After something of a debacle in 2003, the cru bourgeois of Bordeaux has re-invented itself into an annual award based on a tasting about 18 months after the vintage. The 2008 vintage will be the first onto the market, and the list of châteaux being awarded the cru bourgeois for 2008 will be released on September 15, 2010.
Thereafter, the cru bourgeois status will be awarded on an annual basis, following a blind tasting by industry professionals.
The cru bourgeois designation is only open to châteaux in the eight appellations of the left bank north of Bordeaux city: Médoc, Haut-Médoc, Margaux, Pauillac, St. Julien, St. Estèphe, Listrac-Médoc and Moulis-en-Médoc. The properties cover more than 7,000 hectares of vineyards, over 40% of the whole Médoc vineyard.
The cru bourgeois moniker is to become both a classification and a guarantee of a certain quality being achieved each year by producers. The director of the Alliance des Crus Bourgeois du Médoc, Frédérique Dutheillet de Lamothe, who’s not a wine producer, said “all the processes are controlled by Bureau Veritas [a third party organisation that independently monitors protocols and procedures] which will validate that each step of the process is objective and impartial. They will control the volume of wine presented to the tasting matches that on the market. There will be no direct link with producers, and they will monitor the tasting panels.”
In the first instance, she added “Bureau Veritas will visit all the 290 châteaux [who applied with their 2008 vintage wine] when they apply. And 20% of the châteaux will be re-visited each year” to monitor the châteaux according to a checklist drawn up by the Alliance. Which means all châteaux will be re-visited in five years.
Additionally the blind tasting assessments (called the reconnaissance tasting) will not be done by château producers, which had been one of the criticisms in the legal challenge following the 2003 classification. Instead they are being conducted by 25 tasters from Bordeaux, drawn from such wine professions as oenologists, merchants and brokers. Tastings are held twice a month from February to July.
Given that Bordeaux experiences variation in its vintages, a benchmark quality level will be set each year, one for the regional appellations of Médoc and Haut-Médoc, and one for all the communal appellations.
There are no rules regarding oak ageing, or style of wine, though châteaux cannot bottle their wine until at least 16 months after the harvest, which is not unusual at this level. Production regulations are still governed by the appellation rules.
Given that the new cru bourgeois is based on a qualitative blind assessment, and that it is completely voluntary, it will be an ‘open house’, so producers can enter their wine one year and not the next, if they choose. For the 2008 vintage, 290 châteaux applied. For the 2009 vintage this number of applicants could be greater or smaller, though all applicants must be based in the stated appellations.
Whichever châteaux are awarded the cru bourgeois based on the reconnaissance tasting will be entitled to use the cru bourgeois logo for that vintage, for the volume of wine entered into the tasting. (many châteaux produce more than one wine). Each bottle of wine will have a unique traceable number.
It is hoped that this will bring objectivity, consistency and respect into a classification that it is thought has some significant resonance with consumers but that was in danger of being discredited by the various legal proceedings.
What had happened in 2003 was that 500 châteaux applied for a (then) new cru bourgeois classification, and 247 were awarded that status. Legal challenges were made by some of those not selected, and the long and short of it is that the selection procedure was deemed legally faulty, so the group had to come up with a whole new protocol. This is it.
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