Côtes of Many Colours (February 27, 2003)
Think of Bordeaux and what springs to mind? The great growths of the
Médoc and Graves? Elegant, towered chateaux with rose bushes defining
the rows of vines? Bordeaux futures at dizzying prices? Wines you have
to lay down for fifteen years?
There is another Bordeaux that has nothing to do with the 1855 Classification,
a Bordeaux where you can find first-rate table wines at prices the most
frugal wine drinker can afford.
This is the Bordeaux of the Five Côtes Bourg, Blaye, Castillon,
Francs and Premières Côtes de Bordeaux. Less fashionable,
more affordable. I toured the Côtes during the 2002 harvest, and
here is what I found.
Côtes de Francs
Vineyards: 50 km NE of Bordeaux, 10 km East of St-Emilion, adjoining
Côtes de Castillon.
Area: 500 hectares
Average size of domaines: 6 hectares
Average annual production: red 29,000 hectolitres, white 1,000
||Philip Holzberg in his vineyard at Château Franc-Cardinal
In November, 2001, my friend Philip Holzberg, late of Vancouver, fulfilled
the dream of every wine lover. He bought a château in Bordeaux.
Actually, it's a farmhouse with three separate vineyards totalling less
than 10 hectares not far from Château Puyfromage. But he makes a
Château Franc-Cardinal is located in Bordeaux's smallest
appellation, Côtes de Francs, in the village of Tayac, which boasts
an 11th-century castle and a 12th-century Roman church.
|The 12th-century Romanesque church in Tayac, Côtes de Francs
Now Philip has a foot in both of France's most prestigious regions, because
he also owns a 26 per cent interest in Domaine de Clivet, with vines in
Les Pierres Blanches and Les Vris vineyards in the Côte de Beaune.
"I built it myself from scratch and took the Ministry of Agriculture
diploma necessary to become an exploitant," he explains. The total
production: 200 cases of Pinot Noir.
But he is a claret man at heart, since he and his South African winemaker-partner
basically consume all the Burgundy they produce themselves. "We were
making garage wine," he says, "before the term was invented."
Château Franc-Cardinal's three parcels of vines are 2 kilometers
apart in an idyllic pastoral setting of gently rolling hills, cow pastures,
hay fields and woods. They're planted to 70 per cent Merlot, 25 per cent
Cabernet Franc and 5 per cent Malbec and produce between 4,000 and 5,000
cases a year.
"I bought the property for the vineyards. The previous owner, Jean-Louis
Lacour, kept the vines like a gardener," says Philip. "He and
his wife Jeanine used to sell in bulk but bottled 23,000 bottles
for himself and restaurant clients."
Lacour called his wine Domaine du Cardinal. Philip, with deference to
the region and to distinguish the wine from his Burgundy
changed it to Château Franc-Cardinal for the 2000 vintage.
||Philip Holzberg discusses the new vintage with Jean-Louis Lacour
and his wife Jeanine
The Lacours are still very much in evidence, as they like to visit their
old vineyards and help out when they can. In fact, they were there the
day I arrived, and we tasted four vintages together. All the wines are
fermented in cement tanks and only the 2001 was aged in oak.
1997: Very youthful purple colour, holding to the rim. Medium-bodied
with an earthy, blueberry flavour and soft tannins (86)
1998: Purple colour; spicy nose of violets and red berries, very
delicate, light and fruity with a blueberry finish (88).
1999: leaner with red currant and pomegranate flavours, light with
fresh acidity (85).
2000: first Château Franc-Cardinal vintage dense purple
colour with a bouquet of lavender, red berries and blueberries; well-structured
and more intense but still fruity and charming (89).
2001: (bottled 4 weeks previously) dense purple; Merlot sings through
on the nose as crushed blueberries. A little shy but with good fruit (88+).
Other Côtes de Francs wines tasted and worthy of your attention:
Château Lalande de Tifayne 2000; Château Puygueraud 1999.
Premières Côtes de Bordeaux
Vineyards: on the right bank of the Garonne, forming a narrow band
60 km long and 5 km wide, from Bordeaux to Langon.
Area: 3,400 hectares
Average size of domaines: 12 hectares
Average annual production: red 180,000 hectolitres
||Juha Berglund, proprietor of Château Carsin, Premieres
Cotes de Bordeaux
"I'm the only Finnish wine producer on an economic scale in the
world," claims Juha Berglund, the extrovert and highly voluble owner
of Château Carsin,
located in Rions, near Cadillac in the Premières Côtes de
Bordeaux. The land is hilly here, unlike the flatness of the Graves directly
across the river.
With a group of Finnish investors, he purchased the property in 1990
to make New World-style wines in Bordeaux.
To this end he hired an Australian engineering company to create a small
replica of Brian Croser's Petaluma winery. From his 57-hectare site he
produces 50/50 white and red, including the unusual Château Carsin
Signature Etiquette Gris, 100 per cent Sauvignon Gris. There are only
50 hectares of this variety in France and four of them are planted here.
Berglund is the unofficial hostel for travelling Finns, it seems; the
day I visited there were seventeen sleeping around his office and under
the billiard table, including a two-star Michelin chef from Finland who
was busy in the kitchen.
Château Carsin 2000: deeply coloured with a nose of cedar
and chocolate with a rich, muscular structure and a red berry flavour
quite unlike any red wine I've tried from this region (88).
