In 1980s Dallas, Bordeaux wine was taking off. The top-tier wines — the so-called first growths — from the highly rated 1982 vintage sold for about $50 a bottle, then an unprecedented high price. That was just the beginning. While the consumer price index for all urban consumers (CPI-U) rose 232 percent between 1984 and 2016, a bottle of Château Margaux (to choose a typical example of a first growth) went from that $50 a bottle for the 1982 vintage to $1,048 for the 2010 vintage — an increase of over 2,000 percent! In less than 20 years, first-growth Bordeaux, for most buyers, went from an expensive indulgence to an impossibility.
Thankfully, there is a category of Bordeaux wine that remains modestly priced: the cru bourgeois, a category below the grand crus that retails today for between $15 and $50 a bottle. The key point is that, although cru bourgeois have existed as long as the grand crus, their winemaking has improved steadily over the past 30 years so that what was once a risky and unimpressive category has become a reliable source of some of the best full-bodied red wine in the world. If cabernet sauvignon or merlot is what you seek, the cru bourgeois will impress.
One of the biggest players in the category (in several senses) is, Château Larose-Trintaudon, an Haut-Médoc produced off the Route des Grands Crus (D2). Currently selling for around $23 for the impressive 2009 vintage, it is a solid value. The senses in which Larose-Trintaudon is big go beyond it being a big value. The vineyard is almost 500 acres, colossal by Bordeaux standards. Its market reach is into every good wine store in the United States, including supermarkets, and its striking crimson label makes it easy to spot (such boldness in a label is atypical of the reserved Bordelais).
In fact, Larose-Trintaudon has been around so long that it is easy to take for granted. I was pleased, then, that Sēr, the sumptuous steak restaurant on the 27th floor of the Hilton Anatole Hotel in Dallas, decided to hold a vertical tasting of some of the recent vintages of the château on the occasion of the visit of the winemaker, Frank Bijon. I attended as a media representative and alongside roast lamb from executive chef Kevin Spencer and commentary from M. Bijon we tasted our way through three vintages, old enough to have begun to resolve, but young enough to still have life.
Technically speaking, incidentally, the vintages we tasted pre-date the modern cru bourgeois designation; the category was created in 1932, revised in 2003, and abolished in 2007. It was revived in different form only in 2010. The important point is that when you go into the store nowadays, cru bourgeois wines, with their distinctive back label and neck badging, is what to look for to get the best of Bordeaux wine selling between $15 and $50.
My notes follow.
2007: The most classically Bordeaux-like of the selection offered. Nose of cigar box and restrained dark fruit. Tannic grip in the mouth that is still softening although showing its near decade of age. Best to drink now, but will keep a couple more years if desired.
2008: This was a cool year in Bordeaux and "complicated," according to Frank Bijon. That may have accounted for this wine being the most reserved, indeed austere, of the selections in our glasses. This wine is a keeper, to reassess in three to five years.
2009: Nose of ripe fruit and an effusive aroma and bouquet. Fruity on the palate, and the most New World-like of the wines. In time, it will be a great example of the best of the château, from a great year (the first of two consecutive "vintages of the century," no less), and will keep for a decade or more.