In the French wine region Bordeaux, the sunny hills or “Côtes” in French that banded five appellations together – Blaye, Cadillac, Castillon, Francs and Sainte-Foy – to form Côtes de Bordeaux are making some of the best value for money wines in Bordeaux.
With winemaking history extending far back to 2nd century when Romans first planted “Vitis Biturica” vines, the Côtes de Bordeaux AOC has long been defined by its altitude and clay-limestone rich soils, imbuing the wines with richness, plush texture and distinctive freshness.
Though wine styles vary vastly from northernmost Blaye to southernmost Cadillac, Merlot is king here. The reds of the Côtes de Bordeaux are velvety, fruit-forward and soft, and when blended with Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Carménère, the wines are then added with a layer of complexity and character. For the whites, the main grape variety is Sauvignon Blanc, blended with Sémillon and Muscadelle, and there are examples of wineries making wines from lesser-known white grape varieties.
Perhaps one of the most encouraging things coming out of the region is its group of like-minded, dynamic and energetic winemakers who are on the pulse of market trends and latest wine innovations. This shows in the wines. About one fifth of the vineyards are farmed organically, and there is no shortage of winemakers who are crafting single varietal wines, experimenting with amphora ageing, sulphur-free and vegan wines. It’s no surprise the wines have overwhelmingly become the tipple of choice for millennials aged between 25 and 35.
By far, two of the biggest wine producing appellations inside the AOC are Blaye and Castillon. We interviewed two representative chateaux from the two appellations, respectively to better understand what makes their region unique and why they are making the wines of the future.
Blaye Côtes de Bordeaux
Opposite of Médoc on the right bank of Gironde river, Blaye is made up of a rich myriad of soils, with the main one being clay-limestone soils on the hillsides. The appellation is home to over 400 winegrowers and has 5,583 ha of land under vine, producing both reds and whites.
One of the region’s oldest wineries is Château Les Bertrands in Reignac de Blaye. About 300 years ago, the family’s ancestor Francois Dubois planted his first vines on the hillsides of the village and today the winery is run by ninth generation family members and crafts a wide range of reds and whites, as well as rosé and sweet whites.
The characters of the wines from Blaye are a result of the region’s unique typography. “What defines the wines of Blaye: on this large surface of 41 communes i.e 6500 hectares. Only the best soils suitable for the vine are planted. They cohabit with mixed farming and forests. Blaye has a very high geological complexity, resulting in more than 50 different soil types. Three main geo-pedological poles can be distinguished. To the north, the fluvial soils of the hills in the Saint-Ciers region, made up of sand, gravel and clay. To the west, the limestone hills of Blaye, limestone, marl, clay, sometimes covered with gravel. To the east, the high axis from Saint-Savin to Cavignac with limestone and clay, topped with gravel, surrounded by colluvial and sandy soil,” explains the winery.
Château Les Bertrands itself boasts a diverse makeup of the soil compositions including clay, gravel and sand that allows it to make stylistically varied wines. “The clayey gravels of the plateaux and southern slopes produce our richest wines. Fat and fruity structured wines. The lower gravelly and sandy parts bring us fruit and elegance. The Sauvignon Blancs and some Muscadelles excel in complexity, exotic fruit, roundness, charm and minerality,” it explains.
The winery has been practicing sustainable viticulture since 1996 and as it affirms, “minimum treatment has been the daily concern for decades.”
“In fact, we have 4 hives of bees that live in the middle of our vineyards. A weather station has been installed in our vineyards for over 10 years. All the headlands are grassed and, in the vineyards, one row out of two is grassed. The other row is worked on the surface. Most of the fertilisers are organic and green manures are systematically sown on the young vines as well, as their flowers are beneficial to bees. Fruit trees have also been planted for their flowers,” it continues.
Want to explore more about Blaye Côtes de Bordeaux? Watch the video below.
Castillon Côtes de Bordeaux
Just below Saint Emilion on the right bank of Dordogne River is Castillon Côtes de Bordeaux, known for making “designer wines” of style, personality and intensity.
With a full southern exposure and an altitude difference of more than 100 meters, the appellation’s soil compositions change from clay soils at the foot of the slopes to clay-limestone and then limestone on the plateaus, allowing local winegrowers to produce wines of charm, verve and complexity.
“The wine from the more chalky plateau is concentrated and powerful. On the slopes, the wine is more supple, charming and warm,” Château Manoir du Gravoux, one of the Castillon’s most renowned estates, explains detailing the differences of wine styles from soil types.
Located in Saint Genès de Castillon, Château Manoir du Gravoux housed in a 14th century manor, has 24 hectares of vines planted with 90% Merlot and 10% Cabernet Franc. In 2018, the winery added one hectare of white grape variety.
While sustainable viticulture has always been practiced, Philippe and Séverine who are running the estate today are stepping up efforts. “We have been committed to the environment and the protection of nature for several years now. We have set up a treatment station for wine effluents. We practice reasoned viticulture. We have preserved biodiversity by respecting the natural balance between wooded areas and vineyard plots,” says the winery owners.
Want to learn more about Castillon Côtes de Bordeaux? Watch the video below.
Both wines from Château Les Bertrands and Château Manoir du Gravoux are available in China.