Your Guide to Bordeaux’s Premium Value Wines

Citadelle de Blaye
Citadelle de Blaye / Aurimages

The Bordeaux wine region is undeniably defined by its tidal rivers. But to determine vineyards with some of the prettiest water views, and estates that produce the best value wines, it鈥檚 wise to start at the source.

Beginning in the snowy Pyrenees mountains around 5,500 feet above sea level, the Garonne river flows about 325 miles north and west, and passes the Cit茅 du Vin dockside at Bordeaux city.

Meanwhile, in central France, the Dordogne river crashes down more than 5,400 feet from the Massif Central. It flows west for 300 miles, meandering past the Saint-脡milion plain and skirting vines to the north of Bordeaux on its journey.

These two great rivers merge just beyond the city of Bordeaux to form the majestic Gironde estuary, the largest of its kind in Western Europe. From there, it鈥檚 a seriously tidal and cruise-ship worthy 45 or so miles to the Bay of Biscay and the Atlantic Ocean.

Riverside south and west, the vineyard landscape is flat and gravelly in the M茅doc and Graves regions.

But to the north and east, Bordeaux C么tes vineyards climb around 400 feet from the three waterways. Planted on limestone and clay soils, they benefit from the warmth of these waters and their sunny exposures.

These vineyards comprise six appellations from west to east: Blaye, Bourg, Cadillac, Castillon, Francs and Sainte-Foy. Five have joined together to form what鈥檚 classified as the C么tes de Bordeaux.

The sixth, Bourg, voted to stay apart. Together, however, they represent a new level of quality definitely worth exploring.

Wines from these Bordeaux C么tes appellations represent some of the best values and most enjoyable selections in Bordeaux. Mainly red, they are ready to be enjoyed within three years after release, and many can hold for up to a decade.

They are pleasurable pours, always with ample structure. Yet, they鈥檙e also full of fruit from Merlot, blended with the more tannic Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. Increasingly, spicy Malbec has become a common part of the regional blends as well.

Ready to dive in? Here鈥檚 your cheat sheet to the best that Bordeaux鈥檚 C么tes have to offer.

Vignobles Gabriel and Co. 2016 Ch芒teau Le Grand Moulin (Blaye C么tes de Bordeaux)
Vignobles Gabriel and Co. 2016 Ch芒teau Le Grand Moulin (Blaye C么tes de Bordeaux)/ Photo by Meg Baggott

Blaye

Fortified and Ready

A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Citadel of Blaye is one of three massive forts designed in the 17th century to repel invaders who might sail upriver and attack Bordeaux. The others are Fort M茅doc, which sits on the opposite side of the Gironde estuary in Cussac-Fort-M茅doc, and Fort Pat茅, located on an island in the Gironde estuary.

Today, the Citadel of Blaye, with houses, shops and restaurants within its walls, still dominates this river town.

Beyond this bustling tourist destination, growing along the estuary鈥檚 slopes, across plains and atop a plateau, are the vineyards of Blaye C么tes de Bordeaux, a calm region where vines are interspersed with fields and grain crops. They鈥檙e planted mainly to red varieties, covering more than 12,800 acres, though about 680 acres of white grapes are also grown.

Fifteen years ago, the region鈥檚 reds were generally light and easy drinking. Now, thanks to an increased proportion of Cabernet Sauvignon used in the final blends, the style has deepened. It offers ripeness as well as structure and emphasizes black-fruit characteristics.

Why Bordeaux Brings Out the Best in Cabernet Sauvignon

The whites, too, have become richer, with many more now aged in wood.

Eric Bantegnies鈥檚 family runs four chateaus in Blaye: Bertinerie, Haut Bertinerie, Manon des Brumes and La Baronnerie. He emphasizes the newfound importance of Cabernet Sauvignon to the region鈥檚 reputation.

