Côtes de Bordeaux
Sep 02, 2019 06:36PM
There is gold to be found in the hillsides of Bordeaux - not actual gold, but high-quality wine sold at a fraction of the price of some of their more well-known neighbors.
Ten years ago, the Côtes de Bordeaux was formed and certified by the Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC) of France. This union brought the winegrowers of Blaye, Cadillac, Castillon, Francs, and Sainte-Foy together to share their ideas and practices while raising awareness of their greater region.
Though each of these growers have things that make them unique and special, they also have much in common. The Côtes de Bordeaux appellations share a similar landscape of sun-drenched slopes, the same grape varieties, long wine-making histories, and a concern for the environment. Red wines are made primarily from Merlot with Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Malbec for blending, while white wines are primarily made from Sauvignon Blanc with Sémillon and some Muscadelle.
The vineyards from which the grapes are sourced for bottles bearing the Côtes de Bordeaux label are all located on hillsides with primarily clay and limestone-based soils. The rows of grapes are situated to take advantage of the sunlight while allowing for good soil drainage; the vines all feel the climatic effects of the nearby rivers. All these elements combined help provide optimal ripening conditions.
There are over 950 producers growing grapes across nearly 30,000 acres of hillside land. Together, they produce 67 million bottles of Côtes de Bordeaux a year with 97% of it being red wine.
Most of the properties are family-owned and operated. The growers speak of wanting an environmentally safe place for their families to live and their children to play. About 50% of the vineyards have sustainable certification with 15% producing organically. A smaller percentage are biodynamic or are in the process of becoming certified as such.
The importance of preserving biodiversity to maintain the vineyards’ health is a preoccupation throughout the Côtes de Bordeaux region with most vineyard areas being surrounded by woods.
Blaye is the largest of the five regions which lies along the Gironde Estuary. It has a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Citadel of Blaye, which was built in the 1600s. This historic site houses not only the ancient fortress and a herd of goats, but also a recently remodeled hotel on the water with nearby cafes and shopping.
The fruit forward red wines produced here are accessible and easy drinking. With sand and gravel-based soils in the north, the region also produces some great dry sauvignon blanc based wines as well.
Recommended producers: Chateau Le Camplat, Chateau La Croix St-Pierre, Chateau Mondesir-Gazin, Chateau Monconseil Gazin, and Chateau Cap Saint-Martin.
Cadillac is situated along the Garonne River and is the source of the name of the American luxury car by way of Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac, the Knight of Lamothe-Cadillac, who was both a connoisseur of wine and the governor of Louisiana in the 18th century. The region makes red wines that are well-structured and elegant.
Recommended producers: Chateau de Birot, Chateau du Cros, Chateau La Peyruche, Chateau La Rame, Chateau Lamothe de Haux, and Chateau Les Conseillans.
Castillon is located by St. Emilion and has a similar style of winemaking that creates rich, silky, and intense red wines. The terroir is gravellier at the base of the slopes near the Dordogne River and becomes more limestone based further up the hillside.
Recommended producers: Chateau Pitray, Chateau Beynat, Chateau D’Aiguilhe, and Chateau Page.
Francs, the smallest of the five regions in land size, has fossil-rich limestone soils that receive high amounts of sunshine. This area makes mostly red wine with some dry and sweet white wine production as well.
Recommended producers: Chateau Lapeyronie, Chateau Puygueraud, Chateau La Prade, Chateau Les Charmes-Godard.
Sainte-Foy was the most recent addition to the Côtes de Bordeaux group. They are the second-smallest region in the area with the smallest number of winegrowers. Sainte-Foy is located the farthest from the city of Bordeaux. The vineyards sit on the hillside along the Dordogne River creating elegant red wines with a pronounced red cherry character along with a small amount of both dry and sweet whites.
Recommended producer: Biodynamic winery and vineyard, Chateau Pre la Lande.
Potential travelers to this greater wine-making region are often delighted to discover that despite its geographical location in the heart of the French countryside, the language barrier is minimal. The region has a long history with England and many of the people speak both French and English.
The city of Bordeaux is easily reachable from Paris by train or plane. Any first-time visitor’s initial stop should be at the Maisons du Vin of the Côtes de Bordeaux where guests will be guided to wineries ideal for English speakers, as well as help in joining gastronomy events, tasting cruises on the river, or seeing the region via bike, plane, kayak, or horseback.
The city of Bordeaux also has a world class wine museum, La Cite du Vin, which showcases wine growing regions from around the globe. The self-guided tours are easy to navigate with the help of headphones and audio tracks recorded in English that explain each exhibit. There are also restaurants at the museum as well as a top floor wine bar with expansive views, and for families, they have a children’s learning area complete with grape juice tasting.
Whether traveling to this dynamic French wine region, or simply seeking out some of the wines from local wine-sellers, expect to find high quality wines at reasonable prices typically ranging from $15-30.