When looking for approachable, dynamic red wines that consistently overdeliver for their price point, Yannick Benjamin, sommelier at Contento in Manhattan, reaches for Côtes de Bordeaux.
“These wines are made by small, family-owned wineries—humble people making wines that they actually like to drink at home,” says Benjamin.
The region is comprised of five different appellations under the Côtes de Bordeaux umbrella: Blaye, Cadillac, Castillon, Francs and Sainte-Foy. And they are located on the côtes, or hillsides, of the right banks of the Garonne and Dordogne rivers.
Côtes de Bordeaux specializes in versatile, food-friendly Merlot-based wines. With retail prices typically between $10–$20, these bottles offer great opportunity for discovery without breaking the bank.
We spoke with Benjamin about the region, how to get to know Côtes de Bordeaux and why he loves these wines so much.
What sets Côtes de Bordeaux apart from the rest of Bordeaux?
As far as quality, they overdeliver. Côtes de Bordeaux is located where vines were originally planted by the Romans, so you have a unique sense of place. And at any time, you can visit these wineries and knock on the door and someone from the chateâu—the person who actually works in the vineyards and makes these wines—is there to receive you.
What is a common misconception that people have about Côtes de Bordeaux?
When many people see Bordeaux on the wine list and it has good value, they question it. There’s a misconception that in order to get good wine, you need to spend a lot. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Bordeaux is a large and vast wine region. And in Côtes de Bordeaux, you get high quality at very reasonable prices. These wines are accessible, too. You can drink them young or let them sleep in the cellar for a bit. There’s a lot of variety.
How should wine lovers who have never tried Côtes de Bordeaux get to know these wines?
First, they don’t need to spend a lot of money. There are an immense number of Côtes de Bordeaux producers offering tremendous value. Second, try Côtes de Bordeaux from recent vintages to get a good idea of what [the] styles are. It’s easy to get to know Côtes de Bordeaux; they have an approachable style. They are complex, generous and pleasurable.
How would you describe Côtes de Bordeaux wine region for someone who has never visited before?
What I love about the Côtes de Bordeaux appellations is that there’s biodiversity. There are these beautiful rolling hills, but it’s not just vines. Between the vineyards, there are other crops, trees, horses [and] cows. The biodiversity they incorporate is a real culture, and everything works hand in hand with each other.
How would you characterize Côtes de Bordeaux wines in three words?
Family, diversity and approachability.
What would you suggest to pair with Côtes de Bordeaux?
There’s a lot you can do with the red wines. You can pair them with anything from red meat to chicken. But if you give these wines a cellar-temperature chill—around 55°F—you could even pair them with fish, depending on how it’s prepared. Between the reds and the crisp whites produced here, too, there’s a real versatility to these wines.
What’s ahead for Côtes de Bordeaux in the future?
The future is very bright, especially with the new generation of young winemakers now working at these estates. For a long time in the wine industry, there was the misconception that in order to drink good Bordeaux, you had to spend money. Now more people understand what the Côtes de Bordeaux is all about. Because of the quality precedent set, strict regulations and passionate winemakers, the region offers great bottles of wine with great value.
Finally: Why do you love Côtes de Bordeaux?
For me, it’s simple: I love the way these wines taste. I call their unadulterated style a deceptive simplicity—you are actually tasting the grape and its surroundings. The wines have a real honesty to them, and especially when you meet the people behind them, you see the labor of love that is behind each bottle.