鈥淚t makes a big difference to the structure of the wines,鈥 says Bantegnies. 鈥淲e have always had a majority of Merlot, but now we aim to have up to 40% Cabernet in the blend, particularly for our top wines.鈥

The Bantegnies family vineyards are in Cubnezais and C茅zac, near Saint-Savin, at the eastern end of the appellation.颅 It鈥檚 in one of three sections of the Blaye vineyard landscape. The others sections are around Blaye itself, and Saint-Ciers-sur-Gironde and Marcillac to the north, where the impressive Vignerons de Tutiac cooperative is headquartered and the last Bordeaux vineyards lie before you cross into the Cognac region.

This is a wine region with both history and potential. Most wines are widely available at prices around $15 to $20, although some top wines sell for more than $50. At their best, they burst with plum and blackberry fruits, are lightly wooded and ready to enjoy within three years of release.

Map of Blaye in Bordeux
Map by Designmaps.com

Vignobles Gabriel and Co. 2016 Ch芒teau Le Grand Moulin (Blaye C么tes de Bordeaux); $24, 92 points. Though he’d rather be a musical genius, Jean-Fran莽ois Reaud did wonders with this estate, in the family since 1904. Dense and full of tannins, it also offers ripe fruits. Its structure and density match the intensity of the fruit, meaning the wine has a great future. With a dense aftertaste, the wine will age, so drink from 2022. Mr. Wine. Editors鈥 Choice.

Ch芒teau Magdeleine Bouhou 2016 Boha (Blaye C么tes de Bordeaux); $18, 90 points. This dark, structured wine with firm tannins has the potential for richness. That comes from the blackberry flavors that pop through the dry structure. The fruit hints at juiciness and shows bright acidity. Drink this ageworthy wine from 2022. Sierra Nevada Imports. Editors鈥 Choice.

Ch芒teau Monconseil-Gazin 2016 Blaye C么tes de Bordeaux; $30, 90 points. This wine from Jean-Fran莽ois Baudet is rich with fine tannins and ripe black fruits. Its structure and concentration are generous, while with 12 months in oak, the smoky black-currant fruit still gives freshness. The wine is now well integrated and will be ready from 2021. Continent Wines Inc.

Cote de Bordeaux Bourg
Vineyards in Bourg / Aurimages

Bourg

Dynamism and Optimism

Surrounded by rolling hills with great views of the Dordogne river just before it joins the Garonne to form the Gironde estuary, it鈥檚 no surprise that the vineyards in the C么tes de Bourg are dubbed 鈥淟ittle Switzerland鈥 by locals.

At around 280 feet above sea level at their peak, however, these slopes are hardly Swiss, but their proximity to the water allows the vineyards to take advantage of the extra warmth that it provides.

They form a compact region about 22 miles north of Bordeaux that鈥檚 defined by steep drops down toward the river, valleys and small patches of woodland.

The majority of the production is focused on red wine. There are more than 9,700 acres devoted to red-grape vines compared to less than 100 acres of white varieties.

Bourg鈥檚 wines are not shy, with rich fruit tones, bold tannins and moderate alcohol levels typically around 14%.

There鈥檚 a sense of dynamism and cohesion throughout the region, best witnessed by the Maison du Vin. Paid for by the growers, it鈥檚 an excellent shop and conference center with a splendid wine bar and a planned restaurant with river views. It鈥檚 close to the ancient Bourg citadel, whose terrace, about 100 feet up from the river, forms a tree-shaded square where gossip reigns on sunny afternoons.

The Bordeaux 2018 Vintage at En Primeur

鈥淲e have a really good group of younger growers who have taken over from their parents, more than many other areas of Bordeaux鈥攖hey travel together, they taste together,鈥 says St茅phane Donze, president of the wine growers association of C么tes de Bourg and co-owner of Ch芒teau Martinat along with his wife, Lucie.

Then there鈥檚 Malbec. Long forgotten in Bordeaux, climate change as well as Argentine and native clonal selection have made it possible to replant the variety here and in neighboring Blaye. Malbec now makes up about 10% of Bourg鈥檚 vineyards, and it鈥檚 changed both the regional landscape and resulting wine profiles.

