A lot of wine drinkers are familiar with Bordeaux, but what about Côtes de Bordeaux? This hilly region is home to five appellations, with slopes that are ideal for growing grapes. Our European Editor Roger Voss had a chance to sit down and talk with Françoise Lannoye, the president of the Côtes de Bordeaux, about what makes this region so unique and how consumers can find exceptional bottles for less than $30.
Roger Voss: Hello and welcome to the Wine Enthusiast podcast, your serving of wine trends and passionate people beyond the bottle. I’m Roger Voss, the European editor here at Wine Enthusiast, and this episode I’ll talk with Françoise Lannoye who is the president of the Côtes de Bordeaux, a collection of five different appellations all based on slopes. And that’s the interesting thing about them côtes means, in French, slope, and of course a slope is a great place to grow grapes. So, we’ll hear more about that and she will explain why they’re so important, this Côtes de Bordeaux. And then I will be tasting a number of them and telling you all about them.
RV: So, tell me about the Côtes de Bordeaux. What are they?
Françoise Lannoye: Côtes de Bordeaux, it’s a group of appellations. In fact, we are on five terroir, five different terroirs. But our special is we are all on the hillside. That’s why we are Côtes de Bordeaux that makes really the difference between Bordeaux.
RV: So, can you tell me the names of the different appellations, please?
FL: Yes. So, we have Blaye Côtes de Bordeaux, which is in the north of Bordeaux; we have Cadillac Côtes de Bordeaux; Castillon Côtes de Bordeaux; Francs Côtes de Bordeauxv; and the Sainte-Foy Côtes de Bordeaux.
RV: You say that being the côte, which means slope…
RV:…makes them special. Why? What is so special about a slope?
FL: Because the rain is draining easily, and also, we have very sunny exposure. So that makes difference, because it depends on the weather, but we are never too wet.
RV: So, what difference does that make to the wine?
FL: So, that gives it to the wine fruity taste, more fruity taste. And also, a bit of structure. We are not too light, but we are easy drinking wine.
RV: So, the grape varieties of the Côtes de Bordeaux, are they all the same, the classic Bordeaux grape varieties? Or do they vary between the different appellations?
FL: So, in principle, all the appellations have Merlot. But after, you have got some varieties—different varieties—compared to the name of the terroir. So, for Blaye, for example, they have some Malbec more, and Castillon, it’s more Cabernet Franc, complete with Merlot. And Côtes de Francs is also more Castillon, you know, you have this kind of things which are different. And also, about the taste, you can find different taste, also. Of course, each winemaker have its own way to make wine, so it’s always different between each winemaker anyway. But! You have, for example, for Sainte-Foy Côtes de Bordeaux, they are very often the cherry taste in their wine, you know? So, you can find this kind of single thing for the difference from the appellation.
RV: So now, why should anybody buy Côtes de Bordeaux rather than any other wine, not just from Bordeaux, but from anywhere? What is going to make them enjoy–what would they enjoy about a Côtes de Bordeaux that they wouldn’t enjoy about another wine?
FL: So, Côtes de Bordeaux, the special is very fruity wine and with a bit of structure, but they are not oaky, very oaky, they are not loud, you know, they are fresh, also. An easy drinking wine. The special force is that they are always drinkable wines. That is very important to us in Côtes de Bordeaux, you know?
RV: So, when you buy a Côtes de Bordeaux, say, 2017, which is the latest vintage going on the market…
RV: …when can you drink it?
FL: Well, you can drink it about two or three years after.
RV: It’s as simple as that?
FL: It’s not simple because you can drink it about two or three years it just because it’s…you know, the vinifications that we do, you know is having implications that we do, we don’t extract some tannins which are not well mature. So, if the tannins are well-matured, you can drink the wine quite early compare if you have a tannin which are wasted. You know, it’s different. But in Côtes de Bordeaux, we have tannin which are mature, so you can drink them about two or three years after the vintage, and they are still good during 10 years, around. So, you can keep them, but they are drinkable early, also.
RV: So, tell me about wood-aging. Are all these wines aged in barrels, or do some just come from tank? How do how does that work in making Côtes de Bordeaux?
