A summer stay in Listrac- Médoc underlined to me why terroir is always king, and what it means to be Cru Bourgeois
After the hustle and bustle of Vinexpo and the oppressive heatwave that engulfed Bordeaux city this June, I headed to Listrac-Medoc for a day of much-needed R&R at a family-owned Cru Bourgeois chateau. The trip, organized by the Alliance des Crus Bourgeois du Médoc, would give me a short but deep dive into the less-familiar category of Bordeaux wines: the Cru Bourgeois.
What’s Cru Bourgeois?
Here’s a brief, simple introduction. Cru Bourgeois classification lists some châteaux from the Médoc not included in the 1855 Classification of Crus Classés, or Classified Growths. Cru Bourgeois is a level below Cru Classé in the hierarchy of Bordeaux’s complex classification system. They are often regarded as Bordeaux’s most ‘affordable’ gems, offering value and quality wines. I would say to those weeping about not being able to afford a top-rated classified growth – try a Cru Bourgeois instead. This is not an expensive wine. These are usually very well made and produced within the much-lauded Médoc region of Bordeaux’s Left Bank so offer similar blends of grapes, flavours and structure without the gasp-inducing price tags. And as experts will tell you, several Cru Bourgeois châteaux also produce wines rated higher in quality that some of the famous Cru Classés.
The Cru Bourgeois has a long, complicated history you can read about here. Suffice to say, as of today there are 267 châteaux within the Cru Bourgeois classification spread across the Médoc. I was to visit Château Saransot-Dupré in Listrac-Medoc, owned by the Raymond family.
The Château and the wines
I have had the good fortune to stay in several châteaux in the past where the lodgings ranged from quaint and rustic (Château Giscours’ old stables) to grand and stunning (Château de la Dauphine in Fronsac, Château Haut Bailly in Graves). This was the first time I was going to stay in a château that was actually inhabited by the owner-family and not run as a hotel. Experiencing family-style living in Bordeaux was a great lure.
It was a fortuitous time to visit. Château Saransot-Dupré had just won the prestigious Crus Bourgeois du Médoc Cup at the Vinexpo the day earlier, defeating 167 competing Cru Bourgeois châteaux all competing with their 2014 vintages. Yves Raymond, owner-oenologist, was busy with interviews and photo shoots. No better time to learn about his wines.
Saransot-Dupré has a sweeping drive, an imposing edifice like many other château in Bordeaux. But it has a cozy, lived-in air to it. Warm aromas drift from the kitchen, there’s a murmur of voices from Raymond’s office. Then there is pitter-patter of tiny paws to be heard – the chateau’s tiny four-legged babies Maila and Lily come to inspect and approve all visitors. And my room, with its antique French furniture, carpets and drapes, is worthy of long repose.
But there was little time to dawdle. I grabbed the opportunity to catch my oenologist host, Yves Raymond between media interactions and we set off to his all-white, stark tasting room, built next to the château. Thirty years ago, when Raymond took over from his father, he says he had to redo everything: the property was decimated. “We had nearly lost everything to phylloxera and then mildew and were on the brink of ruin. My father gave me eight hectares. I had to decide whether to go all out and spend on redoing the entire vineyards and chateau together or piecemeal.” He decided to do things at his own pace.
It worked. Today he has 15 hectares dedicated to red grape varieties with some vines dating back to World War II. Saransot-Dupre’s portfolio includes two red wines: the Château first wine (56% Merlot, 15% Petit Verdot, 15% Cabernet Franc, 12 % Cabernet sauvignon, 2% Carménère, 60,000 bottles), and a good value second wine (Pérac, 30,000 bottles). It also makes a fine white wine (a 50/50 Sauvignon Blanc- Semillon blend, 10,000 bottles annually, 80% oak, 20% stainless steel). “Listrac is known for its white wines because of its limestone and clay soil,” says Raymond. Though a small operation relatively speaking, Raymond sells to dedicated wine stores, not to supermarkets (“They are more interested in price than quality.”).Fifty-five percent of his production is exported, largely to Europe and the U.S. Some of the wine is also available in magnum, bathazars and nebuchadnezzars, making for impressive displays during celebratory events.