鈥淚t brings spice to our wines,鈥 says Donze.

Map of Bourg in Bordeaux
Map by Designmaps.com

Ch芒teau Brules茅caille 2016 Grande R茅serve (C么tes de Bourg); $20, 91 points. The wine has fine fruitiness and warm tannins that give it a juicy character. With its structure still in place, it will need some time. As it develops, it will become a dense, fruity and rich wine. Drink from 2021. Kysela P猫re et Fils.

Ch芒teau Mercier 2016 Cuv茅e Prestige (C么tes de Bourg); $22, 91 points. The structure of Isabelle & Christophe Chety鈥檚 wine is still firm and young. The same goes for the full-bodied, black-currant fruits that are nowhere near ready to enjoy. Drink from 2021. Republic National Distributing Co.

Ch芒teau Tayac 2016 Prestige (C么tes de Bourg); $28, 91 points. Full of new wood aromas and flavors, this is a tough blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot at this stage. Its firm texture and dry core are balanced by the juicy acidity and the fine black currant fruitiness. The wine鈥檚 licorice flavors from extraction should go as it develops. Drink from 2022. Direct Wine Inc.

Ch芒teau Reynon 2016 Cadillac C么tes de Bordeaux; and Ch芒teau Tanesse 2016 Cadillac C么tes de Bordeaux
Ch芒teau Reynon 2016 Cadillac C么tes de Bordeaux; and Ch芒teau Tanesse 2016 Cadillac C么tes de Bordeaux / Photo by Meg Baggott

Cadillac

Wines and Cars

Cadillac is a true slope, a true c么te. Alongside the Garonne river, the thin appellation runs 37 miles southeast, starting on the outskirts of Bordeaux.

The vineyards, around 2,700 acres in total, form a narrow strip, never more than three miles wide. They climb steep south-facing slopes and look across the Garonne to Sauternes, the Graves and the dense pine forests of the Landes.

It鈥檚 this proximity to the Garonne that defines Cadillac. The extra warmth from the river brings density to the red wines and also creates ideal conditions for botrytis to infect white grapes, a key element in the production of the unctuous, sweet wines of Cadillac.

In the village of Capian, Monique Bonnet is the owner of Ch芒teau Suau. At 328 feet in elevation, it鈥檚 one of the highest vineyards in the appellation.

鈥淚 could see the Garonne if the oak trees weren鈥檛 there,鈥 says Bonnet. The close proximity to the river, she says, 鈥済ives our red wines the extra depth and concentration, [with] structure, accessibility and ageability.鈥

Why C么tes de Bordeaux Should be Your Go-To French Wine

Cadillac, the walled town on the banks of the Garonne, is situated deferentially around a massive castle built in the 17th century by a duke of 脡pernon. One of the subsequent lords of Cadillac, the

Chevalier Antoine Laumet de La Mothe Cadillac, was governor of Louisiana in the 18th century when it was still French territory.

The story goes that his name was attached to the iconic car brand 150 years later. The locals are proud of the connection, as evidenced by the annual rally held with vintage Cadillacs.

There is also a second red wine appellation within the Cadillac C么tes de Bordeaux region, called just C么tes de Bordeaux. The wines are simpler than the Cadillac offerings, typically from high-yield vineyards and aged in tanks rather than wood.

Many estates make both styles, although the superior Cadillac C么tes de Bordeaux are more likely to be seen in the U.S.

Over the years, the wines of Cadillac have shown reliability, as a number of major estates has earned 90-plus scores. Like all the wines from the C么tes, most bottlings represent amazing values at reasonable prices, often around $20 for the impressive 2016 vintage.

Map of Cadillac in Bordeaux
Map by Designmaps.com

Ch芒teau de Marsan 2016 Cadillac C么tes de Bordeaux; $18, 91 points. Rich, smoky and with ripe fruits, this is a powerful wine from vines bordering the Garonne river. Its tannins, swathes of blackberry and black-plum flavors and concentration all point to the need for aging. Drink from 2022. Wineberry America LLC. Cellar Selection.

