On February 20, 2020 the Alliance des Crus Bourgeois du Médoc announced their new 5 year classification, which included a few changes to the structure of their classification. This classification covers 249 Médoc wines rated above table wines but below the famous 1855 Bordeaux Classification of the top 61 wines in Bordeaux. This 2020 Cru Bourgeois Classification is important for several reasons, but appears not to have captured that much attention in the wine world.
The 2020 Cru Bourgeois Classification is a 3 tier rating system that places 249 wines into one of three quality levels, resulting in 179 wines given the basic “cru bourgeois” status, 56 given “cru bourgeois supérieur” status, and 14 given “cru bourgeois exceptionnel” status. This classification system will be subject to review every 5 years, by means of a blind tasting of 5 previous vintages provided by the producer. This system is designed to give the consumer an indication of quality, and to be a fluid enough system that producers will have to maintain their high production standards or risk being downgraded. The two higher tiers are also evaluated on their technical management of the vineyard as well as their marketing and promotion of the property. This fluidity, where wines can move up or down the ratings ladder, is a great feature, and something that is lacking in the 1855 Bordeaux Classification.
So what makes this such a big deal? Well, for starters, a lot can happen over the course of 165 years. The 1855 Bordeaux Classification predates the start of the American Civil War by 6 years, and very few changes have been made to that classification since that time, while humanity has undergone massive evolution and change. No new wines have been admitted to that classification, even though there are several that deserve a 4th or 5th growth rating. There is also no fluidity within the 1855 Bordeaux Classification, wines cannot move up or down the ratings ladder (with the sole exception of Chateau Mouton Rothschild that was elevated from 2nd to 1st growth status in 1973). In 1855 there was no great wine coming from Pomerol or St. Emilion, so wines like Petrus, Cheval Blanc, and Ausone are not included in that classification, even though they are all arguably 1st growth quality wines. The 1855 Bordeaux Classification would, in my opinion, benefit from the type of upgrade and overhaul put into effect by the Alliance des Crus Bourgeois du Médoc last year.
Let’s take a look at the 14 wines at the top of this list, those rated “cru bourgeois exceptionnel”. Eight of these wines are from the Haut-Médoc region: Chateaux d’Agassac, de Malleret, du Taillan, Cambon la Pelouse, Malescasse, Belle-Vue, Charmail, and Arnauld. Three more are from the St. Estephe region: Chateaux Lilian Ladouys, Le Bosq, and Le Crock. Two from the Margaux region: Chateaux Paveil de Luze and d’Arsac, and Chateau Lestage from the Listrac region.
I have tasted and enjoyed Chateau Belle-Vue and Chateau Lilian Laduoys in years gone by. Recently however, a year ago in March 2020, before Covid lockdowns commenced, I had the opportunity to attend a wine tasting conducted by Mr. Franck Bijon, Chief Winemaker and Manager of the Vignobles de Larose family of wines, in Montreal. There we tasted two vintages of Chateau Arnauld (the 2012 and 2014 vintages), along with several other wines within the Vignobles de Larose family of wines.
As Chief Winemaker and Manager of the Vignobles de Larose family of wines, Mr. Bijon is responsible for all aspects of vineyard management and wine production at all four properties, including Chateau Arnauld (Cru Bourgeois Exceptionnel), Chateau Larose Perganson (Cru Bourgeois Supérieur), Chateau Larose Trintaudon (Cru Bourgeois Supérieur), and Chateau Tour de Pez (Cru Bourgeois).
The Vignobles de Larose family of wines is owned by Allianz SE, a major European insurance and financial services company. They are based in Munich with offices around the world, employing over 150,000 people, with annual revenues over 150 billion euros. So it will come as no surprise to learn that Allianz has assembled, with these four properties, over 285 hectares of vines (255 hectares in the Haut-Medoc and 30 hectares in Saint-Estephe) that produce over 1.3 million bottles of wine annually. Allianz bought Chateau Arnauld in 2007, then added Chateau Tour de Pez in 2019. They are also committed to spending another 30 million euros over a 3 year building project to renovate and expand facilities at both Chateau Larose Trintaudon and Chateau Larose Perganson. The Allianz footprint in the Haut-Medoc is huge, and with Franck Bijon as Chief Winemaker and Manager of the four estates, the quality of these wines is steadily increasing.
At the March 2020 tasting we tasted 2 vintages from each of their three Haut-Medoc properties, Larose Trintaudon, Larose Perganson, and Arnauld. Here are my notes and comments on each:
Chateau Larose Trintaudon 2011 – a 42% Cabernet Sauvignon / 58% Merlot blend from a difficult growing year, and 28 year old vines. This wine had a lovely nose, warm and flowery. In the glass the wine had great legs, those tears flowing lazily down the sides of the glass. On the palate the wine was not overpowering but nicely balanced, showing ripe red fruits, black pepper, dry with just the right acidity to deliver the typical Bordeaux flavors you come to expect. The wine was a private import costing $33.00 per bottle, to be consumed by 2023, and requires 30 minutes of decanting. A great start to the tasting!
