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New list of Bordeaux Cru Bourgeois

Christmas is the perfect time to encourage customers to give Cru Bourgeois another go, according to ShelfLife's resident wine expert Helen Coburn.

Readers may remember that in 2003 there was an attempt to classify the Cru Bourgeois wines of the Bordeaux Right Bank. That project broke down in disorder when a number of rejected vineyards went to court, alleging that some of the tasters selecting the wines had owned their own vineyards and that there was bias.

The Alliance des Cru Bourgeois du Medoc assembled new panels of independent tasters and set to work again. A few weeks ago they issued a list of 243 wines which may carry Cru Bourgeois on their 2008 label. Wines must be the main wine of the estate, known as Grand Vin; they can’t be a special cuvee. All wines samples tasted were drawn from barrel or tank, 18 months after vintage, and bottled before presentation to blind tasters. Estates have to apply for consideration and wines will be tasted every year. In order to overcome the problems of vintage variation, 10 “benchmark” wines will be selected in early sessions and wines measured against these. It’s expected that in poor years the list will be smaller. Radom shelf tests, after wines go on sale, will follow up initial assessments.

Some estates, formerly known as Cru Exceptionnels, have shunned the system, mainly on the grounds that there is no hierarchy. They have formed a group called Les Exceptionnels and include such estates as Chasse Spleen, Poujeaux and Les Ormes de Pez. The Alliance des Crus Bourgeois de Medoc, who oversaw the new listing, has indicated that a hierarchy of quality may be considered in subsequent listings but there appears to be a feeling that the Alliance would like the new system to bed down first and acquire some recognition among consumers.

So what does it all mean for the consumer? It should mean that better quality wines appear under the designation, with more consistency for buyers. It has been pointed out that of 290 estates which applied for the latest listing, 243 have been selected so that testing may not have been rigorous enough to exclude indifferent wines. However, that would be to overlook that fact that before 2003 there were 444 Cru Bourgeois and that, this time round, 180 of the wines selected in 2003 reapplied, along with 95 others. Despite the controversy which surrounded the 2003 listing, it had actually cut out many wines which didn’t make the grade, and it’s probable that the high level of acceptance this time reflected that fact. Despite the fact that a wide range of pricing is currently found through the category I think that this Christmas would be the perfect time to encourage drinkers to give Cru Bourgeois another go.

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