Library Wines Part 9: Cru Bourgeois
Chateau Monbrison 2003
In the world of French wine, there are few regions that exemplify the popular sentiments of wine drinkers as fluently as Bordeaux.
Many people have heard of Lafite and Mouton, known as Classed Growths, with good reason. There are few places in the world that can create wines of such depth, longevity and complexity with such consistency. Their price reflects this fact, as wealthy enthusiasts have driven the price for these wines into the stratosphere. $1000 easy, per bottle.
Due to this, few American wine drinkers dare to even try to get to know Bordeaux.
It’s no mystery, we generally like our wine fruity and unchallenging, and we like our wine now. We don’t like to wait, as evidenced by the rarity of good Cali Cab from before 2007. We have a tendency to drink wine too soon, gulping down overtly tannic wines in a couple hours, never letting the wine evolve in the decanter long enough. In addition we open them too soon, and as a consequence, we seldom taste a wine when it offers its best expression.
Bordelaise wines can be very unforgiving to the impatient. They can come across with an earthy pungency, a structural depth, and a tannic backbone bitter and chewy.
However if one is patient, and has a decent cellar, the tannins soften and integrate. The acidity, rather than astringent, serves as a binder and balancing agent for the fruit and the earth.
The earthiness goes from a mouth full of gravel into a subtle nuance enrobed in a velvet raiment of fruit.
This is why people spend thousands on a bottle and then set it gingerly in their cellar to gather dust for a couple decades.
That is how you treat a Classed Growth. The wines mentioned above are called First Growths. The Grand Cru Classe, first established by Napoleon III in 1855 for the World Fair, set down a measure of wine quality that has remained mostly unchanged to this day. However it isn’t carved in stone despite its venerable history. You have your First Growths, Second, Third, Fourth, and Fifth. Sometimes a Second will be as good or better than a First. Sometimes a Fifth will rival its more noble neighbors. Whatever the case may be these wines are made with quality by producers steeped in the viticultural heritage of their terroir and benefit from patience.
Below the Classed Growths you have Cru Bourgeois. Producers who didn’t make the cut back in 1855, but still making wine worthy of the Bourgeois. Generally better to be drunk sooner than their venerated superiors, these wines nevertheless offer the deep flavors of Bourdeaux at a substantially reduced price ($30-$100 lol).
Ch. Monbrison is just such a wine. Made in Margaux, the home of Ch. Margaux a First Growth, this wine offers a similar earthy structure as its neighbor.
On the nose offering hints of black currant surrounded by gravel and savory herbs. Very structural and possibly declining after 9 years in bottle. The attack is thoroughly earthy, with a combination of dry and wet earth (read: Stone and Clay) and a delightful presence of vegetal underbrush. There is some fruit left but I recommend drinking soon. By and large showing the structure of Margaux but lacking the lush fruit that demarcates the Classed Growths.
Solid 88 points for structure, 87 points for what is absent.