The Heart of Bordeaux

Where is the heart of Bordeaux? Most people would probably argue that it lies with the famous 61 chateaux of the Grand Cru Classés, but I was led to wonder by a recent bottle if tradition might now be maintained more by the Cru Bourgeois.

In Bordeaux to start the research for my book on Claret, I arrived late on Sunday and found my way to Prieuré-Lichine in Cantenac where I am staying for a few days. It’s an interesting experience to stay in a chateau, surrounded by vineyards and workers, rather than in a hotel surrounded by tourists. You get more sense of the working life of the operation.

The Médoc is rather sleepy on Sunday night, and there are not a lot of choices for dinner. After the rigors of travel, we did not feel in the mood for a really grand meal, so eschewed the delighted of Michelin-starred Cordeillan Bages for the local brasserie in Margaux. One of the pleasures of being here is that even modest restaurants have reasonable wine lists, including choices of half bottles.

We tried a half of Chateau Labégorce, a well regarded Cru Bourgeois in Margaux (recently reunited with Labégorce Zedé to reform a single chateau, thus recreating one of the larger Cru Bourgeois. But this bottle came from 1995, well before the reunion. In anticipation I was a little uncertain as to whether a Cru Bourgeois would have held up for fifteen years, but I was very pleasantly surprised.

The slightly herbaceous nose spoke to me immediately of traditional Bordeaux, yet there was no evidence of lack of ripeness in the black fruits, which seemed full and sweet on the palate to counterpoise the savory finish. Certainly this wine might not please people brought up on the forward, bright fruits of the New World, but to me it spoke eloquently of Bordeaux in general, and indeed specifically of Margaux.

No doubt it did not have the power and concentration of the top wines, and it will not age to reach their level of complexity, but many of the Grand Cru Classés have now adopted the international style of late-harvested, extremely ripe, fruits, so I was left wondering whether it’s at the level of Cru Bourgeois that the old traditions are now being perpetuated. And if so, is this because it is too difficult to achieve super-ripeness at the level of Cru Bourgeois or a conscious decision to maintain tradition?

Chateau Labégorce, 1995

Still a dark color without much sign of aging in its appearance. Classic nose is cedary and slightly herbaceous with notes of bell peppers. Black fruits on the palate have a sweet ripeness overlaying the classic savory flavor spectrum. This is a traditional style with the light touch of Margaux and very appropriate for the top tier of Cru Bourgeois. The balance is harmonious and the wine is aging gracefully.

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