Ch芒teau Reynon 2016 Cadillac C么tes de Bordeaux; $14, 91 points. Harvested under the direction of the Dubourdieu sons, this smoky wine is ripe, full of rich juicy fruit as well as firm tannins. A layer of strong black fruits is balanced by acidity. This rich, deliciously fruity wine has a fine future. Drink from 2022. AP Wine Imports. Best Buy.

Ch芒teau Tanesse 2016 Cadillac C么tes de Bordeaux; $45, 90 points. This smoky, ripe and structured Gonfrier wine shows good potential, offering fine tannins and rich black fruits. Its structure, concentration and balance already show a wine that will have an excellent future. Drink from 2021. Serge Dor茅 Selections.

Cote de Bordeaux Castillon
A village in Castillon / Aurimages

Castillon

The Saint-脡milion Effect

Castillon has a place in history. Its full name is Castillon-la-Bataille, which means 鈥淐astillon the Battle.鈥 In 1453, this is where the French threw the English out of the country after the Hundred Years War. Each year, citizens celebrate the victory with a spectacular pageant in the vineyards.

Castillon is also next to Saint-脡milion. Apart from an administrative boundary, this is the same slope with the same soil and exposure as its more famous neighbor. In fact, many Saint-脡milion chateau owners have bought the much less expensive vineyard land throughout the area. Plots here cost an average of $11,000 per acre, compared to $114,000 in Saint-脡milion.

Some of these chateau owners are quite pedigreed. The B茅cot family of Ch芒teau Beaus茅jour-B茅cot produces Ch芒teau Joanin-B茅cot; the Perse family of Ch芒teau Pavie produces Clos les Lunelles; and the von Neipperg family of Ch芒teau Canon la Gaffeli猫re owns Ch芒teau d鈥橝iguilhe. These producers make some of the best Castillon wines.

As a result, the appellation has become the go-to for many who can鈥檛 afford Saint-脡milion.

鈥淐astillon is good quality without the price,鈥 says Jonathan Ducourt, whose family owns Ch芒teau des Demoiselles in Castillon and Ch芒teau Jacques Noir in Saint-脡milion. He describes his wine as 鈥渂right fruits with a good density, a little bit of spice and a touch of tannin.鈥

From Castillon and the Dordogne Valley, vines rise up the steep south-facing slope to the plateau above, at heights between 250 and 350 feet. Small villages鈥擲aint-Magne, Sainte-Colombe, Saint Gen猫s-de-Castillon, Belves-de-Castillon鈥攆orm enclaves in the landscape of around 7,000 acres of vines, leaving patches of land in the small valleys for woodland, with small vineyard holding and major estates alike.

Castillon has risen fast, as producers snap up inexpensive land and invest in winemaking. Prices range from as little as $12 to $50, with plenty of 90-point wines to be found, especially from the 2015 and 鈥16 vintages currently on the market.

Map of Castillon in Bordeaux
Map by Designmaps.com

Ch芒teau d鈥橝iguilhe 2016 Seigneurs d鈥橝iguilhe (Castillon C么tes de Bordeaux); $20, 91 points. Part of the von Neipperg holdings, this ripe, perfumed wine is rich with tannins and and spice. Black fruits and acidity balance all this firmness to give a wine with delicious potential. Drink this generous blend of Merlot and Cabernet Franc from 2021. K&L Wine Merchants. Editors鈥 Choice.

Ch芒teau de Pitray 2016 Premier Vin (Castillon C么tes de Bordeaux); $15, 91 points. A concentrated wine from the Pitray family, who fought in the American Revolution, this has bold tannins and the potential for rich fruit. A powerful wine, it shows plenty of spice as well as ripe black-currant flavors and acidity. Drink from 2022. Monsieur Touton Selection Ltd. Best Buy.

