their backs on the Cru Bourgeois classification due to a lack of consistency. The new system has been designed to address this problem and provide greater clarity. Since 2020, the classification has been organised into a three-level pyramid with the top level reserved for the properties that meet particularly stringent requirements. Those with the best average after five vintages have been tasted blind are further scrutinised, with the estate’s folder on subjects like respect for the environment, traceability, authenticity, and commercial aspects (reputation, presence at high-end restaurants, etc.) being studied.
250 properties make up the classification; 180 are classed as Cru Bourgeois, 56 are Cru Bourgeois Supérieur and only 14 as Cru Bourgeois Exceptionnel.
Here is a list of the 14 Cru Bourgeois Exceptionnel from 2020 (which, incidentally, the 2019 vintage of these wonderful wines are available in a wooden case):
- Château d’Agassac,
- Château d’Arnauld,
- Château Lestage (Listrac-Médoc),
- Château d’Arsac (Margaux),
- Château Belle-Vue,
- Château Le Boscq,
- Château Cambon la Pelouse,
- Château Charmail (Saint-Estèphe),
- Château Le Crock (Saint-Estèphe),
- Château Lilian Ladouys (Saint-Estèphe),
- Château Malescasse,
- Château de Malleret,
- Château Paveil de Luze (Margaux),
- Château du Taillan.
The next time the classification is revisited will be in 2025.
Tasting the 14 Cru Bourgeois Exceptionnel
Recently, we had the opportunity to try the 14 Cru Bourgeois Exceptionnel from the 2018 vintage. Tasting them revealed the impressive regularity produced by the châteaux in the Médoc. Forming a family, these wines are the driving force behind the appellation and the Crus Bourgeois classification…
Château d’Agassac: Owned by a family from Brittany, the 43 hectares of vines are located on two plateaus (one with gravel soil and the other limestone) and are joined by 67 hectares of forests and marshland. In 2018, the wine’s blend was formed from 60% Cabernet Sauvignon and 40% Merlot. It presents a beautiful balanced profile with fine tannins, black fruit notes and a slight vanilla side as well as a warming undercurrent.
Château d’Arnauld: Located in Arcins, the property covers a terroir along the estuary, and it is known for the high number of vines it grows. It’s run by the same family that owns Château Poujeaux who are advised by Hubert de Boüard (co-owner of Château Angélus). The 2018 has a brilliant initial impression on the palate with a fresh, balanced undercurrent. Notes of acidulous, small red fruits and black fruits are supported by silky tannins. It was aged in Burgundian wooden barrels. A favourite of ours.
Château du Taillan: A Cru Bourgeois since 1932, it was classified as a Cru Bourgeois Supérieur in 2003 and a Cru Bourgeois Exceptionnel in 2020. The château is run by five women who are the fourth generation of the family to make wine here and it stretches over 105 hectares, 26 of which are located in the Haut-Médoc appellation. The site has been classified as an historic monument with a wonderful 18th century château and underground cellars dating back to the 16th century. The wine’s fine tannins bring black fruits flavours, a beautiful balance, and a pleasant, slight minty aroma along with them. The 12 months spent ageing differs from many other wines which mature for around 18 months.
Château Belle-Vue: Acquired by the Treasury Wine Estates Group (which owns Penfolds) in 2021, this small 14.99-hectare estate is a neighbour of Giscours. And the thing it’s known for? Having at least 20% Petit Verdot in each of its blends! Tasting the wine reveals a delicate nectar that’s not too concentrated with a touch of sweetness, and black fruits. The 2018 vintage contained five varieties with Carménère and Cabernet Franc each amounting to 1% of the blend.
Château Lilian Ladouys: Owned by Lorenzetti (which also owns Lafon Rochet, Pedesclaux, Issan), this Cru Bourgeois Exceptionnel (since 1932) is located in Saint-Estèphe on the Cos d’Estournel plateau opposite several parcels belonging to Château Lafite Rothschild. It will become organic in 2024. The wine has a wonderful freshness and is accessible and quaffable. There were three different types of containers for maturation: 225L barrels, 400L barrels, and amphorae.
Château Cambon la Pelouse: This estate also belongs to Treasury Wines and has witnessed a lot of restructuring in its vineyard since it was taken over in 2019. From 2024, it will be certified organic. As far as buildings go, the estate only has a winery and there is not a house on the site. The wine has a magnificent freshness and is full of flavour with spiced and red fruit aromas. The blend consists of 52% Cabernet Sauvignon, 42% Merlot, and 4% Petit Verdot.
Château Charmail: Served at the court of Louis XV, this wine has become a firm favourite again since Olivier Sèze took over the property in 1982. It contains a well-integrated woodiness, vanilla, blackcurrant, tobacco, coffee and red fruit aromas, and melted tannins. And the bonus is it already ready to be savoured.
Château Le Crock: This 32-hectare château crafts wines from its vines that are on average 50 years old (for reference, most other vines in the classification are about 30 years old). A classic wine with black fruit aromas and a touch of vanilla, it’s well-balanced and a little discrete (a wine to leave in the cellar for a bit).
Château Lestage: This château is named after the 15th century owner. Located in Listrac-Medoc (the smallest AOC based around a town on the Left Bank), its highest point overlooks the Médoc, standing at 44 metres. This wonderfully concentrated wine contains fine tannins, a warm palate and rich black fruit aromas. Wonderful ageing potential.
Château Le Boscq: This is a wonderful Saint-Estèphe property, the most northern of all the Cru Bourgeois Exceptionnel. The property’s Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, and Cabernet Franc vines site on 20 hectares of land. The estuary, which flows opposite the vines, plays a significant role in regulating the temperature, protecting them from devastating frosts like in 1991 and 2017 and heatwaves as in 2003.
Château Malescasse: Built at the start of the 19th century, the château sits on a gravelly knoll with 40 hectares of vines. Holding a HVE3 (Level 3 Higher Environmental Value, an environmental certificate awarded in France), its vineyards have witnessed a restructuring in recent years. Tasting it reveals spices, liquorice, cedar and tannic aromas.
Château de Malleret: It has been in the hands of the same family since 1850 and has 60 hectares of wines to its name. Here, vines and horses mix; one of the family’s horses has just won a horse competition in Austria (over the weekend of 7-8 October 2023). On the palate, the wine is very fine, with a great freshness and a cutting initial drop.
Château Paveil de Luze: A family-owned property since 1862, it covers 70 hectares, 32 of which are full of vines, in Margaux. The estate has never been divided up and it’s for that reason that the vines are tended to by only one person. Stéphane Derenoncourt advises the family from time to time. Tasting it reveals tannins and a freshness, and classic red and black fruit flavours. Juicy with a melting finish.
Château d’Arsac: AOC Margaux. In 1706, this property stretched over 543 hectares, 260 of which were covered with vines. By 1986, it only had 5 hectares to its name having been completely abandoned when Philippe Raoux purchased it. Today, it has 106 hectares in production, 54 in Margaux and 48 in Haut Médoc (Château le Monteil d’Arsac). Two varieties are at the heart of all it does: Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. This classic wine contains spiced and toasted coffee aromas, power tannins and a long finish.