Earlier this week, I had lunch with the folks from the Alliance of Crus Bourgeois du Medoc at Keens Steakhouse on West 36th in New York, a perfect match in terms of Bordeaux being the go-to wine for red-meat lovers and the long-standing traditions of both the wine region and the historic restaurant, which opened up a mere 30 years after the Left Bank’s classification of 1855.
In many ways, our get-together was like having lunch with your girlfriend’s parents. I have been courting red Bordeaux since the 1970s as an exciting, yet steady table and parlor companion, while the Bordelais across the table from me have given the wine life and a world view.
In theory, crus bourgeois wines are a step down from the crus classés, that historic ranking into levels or “growths” of the best wines from the cabernet-heavy Medoc. In fact, the two are much closer in quality than their differences in prices. The alliance, or ACB, represents 260 such châteaux stretching from Margaux to St-Éstephe and beyond.
Anyway, François Nony, the group’s president as well as director of two estates – châteaux Caronne Ste Gemme and Labat – and group director Frédérique Dutheillet de Lamothe and I spent most of the lunch talking about how much and why we liked crus bourgeois as I devoured my succulent bavette salad.
François, like any producer, went first to “great quality at affordable price” – a standard claim for all winemakers from Margaux to Mendocino, but certainly a true one in this case. These are wines that you can buy for $15 to $40 at retail shops and are about the only red Bordeaux at under $75 on restaurant wine lists.
Frédérique liked the idea of the history of the region and the fact that it has been making great wines for centuries, a claim New World regions can’t make. Indeed, would a generation of English gentlemen at Downton Abbey and their peers have survived without it? Yes, I like that: “affordable history.”
For my part, as a wine writer I am often poured first growths on visits to the region and at tastings – hard work, that – but the bulk of French wines in my cellar are crus bourgeois I purchased in the 1980s and early ‘90s for under $20 a bottle and which are still drinking marvelously. I couldn’t afford more, and, frankly, I didn’t need more. Anyone who loves aged red wines and who has a limited budget – or who just can’t bear to pop a Lynch Bages or a Phélan Ségur for a weekday dinner with no one around to “ooh” and “aah” or tweet it – would be crazy not to stock up on recent crus bourgeois vintages for current drinking and long cellaring.
The newest wrinkle – Bordeaux may be stuffy at times, but it ain’t dumb – is a bar code or data matrix posted on the back label beginning with the 2010 vintage that is smartphone friendly. Crus bourgeois Bordeaux from the Left Bank not only has a branding claim of offering affordable history, it is also has another claim of living in the scannable now.