WHAT: Everyone wants to try a Bordeaux wine at least once because Bordeaux is the cradle of modern fine wine making. But hardly anyone wants to pay the price of the finest Bordeauxs, which can sell for thousands of dollars.
The solution is to look for a wine with “Cru Bourgeois” on the label. These wines represent a perfect expression of the region in southwest France at a price we can all afford. They aren’t quite at the level of the Grand Cru wines, but then most of us don’t have a palate that would appreciate the elite wines.
The Bordeaux mystique has been powerful for centuries and persists even today, when most wine is produced for immediate consumption instead of waiting for several years of aging that the best Bordeaux wines require. That is because even the lesser-ranked wines taste so good.
A good Bordeaux has a distinctive flavor that sets it apart from all other wine. Experienced wine drinkers can pick it out with the first sip. It’s rich, powerful, subtle, with a certain zing to it that sets it apart.
Cru Bourgeois wines are traditional Bordeaux blends from the Left Bank (based mainly on Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot) and are all grown at a single chateau. These wines are more approachable and consumer-friendly than those of the grand crus classé, yet still offer the pedigree of a classé wine at a fraction of the price. They represent some of the best values in French wine.
The Chateau Donissan is just such a wine, at a price we can afford. You often can find it for less than $20.
The wine is a deep red, almost black, with purple sparkles along the edges. The nose is smoky and floral. It is a rich, powerful wine with cherry and blackberry flavors, a hint of chocolate and spice and a long finish that displays some finesse. There is plenty of fresh fruit flavor, but good structure and silky tannins keep the wine tight and elegant.
Though it drinks beautifully now, it should continue to develop for more than a decade.
The wine is a blend of 60 percent Merlot, 30 percent Cabernet Sauvignon and 10 percent Petit Verdot.
Grapes are hand-picked from the 26 acres of vines that average 25 years of age. The first grape sorting comes in the field, followed by a table sorting. Fermentation takes about a week, after which the wine is blended and kept in oak barrels on the lees for 12 months.
The Cru Bourgeois wines are a relatively new phenomenon in Bordeaux, though they have a legacy that dates back to the Middle Ages. The bourgeois were inhabitants of the “bourg” of Bordeaux, a town of merchants and craftsmen.
The merchants of Bordeaux were able to acquire some of the best wine-producing properties in the region by the 15th century. These became the Crus Bourgeois.
A Cru Bourgeois du Médoc wine is produced in one of eight appellations of Bordeaux (Médoc, Haut-Médoc, Listrac-Médoc, Moulis en Médoc, Margaux, Saint Julien, Pauillac or Saint Estèphe) and must undergo strict quality testing.
Since September 2012, each bottle of Cru Bourgeois carries a sticker that certifies its quality. In the 2010 vintage, for instance, there were 260 Crus Bourgeois du Médoc who produced 32 million bottles. Not every producer who applies gets the Crus Bourgeois sticker; each wine undergoes blind tasting and scoring by professionals from outside the Medoc who then give the seal of approval for the Cru Bourgeois wines.
Typically, the wines range in price from $20 to $50 a bottle, with the average around $25. Of the 260 Cru Bourgeois approved in 2010, only a fraction were distributed in the United States. In 2013, only 130 were sent to the U.S., and now the number has grown to 180.
Consumers can use their smartphones to get information about the wines because each bottle has a QR code. Scan it to be connected to the crus-bourgeois.com Web site. If you go there, be sure to click the English button (unless you can read French).
WINERY: The castle for Chateau Donissan is in the municipality of Listrac in the heart of the Haut-Medoc region. It has been in the hands of the same family since the 17th century.
Marie Veronique Laporte is the current proprietor, assisted by Didier Bonati, viticulture consulting engineer and winemaker Christopher Cut.
The chateau makes one wine, this blockbuster red blend typical of the region. The Bordeaux region is probably the best-known wine region in the world, containing about 7,000 chateaux and accounting for about one-third of all quality French wine.
The region spreads for about 60 miles around the city along three rivers, the Girdone, Garonne and Dordogne. Besides producing great wine, it is a popular tourist area, with many estates opening their castles to overnight guests.
The Bordeaux region is divided naturally by the Gironde River into a Left Bank area that includes the Medoc and the subregions of St.-Estephe, Pauillac, St.-Julien and Margaux and a Right Bank area that includes the subregions of Saint-Emilion, Pomerol, Bourg and Blaye.
GOES WITH: This wine paired nicely with vegetable beef soup. The soup has been one of my favorites all of my life, full of complex vegetable flavors and a rich, hearty beef broth.
The recipe changes every time because I toss in whatever vegetables I have on hand, but the constants are beef, potatoes, celery, carrots, parsnips, turnips, onions, tomatoes, parsley and okra. My wife, Teri, and I particularly liked the way the wine brought out all the layers of flavor in the soup.
This wine also will go well with red meat, some white meat such as pork or chicken, game, fish in red wine sauces and most cheeses.