FL: Mainly, we age in tanks. But you have in general, also, a mix. So, we age part of the wine in barrels, part of it in tanks, and after we do the blending, you know? So, you can blend a part of oak barrels with tank aging. And also, we started aging in amphora so it’s also another way to age the wine that makes something also special, because you have some micro-oxygenation, but you keep the fruit more than in the barrels, you know? You don’t bring the oaky notes.
RV: Every wine I taste from Côtes de Bordeaux has a different name: it’s a chateau, chateau, chateau. How can I, when I go to a wine shop, decide which chateau I should buy wine from?
FL: So, when you are in the same position of course it’s not easy. That’s why it’s difficult also for us, to sell the wines into the American market because we are small families, you know. So, we are 1,000 producers in Côtes de Bordeaux. And so, you can find 1,000 chateaus, you see?
But you will have some hype on the back label, where the grape variety normally are written on the back label. And also, if they do…the aging can be written, also, and especially when the wine makers make something special, he will write it on the back label. But it’s not easy to find it on the front label.
RV: Harvest time here in Castillon. Can you tell me how your harvest is going at your estate?
FL: So, I started the harvest at my château last week on Thursday. So, we do it…we did it Thursday, Friday and Saturday. So…well it’s quite busy, actually. We get up early—you know, 5 o’clock because it was so hot in the afternoon that we need to harvest only in the morning. That’s also the reason why we started so early. So, it can depend of the year, of course. The harvest will go on during about 10 days, and but not continuously. It can be stopped and we start it again, you see, because we are waiting for the right maturity and for the vinification. We start with the wine which is without any sulfur. So we do this kind of wine of on my estate also, so we have—it’s a special cuvée, without sulfur. So, we always start by these plots, because it needs to be very healthy about the grapes, and, and so on. It needs also much more attention, you know? So, it’s the first thing we do. And after, vinification take about 20 days. And maceration… it can take 10 days more. And after we go to the aging step.
RV: This is the busiest time of the year for you.
FL: Yes. It is the most stressful time. Everything is important. Every detail you do is important. The day of the harvest is important. Each batch, how many per day, and so on—because you have to adapt it to the quality of the wine that you have in your tank. All this is very important, so you are very considerate of this, you know. So, we are very busy with this, and at the end of the year, also with the sales, because we do so with direct sales with the consumer in France. So, we go to many exhibitions. So, this takes time.
RV: How much vineyard do you have in your château? How big is your vineyard?
FL: So, it’s 25 acres, around. So, it’s not very big, in fact, but all the good the Côtes de Bordeaux are around these kind of area, you know? We are not very big because we are on slope, so you don’t have a big area in front of you, you know. That’s why we are very small.
RV: The Côtes de Bordeaux also makes white wine in some of the appellations. Can you tell me a little bit about the white wines which are made, and where they are, which appellations?
FL: OK, so, white wines are produced by Blaye Côtes de Bordeaux; you have some also in Francs Côtes de Bordeaux; in Sainte-Foy Côtes de Bordeaux. It’s about 3 or 5 percent of the production of Côtes de Bordeaux. So, there are not…you don’t find many labels with white wines of Côtes de Bordeaux. But they are produced mainly with Sauvignon and Sémillon grape varieties. And in general, they are easy selling in America, because American people like very much white wine, and especially Sauvignon. And, as it’s often written on the back label, you can see it’s a grape variety they like.
RV: Tell me about the price of the Côtes de Bordeaux. What would you expect to have to pay in America for a Côtes de Bordeaux? For example, your wine?
FL: The price is around the, I should say, $14 up to $20, or $19, which is a main bracket price, bracket for the Côtes de Bordeaux. You can find some of them a tad bit higher, about the price, but not many of them. Majorities are the $15—$15 to $17.
RV: So that makes naturally very good value, doesn’t it, compared with many wines on the market in the United States.
FL: That’s why I find it’s really…Côtes de Bordeaux should succeed more and more in U.S. market, because we are really in the good bracket price for the market.
RV: We’re talking here on a sunny day in Castillon. Is that good for the harvest? How do you think the future is for the rest of the harvest?
FL: Good for the moment, you know, because we have a very nice September weather. The weather was very nice, even last week. So, we just have some more rain, recently, but it’s not bad because it’s just a small part of rain, you know, and maybe for us can wait to harvest the Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc a little bit later. And actually, for many this week, people are starting for harvesting Merlot. But we have a good…when you taste the grapes, the tannin really mature, you know, the skin is fine and supple, so it must be a good year. But we still need to wait to have everything inside, you know? This is agriculture. Don’t speak too quickly.