Chateau Larose Trintaudon 2016 – a 45% Cabernet Sauvignon / 50% Merlot / 5% Petit Verdot blend from a great vintage throughout Bordeaux. This wine was excellent, lots of warm fruit on the nose and the palate. Rich, chewy berries, cherries and plums. The fruit is nicely offset with enough tannin to balance the wine on the palate and through to a very pleasant, long lasting aftertaste. You can taste the richness of the 2016 vintage in this wine. This wine is ready to drink now and will last at least 10 more years, if you can hold onto it for that long. Buy this one by the case. This wine is available at the SAQ under product # 11835388 at $27.20 per bottle, and is widely available throughout North America. Rated 92 points by James Suckling and the Wine Enthusiast.
Chateau Larose Perganson 2008 – a 50% Cabernet Sauvignon / 45% Merlot / 5% Petit Verdot blend from a difficult and late vintage. This wine had a very strong presence on the nose of dark fruits, cassis, and dark chocolate, which carries through onto the palate. Smooth yet powerful on the aftertaste, well balanced and showed a lot of structure and finesse in the finished product. For such a difficult vintage this wine was a huge success. Made from 35 year old vines, this was also a private import costing about $39.00 per bottle.
Chateau Larose Perganson 2012 – a 50/50 blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. This wine has a similar nose and palate of black fruit, cassis, and dark chocolate to the 2008 vintage, but it also has added pepper, spice, and tannin on the palate which combines to give the impression of power and strength, which carries through into a long, smooth aftertaste. This wine has aging potential, and should be decanted at least one hour before tasting. The wine is rated 90 points by Suckling and Parker, 91 points by the Wine Enthusiast, and 92.5 by Decanter. This wine is available at the SAQ for $37.00 under product code 12116385, and will only get better as it ages, lasting another 5 to 7 years in your cellar.
Chateau Arnauld 2012 – a blend of 64% Cabernet Sauvignon and 36% Merlot. A smaller property with 15 hectares of vines, located between the Margaux and Moulis regions, where its neighbors are Chateau Chasse-Spleen and Chateau Poujeaux. The wine is almost black in colour, and has thick tears that flow down your glass. On the nose you get aromas of pepper, cigar smoke, nuts and warm, soft fruits wrapped in a silky smoothness that you come to associate with Margaux wines. There is a soft touch of minerality that lingers into the aftertaste, and balances well with the soft ripe tannins creating a smoothness and finesse to the wine. A lovely wine to sip and inhale. Made from 40 year old vines, and well rated by the critics, Suckling giving it 91 points, the Wine Enthusiast 92 points. Available at the SAQ at $60.25 per bottle under product # 13987772. This wine requires 2 hours decanting and will easily age nicely for another 10-15 years.
Chateau Arnauld 2014 – a blend of 63% Cabernet Sauvignon, 27% Merlot, and 10% Petit Verdot. Similar to the 2012 vintage, the 2014 has that same dense black colour, those same thick tears in the glass, and that same warm Margaux fruit on the nose and palate, but the nose also offers up aromas of menthol and cedar to go with the smoke and toast. There is a full, fleshy fruit flavor on the palate that blends with soft tannins to give an impression of class and elegance on the aftertaste. This wine is complex and classy at the same time, still young, requiring 2 hours to decant, and probably another 3-5 years in the cellar to mature further. Rated 91 points by both Suckling and Decanter, this wine will drink well for another 15 years. The 2014 vintage is a private import available in Quebec at roughly $67.00 per bottle through their importer, Marchands des Ameriques Inc. (see contact information below). The excellent 2016 vintage is available at the SAQ in the 1.5 L format for $119.50 under product code 14197431. If you can find Chateau Arnauld in the 2014, 2015, or 2016 vintage, I would strongly recommend buying it.
When I tasted these wines they had a lot of similarities, all were well-made, very expressive on the nose, clean and vibrant on the palate, and smooth and balanced on the aftertaste. You could tell that the entire portfolio was made by the same winemaker. Mr. Bijon has clearly left his mark on these wines, and in a good way. I like the way that Mr. Bijon will vary the blend of different grapes to bring out the best in each vintage. Another sign of a great winemaker is being able to produce a great wine in weaker vintages, which Mr. Bijon shows very well in his 2011 Chateau Larose Trintaudon and his 2008 Chateau Larose Perganson.
The Vignobles de Larose family of wines are represented in Canada by Mr. Kenneth Gunn at Marchands des Ameriques Inc. and you can contact Mr. Gunn at firstname.lastname@example.org . About 30% of their wine is exported annually, and that amounts to almost 400,000 bottles. The United States are their largest importer, followed closely by Canada as their second largest importer.
If you are not that familiar with the new 2020 Cru Bourgeois Classification of Bordeaux wines, do yourself a favor by looking closely at the Vignobles de Larose family of wines, where you will find 4 excellent examples in all three quality and price ranges. You will not be disappointed.