Cru Bourgeois is a wine classification specific to the Medoc region of Bordeaux. A middle ground wine, the term dates back to 1932, but it’s been revamped (and was briefly killed altogether) until its most recent revival in 2010. Wineries must apply to France’s wine-governing body to be allowed to put Cru Bourgeois on their labels.
Are Cru Bourgeois wines any good? We sampled three from the 2012 vintage to find out.
2012 Chateau Greysac Medoc Cru Bourgeois – This is a simple expression of Bordeaux, soft and a bit green, with ample savory herbs and some bitter notes overtaking a basic core of blackberries and stewed apples. A touch of gingerbread spice lifts the finish a bit and adds some needed sweetness. B / $20
2012 Chateau Aney Haut-Medoc Cru Bourgeois – A heavily herbal expression of Bordeaux, some balsamic notes overtaking a more basic cherry and blackberry core, this wine is already showing a considerable amount of age on it. Fans of more austere styles of wine will find this of interest, but the wine feels a bit like it’s fading, with a rather lifeless finish. B- / $22
2012 Chateau du Cartillon Haut-Medoc Cru Bourgeois – Probably the best wine in this group, this Haut-Medoc offers a more rounded fruit core, studded with lighter herb notes, citrus peel, violets, and hints of chocolate. The finish is tart and a touch astringent, not overwhelmingly complex but interesting enough to merit exploration. B+ / $25
Ever the most prized component of the Diageo Special Releases, this year’s expression of Port Ellen — an Islay distillery shuttered in 1983 — is by far the most expensive whisky in the collection. That said, it’s a full $500 cheaper than last year’s Port Ellen, which was also a 37 year old expression (and also considerably lower in proof). This year’s release, distilled in 1979, is bottled from refill American oak hogsheads and butts.
An exceptional expression of Port Ellen, it’s impossible not to love this whisky from start to finish.
The nose folds gentle peat smoke into lush fruit: that classic Port Ellen banana character, plus pear, chamomile, grapefruit, and tangerine. On the palate, the toasty banana notes dominate, mixing beautifully within the whisky’s supple, silky body while secondary notes of lavender (another classic Port Ellen note) and toasted wood emerge amidst a background of distant, smoky fires. The whisky is so soft and gentle that it can be easy to forget it’s 37 years old, particularly as a finish of silky milk chocolate and caramel wash over the experience. As the whisky fades, it leaves behind hints of raisin, fig jam, and a touch of toffee.
Tragically, we don’t get entire bottles of this stuff, and have to satisfy ourselves with a mere 50ml sample. This is one of those cases where a single, simple dram just can’t do the experience the proper justice it deserves, and my tasting notes feel sadly incomplete. Diageo, send provisions.
102 proof. 2988 bottles produced.
A / $3500 / malts.com
Two highly-anticipated beers from Deschutes are now hitting the market: the Oregon brewery’s annual winter beer, Jubelale, and its large-format, barrel-aged Black Butte, celebrating the brewery’s 29th birthday.
Deschutes Brewery Jubelale Winter Ale 2017 – Deschutes jumps straight from summer to winter with the release of its latest Jubelale, and this year’s expression is a big winner. The spices are present but played down enough to give the brew a toasty and warmly Christmas-like character. Fig notes are particularly strong, and they are complemented by notes of dates, spiced almonds, toffee, and ample malt. There’s plenty going on, but the beer is amazingly well-balanced, finishing with soothing notes of baked bread and a distant smokiness. 6.7% abv. A / $9 per six-pack
Deschutes Brewery Black Butte XXIX 29th Birthday Reserve – The 29th edition of Deschutes’ experimental porter always includes some oddball ingredients. This year it runs to cocoa, Saigon cinnamon, and cayenne, 50 percent of which is aged in bourbon and rum barrels. The cayenne isn’t readily apparent here, but the chocolate/cinnamon notes sure are. These bold flavors build on top of a core of plum, rum raisin, and dark caramel sauce. The finish sees more Christmas spice, chocolate cake, and a hint of bitter amaro. As with the Jubelale, there’s tons going on here, but the interplay of flavors and balance are excellent. 12% abv. A- / $17 per 22 oz. bottle
This cask strength release of 12 year old Lagavulin is pretty much an annual affair — this is the 15th release of it in the Diageo Special Release series — as usual coming from refill American oak (bourbon) hogsheads.
As with last year’s release (the 200th anniversary of the distillery), this is a more floral and fruity expression of Lagavulin than you might be accustomed to. The nose is classically styled with sea spray, tar, and oily petrol notes, but underneath you’ll detect some fleeting potpourri. The flowers make a bolder impression on the palate, mixing dried rose and lavender notes with heavy citrus peel — though burnt rubber overtones endure.
A little water is a huge help here, giving the whisky’s floral notes a lift and turning the orange peel from bitter to sweet. Some light lemon and lime notes emerge here, too, while the finish melds its modest smokiness with notes of white flowers.
B+ / $130 / malts.com
Louis Martini’s latest Napa Valley cab — one of the more entry-level though perfectly palatable bottlings — has arrived. This year’s bottling is lush and seductive, loaded with fresh and dried berries, but not overtly sweet or jammy, with overtones of milk chocolate, nutmeg, and fresh cherries. The finish is supple and seductive, with hints of vanilla. And yet… it’s less dessert-like than all of that sounds, pairing well with food and drinking beautifully on its own today. No need to cellar.
A- / $38 / louismartini.com
Convalmore was in the heart of Speyside in Dufftown. It closed in 1985, just a year after this whisky was distilled. It spent 32 years in refill American oak hogsheads before bottling; this is only the fourth time Convalmore has appeared in the Diageo Special Release series.
Very old bourbon-barrel aged Speyside spirit can be truly enchanting, and this Convalmore 32 is no exception. In 2013, I complained that Convalmore 36 Years Old was fading away. At 32 years old, it’s still in its prime. The nose is surprisingly racy, showcasing notes of salted caramel, dark chocolate, dried berries, and lightly toasty granary notes. The palate is in line with the above, but bolder than the nose would indicate. At 48% alcohol, it drinks perfectly, with the dessert-heavy character segueing into notes of blood orange, gingerbread, coconut, and banana. There’s a hint of Band-Aid on the finish, but this does little to mar what is otherwise a stellar whisky from beginning to end.
96.4 proof. 3,972 bottles produced
A / $1400 / malts.com
Eli Mason is a Nashville-based producer of a variety of classic syrups, including grenadine, demerara syrup, and more. The company recently sent us its mint julep syrup — water, cane sugar, turbinado sugar, mint, and natural gomme syrup — to check out.
This is an interesting syrup, for sure, but it’s also a bit unusual. There’s a peppery quality to it, and a spice akin to root beer. The mint is actually played down next to that spice, and it gets even more lost when mixed with bourbon, where it takes on more of a chocolate note, driven perhaps by the turbinado sugar in the mix.
I’d still use it — but probably not for a classic julep.
B / $14 per 10 oz bottle / elimason.com