RV: Our thanks to Françoise Lannoye for talking to us. She is President of the Côtes de Bordeaux, and she’s been talking to us on this Wine Enthusiast podcast.
Having heard all about the Côtes de Bordeaux from Françoise, let’s check out some wines to buy and taste. There are five Côtes, from west to east, they are Blaye, Cadillac, Castillon, Franc and Sainte-Foy. The last two, Franc and Sainte-Foy, are small, so there are very few of their wines available. Let’s instead concentrate on the other three.
From Blaye comes Château Berthenon 2016 Cuvée Henri. It’s imported by Medallion Global, and priced at $28, which is a great deal. Blaye is really marked by its massive view over the massive Gironde estuary, looking towards the Médoc, and the vineyards of Margaux. There’s a massive fortress on the cliffs of Blaye. It was built to stop invaders sailing up the river towards Bordeaux city. Now today you can shop and dine inside its walls. Château Berthenon has 91 acres, large for the region. This Cuvée Henri red wine is named after the owner’s father, Henri Ponz. Richly structured, with both berry fruits and ripe tannins, it is firm where it needs to be, but it is also generous in its blackberry flavors and acidity. And when I said it should be drunk from 2021, it probably could be drunk earlier. I gave it 90 points.
Now, let’s change gear and go east to Cadillac. Cadillac is on the Garonne river, which is one of the two rivers which flow together to make the Gironde estuary. The Garonne is the one that flows through Bordeaux city. Château La Rame is another estate on the hill looking down on Cadillac’s castle. One of the lords of the castle with a magnificent name of Chevalier Antoine Laumet de la Motte Cadillac became Governor of Louisiana in the 18th century, when Louisiana was still a French colony. Somehow his name became attached to the cars. 150 years later, Cadillac the village and its castle are proud of its name and its association with the cars. Every year there is a festival and processions of vintage Cadillacs. Notice the pronunciation in French is Cah-dee-ac, not Cah dil-ac. Château La Rame is one of the top red wines from an estate that also produces dessert wines. La Charmille is the name of the Cuvée, with its firm tannin and structured fruitiness. This is dry wine, I reckon—at this stage, with plenty of aging needed. That was when I tasted it a year ago. It has spice and dense tannins, but those have already softened, I reckon. And so, although the wine will be ready from 2021, again, I think it could be drunk more quickly. It’s imported by Rosenthal Wine Merchants. Price: $24.
And for the third wine, from Castillon, we have Château Hyot Reserve. Castillon Reserve, 2016, imported by Serge Doré Selections. Price: $20. Castillon’s full name is Castillon La Bataille: it celebrates the end of the Hundred Years’ War between France and England, which ended in 1453 with the final defeat of the English. The meeting between the French and English generals took place at this chateau. Current owner Alain Aubert is a sixth-generation winemaker who is now partnered by his daughter Amelie to produce a firmly structured wine. They are helped, certainly, by consultant Michel Rolland, who hails from Saint-Émilion just next door. The stylistic similarity between the wines at Castillon and Saint-Émilion sharing the same slope and the same exposure, just a different zip code — with its rich tannins gather fine blackcurrant fruits and acidity that, together, will allow the wine to age trade. This one definitely needs to change a little bit longer, and I reckon it should be drunk from 2021.
So, thanks for listening to this episode of the Wine Enthusiast podcast. We’ve been talking about inexpensive Bordeaux and the Côtes de Bordeaux in particular. We interviewed Françoise Lannoye, President of the Côtes de Bordeaux appellations, and I reviewed three wines that are definitely worth checking out, all three great value, and under $30. They were: at 90 points, Château Berthenon 2016 Cuvée Henri, Blaye Côtes de Bordeaux, importer Medallion Global, price $28; at 91 points, Château La Rame 2016 La Charmille from Cadillac Côtes de Bordeaux, importer Rosenthal Wine Merchants, price $24; and at 91 points, Château Hyot Reserve 2016, from Castillon Côtes de Bordeaux, importer Serge Doré Selections, price $20.