In FRANCE, they are referred to as cru bourgeois, a term of honor. In America, we label them petits chateaux, condescendingly. The connotation whether it be French or American, is that they are wines with lesser dimension, simple, rustic and plain, just not interesting enough to merit any special appeal.
It isn't true. There are at least two dozen petits chateaux (a name that continues to cause anger and resentment by at least one petit chateau proprietor) that deserve serious consideration for inclusion in any new classification of wine quality in Bordeaux. One of the very best of the wines from this excellent but underrated and underpublicized group is Chateau Greysac.
Greysac is very capably vinified, and fortunately available in large enough quantities so that most major wine shops can stock it. Greysac is located in the very northern tip of the Medoc region of Bordeaux, slightly north of the commune of St. Estephe. The property is run dynamically by Baron Francois de Gunzberg, a flamboyant, articulate man who also is the national marketing director for the House of Cordier, a fine Bordeaux negociant that owns several famous chateaux, most notably Gruaud-Larose, Talbot and Meyney.
Gunzberg acquired Chateau Greysac in 1973, and began an extensive restoration of the winery, installing stainless stell fermentation tanks and changing the vinification of the wines to emphasize a more supple, fruitier, rounder wine.
Greysac produces 20,000 to 35,000 cases of wine annually from a rather large Bordeaux vineyard of 150 acres, planted with 60 percent cabernet sauvignon, 38 percent merlot and 2 percent petit verdot. The wine is aged 16 to 18 months in oak barrels and lightly filtered prior to bottling. I always have found Greysac to have a distinctive mineral-scented bouquet, which gives it a dimension of character and complexity that sets it apart from most of its peers. The wine always is generaously fruity and consistently well-made, even in mediocre vintages. Greysac usually reaches its peak five to seven years after the vintage.
Gunzberg recently has been touring key American markets, holding vertical tastings to publicize the virtues of his Greysac.
Gunzberg wants to spread the word that Greysac, which retails for $7 to $8, is a wine on a quality level with those from many of Bordeaux's more famous vineyards that sell for twice the price. He also maintains that Greysac will evolve and last in the bottle for 10 to 15 years (the rule of thumb for drinking a cru bourgeois is five to six years after the vintage).
At a recent Washington tasting, Gunzberg brought with him barrel samples of the highly regarded 1982 vintage, which he claims to have produced the "perfect" wine -- plump, fat, rich, fruity and not too tannic.
The tasting, held at the George Town Club, included, in addition to the 1982 barrel sample, a 1981 barrel sample, the 1980, 1979, 1978, 1976, 1975, 1971, 1970, 1964, and lastly, the 1962.
The 1982 was eagerly tasted, and although it has 18 months of barrel aging ahead of it, it showed the fatness, the glossy fruity richness and ripeness that reports have said typified this particular vintage. It should be a very good Greysac when released in 1985. The 1981 was more firm, austere but full, with the promis of elegance, but lacking the power and direct fruitiness of the 1982. The 1980, an irresponsibly maligned vintage, was a very drinkable, lightweight, supple bordeaux which, despite a slight stemmy component, was quite pleasant and enjoyable; it is best consumed over the next two to three years.
The 1979 was a real winner with concentrated blackcurrant fruitiness, good tannin and body, and clearly of "classified growth" quality. It is one of the best Greysacs ever made and still is available at a very realistic retail price of $6.99 to $7.49. It should be fully mature by 1985 to 1987. The 1978 also was very successful and surprisingly ready to drink now. Soft, supple and fruity, it is a wine for near-term consumption.
The 1976 was Gunzberg's favorite vintage of Greysac, no doubt because it was the wine that the Syndicat de Cru Bourgeois deemed so good that it awarded Greysac the special status of "Cru Grand Bourgeois." It is a very fine 1976, much deeper and fruitier than many other famous chateaux from this vintage, which I have always found overrated. I especially like its savory, soft, lush feel on the palate.
While the 1976 was Gunzberg's favorite wine at the vertical tasting, the 1975 was the hit of the tasting for most participants. It was a very big, intense, aggressive Greysac, loaded with fruit and tannin, and after seven years of age, still a good five to 10 years away from maturity.
The older wines were not made under the Gunzberg regime, but all showed well, although all seemed to be slightly coarser and rougher in texture than the wines made under Gunzberg. The 1971 was fully mature, soft, complex, easier to drink and quite interesting. The 1970 was robust, but entirely too rough and slightly out of balance, although it did have plenty of fruit. The 1964 was perhaps the most delicious wine in the tasting for drinking now: very fruity, round and deep with spicy, rich mouth-coating flavors. Unfortunately, it is not available at the retail level. From a quite variable year in Bordeaux, it must be considered one of the successes of the vintage.
Lastly, the 1962 was in good form showing nice medium-weight fruit, and a mature, spicy, earthy, cedary bouquet that had no signs of falling apart -- somewhat of a remarkable characteristic for a wine most people usually consume within four to five years after the vintage.
Chateau Greysac offers both value and quality. It is one of the very best buys from Bordeaux, and deserves even greater consumer attention than it already has received. The current vintages retail for $6.50 to $8. They include good quantities of the 1980, 1979 and 1978, and very small quantities of the 1976 and 1975.