Other Premières Côtes de Bordeaux tasted and worthy of your
attention: Château Jonchet 2000, Château Langoiran 2000
Premières Côtes de Blaye
Vineyards: 45 km north of Bordeaux, facing the Médoc.
Area: 5,500 hectares. In effect, 5 appellations (Premières
Côtes de Blaye red and white, Côtes de Blaye white, Blaye
red and white)
Average size of domaines: 15 hectares
Average annual production: red 300,000 hectolitres, white 30,000
Château Roland La Garde produces some of the best wines
of the appellation. Owner Bruno Martin plants more densely than his neighbours,
relying on a high proportion of Merlot (78 per cent) because he finds
Cabernet Franc "too hard" in his clay-loam soil. He uses Malbec
for colour, concentration and a black pepper note.
Martin makes three qualities of blended wine Tradition, Prestige
and a Grand Vin. He also makes a varietal Malbec.
Château Roland La Garde Grand Vin 2000: dense purple colour;
smoky, cedar, vanilla nose, masking the fruit at the moment but the palate
tells you it's there in great concentration; firm, intense black fruit
ands licorice flavours (90+).
Malbec 2000: dense purple, tobacco, vanilla and spice on the nose;
mouthfilling, earthy, peppery, blackberry and currants with a tannic finish
|Château Segonzac in Blaye
Segonzac is another winery to watch. All five Bordeaux varieties
are planted on its 30 hectares (Merlot predominating at 60 per cent).
The chateau has a commanding view of the river across from St. Julien.
Three wines are made Tradition, Vieilles Vignes (40-year-old vines,
50/50 Merlot/Cabernet Sauvignon) and the flagship Héritage.
Château Segonzac Héritage 2000: (70 per cent cabernet
Sauvignon, 20 per cent Merlot, 10 per cent Cabernet Franc) dense purple
colour; smoky, toasty, oak-driven, rich ripe fruit, well balanced but
still gripped with tannins. A terrific wine that needs time (90).
Château Le Raz Caman is situated at the same latitude as
Pauillac. Jean-Francois Pommeraud uses a fair whack of Malbec in his wines.
Both the 1999 and the 2000 vintage (scored 89 and 90 respectively) have
a lovely raspberry character with great structure. The 2000 is fatter,
spicier with an elderberry note. Good value wines.
Côtes de Bourg
Vineyards: at the confluence of the Dordogne and the Gironde
Area: 3,800 hectares
Average size of domaines: 10 hectares
Average annual production: red 220,000 hectolitres, white 1,200
Rousselle is a must-see for visitors. The chai is a riot of colour
and the steel tanks are named after the Seven Dwarfs. The proprietors
Vincent and Natalie Lemaître produce a very unusual rosé:
white wine added to red juice left in new barrel oak barrels. They have
17 hectares in Bourg and two more in Blaye (from which they make another
wine under that appellation called Château Haut-Vigneau). They also
run a Bed & Breakfast (two delightfully furnished rooms), an ideal
jumping-off point for touring Bourg & Blaye (e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org).
"The wines of the five Côtes are not for keeping a long time
like Médoc and Graves," says Jacques Eymas of Château
Gros Moulin. His family has been growing wine here for ten generations.
A stone windmill dating back to the eighteenth century, depicted on the
label, dominates the château, which is situated a kilometer south
of town of Bourg. Gros Moulin 2000 spent 9 months in oak. A deep
purple wine with a bouquet of spice and plums, full-bodied and powerful,
forward with soft tannins (89).
Château Roc de Combes is owned by François Mitjavile,
proprietor of La Tetre Rôteboeuf in Saint Emilion. The compact vineyard
of 13.5 hectares sweeps down to the river, planted to 65 per cent Merlot
and 35 per cent Cabernet Franc. The wines are massive and dense, spending
two years in 100 per cent new oak. A tank sample of Merlot 2002 tasted
like raspberry jam. The 2001 Merlot from barrel was firmly structured
with concentrated plummy fruit. The best wine I tasted on the entire trip
was a half bottle of Roc de Combes 2000, succulently sweet fruit
with floral, vanilla and clove notes. The oak has not fully integrated
yet but the tannins were soft and round (92).
The second wine labelled as Domaine de Combes comes under the basic Bordeaux
appellation, since the fruit comes from three hectares on the flat land
nearest the river where the drainage is not as good as on the slopes.
The 2002 was light with a floral, cranberry and redcurrant flavour, finishing
Château Guerry is a 22 hectare estate, set high on a hill
with sloping vineyards. Its proprietor, Bernadette de Rivoyre, produces
elegant, long-lived wines with a high percentage of Malbec. Over lunch
we tasted the 1996 (mellow, floral, red fruit with well integrated
oak (89)), 1999 (elegant blueberry flavours, intense, round and
well structured (89)) and 2000 (dense purple with rich, ripe fruit
and floral notes (90)), finishing with the 1990 (mature, licorice
and dried fruits, sweet blackcurrant and truffle flavours, a venerable
Other Côtes de Boug wines tasted and worthy of your attention:
Château Rousset 2000; the white wine of Château de La Grave
2001 (one of ten white wine producers in Bourg: Semillon and 30 per cent
Colombard, 50 per cent aged in American oak, the rest in stainless steel).
Recommended Côtes de Castillon wines: Château Valmy
Dubourdieu Lange 1999, Château d'Aiguilhe 1999.