Learning cépage assemblage
I was curious at the dominance of Merlot and Cabernet Franc in Raymond’s red blend. And the low percentage of Cabernet Sauvignon, the typical hero grape of Bordeaux. In response to my query, Raymond took out 5 single-variety bottles from his cellar. The proof of this particular pudding would be in the sipping he said, going on to explain his cépage practices and to demonstrate most effectively that terroir is always king. Bottled during the 2005 vintage, these wines were Carménère, Petit Verdot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc. As I swirled and tasted each individual wine, they seemed both beautifully mellow and completely expressive of their regional characteristics. Yes, Cabernet Franc was all plum and tobacco, medium acidity and tannin, while the Merlot was silky-perfect, lush, rounded with good red fruit. The Carménère added an interesting dimension of supple fruit and finish and the Petit Verdot was a wonderful surprise – bold fruit, steely tannins and structure. Then, surprise. The Cabernet Sauvignon impressed least, fading away mid palate.
Then he began assembling. The Cabernet Sauvignon was mixed with 1/3 Carménère, and it immediately softened and rounded out, giving the assembled wine length and fruit. We moved to what Raymond called “what would have been the classic 2005 assemblage”: Merlot and Cabernet Franc with 15% Petit Verdot added. Immediately the wine sprang to life with reinforced structure and balance; the Cabernet Franc rounded things off to create a delicious whole.
We spent the afternoon, assembling, mixing and trying variations, and there was no better way to understand the creation of Bordeaux’s various iconic blends than this exercise. This was a revelation, one that few winemakers will go the distance to demonstrate.
“I keep the percentage of Cabernet Sauvignon in the blend low. People often use Cabernet Sauvignon without understanding the role of terroir,” he explained, “The soil plays a vital role. What tastes good 20 miles away may not taste the same here. For this region, the perfect wine would be an optimum assemblage of Merlot, Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc. But when I tell people this, many don’t agree. It’s hard for most winemakers to reduce Cabernet Sauvignon which Bordeaux is so famous for, especially in Médoc. I often feel like a prophet preaching in the desert.”
With an array of trophies glistening on their shelves behind him, his prophecy seems to have come true.
Later that evening, as I joined the Raymond family and friends at their dinner table, I enjoyed superlative wines with a classic home-cooked meal. My wine glass was filled and filled again, and each course (including perfectly-cooked veal and a delicious cheese platter) seemed to cry for the wines to be drunk alongside. The apéritif wine, a deliciously brightly acidic Domaine Roland Schmitt Glintzberg Riesling 2010 was followed by a gorgeous Vosne Romanée La Colombiere 2009 from Burgundy’s Domaine du Comte Liger-Belaire contributed by Raymond’s friends from Alsace, also wine industry professionals. Raymond went into his cellar and pulled out a bottle of Pétrus 1993 along with the excellent 2005 Saransot-Dupré red – the wine which we spent the afternoon assembling to recreate. Each wine just sang in its own way.
It was truly a warm, family meal. But the conversation flowed (despite my rusty French) and I slept better than ever that night, lulled by the balmy air of Listrac, sated with memories of good food and wine. The next morning, bolstered with coffee and more chat, I sauntered around the lush tree-lined gardens, Maila and Lily padding at my heels. This was the perfect tranquil getaway, one no five star luxury chateau could beat.
The wines of Château Saransot-Dupré (€ 10 onwards) are available in Paris at:
• Cave à vin Anaclet, 54 Rue de Rochechouart 75009 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
• La Maison du Medoc, 93 Rue de la Victoire 75009. Email: email@example.com
• Or write to firstname.lastname@example.org for more locations.