Ch芒teau C么te Montpezat 2016 Castillon C么tes de Bordeaux; $20, 90 points. Big tannins don鈥檛 hide the fruitiness of this ripe Merlot-dominated wine. It has concentration, and a dark core of powerful tannins that brings out an accent of coffee. At the same time, a rich blackberry flavor shines through. Drink from 2022. Saranty Imports.

Wines from Francs and Sainte-Foy, France
Ch芒teau Pr茅 La Lande 2016 Terra Cotta (Sainte-Foy C么tes de Bordeaux); and Ch芒teau Puygueraud 2017 Blanc (Francs C么tes de Bordeaux) / Photo by Meg Baggott

Francs and Sainte-Foy

The Eastern Hills

As Blaye is at the northwestern border of Bordeaux, so Francs and Sainte-Foy are at the eastern boundary. They are the smallest of the C么tes de Bordeaux vineyards, with Francs planted to about 1,000 acres of vines and Sainte-Foy at around 860 acres. Still, both have great history.

Francs dates to at least the sixth century, when the region received its name from an army of Franks who won a battle at a place called Ad Francos, later changed to Francs. The little river, the Lidoire, which flows into the Dordogne, acted as the early World War II border between German-occupied Bordeaux and Free France.

Sainte-Foy鈥檚 vines can be traced back to the 13th century. The founding of the town of Sainte-Foy-la-Grande in 1255 led to the growth of local vineyards. Early accounts note the town鈥檚 duty was to hinder wines of the Haut-Pays from reaching Bordeaux before local vignerons had sold and shipped their own crop each harvest.

Francs, which produces red, white and sweet white wines under the Francs C么tes de Bordeaux appellation, has a number of major estates. With vineyards that climb up to 400 feet in elevation, it鈥檚 the highest point in Bordeaux, with sites that sprawl from north of Castillon down into the Castillon C么tes de Bordeaux region.

It鈥檚 the only slope without a view over a major river. Only a handful of estates have wines available in the U.S., but their value and quality are worthy of seeking out. Expect serious reds for long term aging, especially from chateaus owned by the Thienpont family, which owns and runs vineyards in Saint-脡milion and Pomerol.

Sainte-Foy鈥檚 average vineyard size is 22 just acres. The vineyards climb from the Dordogne up to around 325 feet and look over the medieval town of Sainte-Foy-la-Grande, with its grid plan and wooden houses. They鈥檙e on slopes that face north and northwest, and they benefit from the warming influence of the river. In terms of quality, the area is still some way behind the rest of the C么tes, and therefore there are hardly any wines on American shores.

Map of Sainte-Foy
Map by Designmaps.com

Les Charmes Godard 2016 Ch芒teau La Prade (Francs C么tes de Bordeaux); $14, 91 points. Bold tannins and ripe fruit are the hallmarks of this rich wine from the Nicolas Thienpont range. A solid structure backs up the ripe black-currant flavors. The wine will certainly age well, so wait until 2021. Monsieur Touton Selection Ltd. Best Buy.

Ch芒teau Pr茅 La Lande 2016 Terra Cotta (Sainte-Foy C么tes de Bordeaux); $23, 90 points. Structured, firm and with the potential of ripe fruits, this wine from Sainte-Foy’s first vintage as a C么tes de Bordeaux is ready for aging. Aged in amphorae, it has weight, concentration and dark tannins. The black fruits from biodynamic vines are still waiting to come through what will be a rich wine. Drink from 2020. Vigneron Imports.

Ch芒teau Puygueraud 2017 Blanc (Francs C么tes de Bordeaux); $12, 90 points. Ripe tropical flavors dominate this rich Nicolas Thienpont wine, a full and fruity Sauvignon Blanc/Sauvignon Gris blend. Sure to develop impressively, it will be better from 2019. It’s available in limited quantities only due to spring frost. Monsieur Touton Selection Ltd. Best Buy.

Published on August 6, 2019
Topics: Wine and Ratings