by Andrew Chalk
You may think of wines from Bordeaux, maybe the most prestigious wine growing region of the world, as too expensive for regular enjoyment. Fortunately, that is not the case. Bordeaux has over 50 designated wine appellations, and only a few account for the eye popping three and four-digit prices that get outsized attention.
Beneath the luxury veneer there are a host of everyday-priced wines that represent good quality and excellent value (even after the tariffs were imposed). The problem is finding the ones that are better quality amid the sea of labels. An Occam’s Razor to the best values if you like.
Fortunately, there are such things. One of the most reliable is the fairly recent (2010) and regularly updated Cru Bourgeois designation. All the wines that receive the designation go through an independent tasting. All opt-in to be included. Once a winery gets the designation it only keeps it for 5 years before having to earn (win) it again. It is the most ‘quantitative’ and serious quality designation system in France. Each wine that earns the designation carries the insignia below on every bottle -- so it is easy for the consumer to find Cru Bourgeois wines in the store.
Any drawbacks? Well, Cru Bourgeois limits its catchment area to the Médoc. Seven appellations on the left bank of the Gironde river. The right bank, best known for Saint-Émilion and Pomerol, is left to its own devices. Such a distinction is wise as the composition of the wines is strikingly different between the two sides of the river. In the Médoc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc predominate, with Merlot, Petit Verdot, and Malbec playing a supporting role. On the right bank, Merlot predominates, with a strong supporting performance by Cabernet Franc. I predict that, if Cru Bourgeois proves to be the lighthouse for consumers that producers hope, the right bank will devise something similar.
That brings us to this wine. Château Malescasse exemplifies the kind of wine that the Cru Bourgeois designation was designed for. It comes from humble stock, just plain old Haut-Medoc, not even a prestigious commune to its name, yet it carries the higher level of the two-tier designation Cru Bourgeois Exceptionnel entirely on its own merits. A bit like the son of impecunious immigrants winning scholarships through hard work and aptitude to get a free ride through Stanford.
The appearance is the classic opaque ruby of the wines of the area. The nose exhibits cedar, wood barrels, pencil lead, blackberries, and thyme. On the palate the fruit and wood are surprisingly resolved for a three-year old, but a trenchant tannic backbones reminds one of the wine’s youth. Drink now with ribeye in a Bordelaise sauce, accompanied by steamed cauliflower topped with cheese sauce, air-fryer asparagus and a chess board of microwaved fingerling potatoes, as I did, and your whole world will seem better.