Côtes de Bordeaux, a lesser-known hilly area, features five distinct regions that produce great, affordable, wines. From oaked whites to accessible, ageable reds, underappreciated designations like Castillon and Sainte-Foy are your next best bet for French wine.
BY ROGER VOSS
Most wine drinkers know of the great wines of Bordeaux. But the Côtes de Bordeaux? That’s unfamiliar territory.
This hilly area, located on the Right Bank, was first formed in 2009 with the union of four regions: Côtes de Blaye, Côtes de Castillon, Côtes de Francs and Côtes de Cadillac. In 2016, Sainte-Foy Bordeaux joined the group. Together, they cover nearly 30,000 acres of vines, and represent 10 percent of total production of Bordeaux .
What’s wonderful about these regions is that each has a distinct terroir. They produce vastly different styles of wines, so there’s something for everyone. To help wine drinkers identify style, the labels contain both the broader appellation—Côtes de Bordeaux—as well as the specific region.
“It’s like a family,” says Aurélie Lascourrèges, a spokesperson for Union des Côtes de Bordeaux. “Every one is different, but they do have points in common, particularly their long history, their hilly landscape and their closeness to the rivers [the Gironde, the Garonne and the Dordogne], which affect their climates.”
The Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC) is young, so there are new winemakers and bottles to be are discovered all the time. And the best part? These wines currently represent some of the best values in Bordeaux, and with three great vintages on the market (2014, 2015, and 2016), there’s a lot to choose from.
Here’s a closer look at these five regional stars.
Blaye Côtes de Bordeaux
Blaye was an important river port in Roman times, and played a role in the Hundred Years War. Today, the Citadel of Blaye is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This region is by far the largest of the five in the appellation. It’s also the source of great accessible reds, driven by fresh, fruity-forward notes. With great prices, the wines are ready to drink after three to four years. They also offer some ripe, wood-aged whites.
Castillon Côtes de Bordeaux
Next-door Saint-Émilion has had a huge influence on Castillon. In fact, the Saint-Émilion growers and chateau owners have taken advantage of lower-vineyard prices in Castillion too: They’ve purchased land to produce some serious wines. You’ll find Saint-Émilion-style wines—mainly Merlot and Cabernet Franc—to be rich with character, but at a quarter of the price.
Francs Côtes de Bordeaux
A tiny jewel located next to Castillon, Francs is the smallest and most rural region at about 435 hectares (1,074 acres) and it’s closer to Bergerac than the city of Bordeaux. The famous Bordeaux family, the Thienponts—who have many chateaus throughout the region, including in Pomerol and Saint-Émilion—also have vineyards in Francs, where they produce delicious and age-worthy whites and reds.
Cadillac Côtes de Bordeaux
In the 18th century, Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac, the Knight of Lamothe-Cadillac, a great connoisseur of wine, was sent as a governor to Louisiana, and brought his favorite wine with him: a Cadillac Côtes de Bordeaux. His name was given to the car some 150 years later.
The wines produced on this dramatic, sloping landscape along the Garonne river, are classic Bordeaux: rich with black currants, structured tannins and have the ability to age. They also produce some sweet white wine.
Sainte-Foy Côtes de Bordeaux
It’s no surprise that, the newest member of the AOC is also the least known. The area surrounds the historic town of Sainte-Foy-la-Grande, with vineyards located alongside the Dordogne River. This region still has a lot to learn about how to producing high-quality wines, but it’s worth watching.
10 Wines to Buy Now
Château le Peyrat 2015 Castillon Côtes de Bordeaux; $15, 92 points. This wine is finely balanced, with an impressive mix of ripe fruit and rich tannins. A smoky character envelops its rich blackberry and plum flavors, all underlined with tannins. This needs to age, and it will be best from 2020. Best Buy.
Château Joanin Bécot 2015 Castillon Côtes de Bordeaux; $35, 92 points. A mineral texture gives this ripe wine an edge while its full, red berry fruit offers some solid tannins and concentration. It’s smoky and full-bodied, and will be ready to drink from 2019. Cellar Selection.
Château Cap Saint-Martin 2015 Blaye Côtes de Bordeaux; $13, 91 points. This wine is rich, spicy and full of black fruit. With solid tannins alongside its juicy black currant flavors, it’s firm and will age well. Its density and richness are developing. This will be best from 2020. Best Buy.
Château Franc Cardinal 2014 Francs Côtes de Bordeaux; $16, 91 points. A ripe and spicy wine from owner Sophie Holzberg that has tannins as well as rich black fruits. It has a concentrated backdrop that’s dry and firm. Full, perfumed and generous, it will age well. Drink from 2019.
Clos Puy Arnaud 2015 Cuvée les Ormeaux (Castillon Côtes de Bordeaux); $18, 91 points. This attractive, juicy wine is full of red fruit. It has strawberry and crisp red currant flavors as well as fine acidity. The result is a wine with good balance, richness, spice and tannins. Drink from 2019. Editors’ Choice.
Château Tanesse 2015 Cadillac Côtes de Bordeaux; $18, 91 points. Balanced and ripe, this is a rich wine. Its tannins, dark chocolate and wood flavors are deliciously balanced by ripe black fruit. It’s concentrated and dense, and will age well. Drink from 2021. Editors’ Choice.
Château de Birot 2015 Vintage (Cadillac Côtes de Bordeaux); $22, 91 points. The wine has bold tannins, generous fruit and an excellent future. With its concentration and density, it needs time to soften. For now, the black fruit flavors are developing well, balanced with acidity and ripe tannins. Drink from 2021.
Château Chantemerle 2015 Tradition (Blaye Côtes de Bordeaux); $25, 91 points. This wine is full of all the right elements, from juicy acidity to black currant fruit and a supporting layer of tannins. It has weight, concentration and delicious spice and berry flavors. Drink from 2020.
Château Suau 2015 Cadillac Côtes de Bordeaux; $25, 91 points. This rich wine is already smoothly textured, yet it still has fine tannins that give aging potential. With its black fruit and acidity, it’s ripe, smoky and likely to be very drinkable from 2020.
Château de Ricaud 2015 Cuvée Quartet Blaye Côtes de Bordeaux; $20, 90 points. New wood aromas set the scene for this ripe, fruity and toasty wine. It has plenty of black plum fruit, rich tannins and a dry core that will soften. The texture is polished and ripe. Drink from 2020. Cellar Selection.