When eating in restaurants in France (see p. 32), you'll find the sought-after, savings-sucking, prestigious Grand Cru Bordeaux wines such at Chateau Latour, Chateau Haut-Brion, Chateau Lafite Rothschild, Chateau Margaux and their Burgundy brethren in high-end Michelin 2- and 3-star restaurants. But most 1-star or no-star eateries—and everyday bistros and brasseries—can't afford to stock those wines. Neither can I.
And so, I tend to turn to Bordeaux' Cru Bourgeois wines when I'm in the mood for bargain French Bordeaux. Of course, one person's bargain is another's splurge. But let me put it this way: You can buy 44 bottles of Chateau Loudenne Cru Bourgeois Bordeaux ($28) for every single bottle of Chateau Latour Grand Cru Bordeaux, which sells for roughly $1,250. Yes, it's an apples-to-oranges comparison, but when was the last time you thought, "This apple is 44 times better than that orange I ate last week"? And in fact, the comparison is more apples to apples, since we're merely talking about different classification of Bordeaux.
Without getting into too much technical detail, the Bordeaux Cru Bourgeois classification is sort of like being the middle child of the family. These wines don't have the opulence or splendor of Grand Cru Bordeaux wines, but they are rated and given the Cru Bourgeois classification on a yearly basis, based on quality. As opposed to most other wines in the French classification system, with Cru Bourgeois you're not "in the club for life." Each Chateau's wine is evaluated with every new vintage, the current vintage being 2012. There are 267 Cru Bourgeois wines classified in the 2012 vintage.
One way to think of this "middle child" situation is to look to other countries. For example, Spain's Gran Reserva category is similar to France's Grand Crus: They are the expensive, top-tier wines. But Spain also has the Reserva category—comparable to Cru Bourgeois—which is far superior in quality to everyday Crianza, but still within reach of most consumers. You'll find a similar scenario in Italy, where from low to high in quality and cost, Chianti wines are classified as Chianti, Chianti Classico and Chianti Reserva.
Although they typically sell for under $40, and some for much less, Bordeaux's Cru Bourgeois wines are all grown on a single Chateau, and offer the pedigree of a classé wine at a fraction of the cost of Grand Crus. These economical wines are approachable and well-made, but probably not wines to ponder at length, nor are they wines in need of cellaring for decades. Most are perfect to drink young, right out of the bottle upon release—although, at Cru Bourgeois' budget-friendly prices, you could afford to buy a few bottles of a vintage and put some away to see how they age.
A perfect example of affordable Cru Bourgeois Bordeaux is Chateau Landat 2012 ($22). Chateau Landat was listed as a wine-growing estate in 1881 (Haut-Medoc) and registered as Cru Bourgeois in 1908. The 2012 vintage was honored with Cru Bourgeois status. It's elegant, soft, harmonious and, frankly, delicious. A traditional Bordeaux blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (60 percent), Merlot (35 percent) and Petit Verdot (5 percent), aged for 12 months in oak, Chateau Landat is a slam-dunk with steak frites, rack of lamb and a good partner for the cheese course.
Obviously, I can't list all 267 of the 2012 Cru Bourgeois, but this list to the right are a few well-worth your attention and your coin.
À votre santé!