Grand Cru Drive Thru Bordeaux: The Other Side of Bordeaux

Guest Wines Tour de France

Bordeaux, known for its world famous châteaux, has many more gems that are easy to find once you know where to look. This is particularly relevant to what is referred to as the ‘Côtes de Bordeaux‘ that encompasses the appellations of Blaye, Cadillac, Castillon and Francs amongst other appellations, such as Côtes de Bourg as well as the St Emilion satellites. Here can be found some fantastic wines for extremely reasonable prices. We had the good fortune to be able to visit all of these appellations whilst staying in the region.

As harvest came to an end, the signs of autumn were now beginning to show, lending a wonderful array of colours to the landscape. It was truly breathtaking to see the change of colours and the quite sudden transformations of the vineyards.

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On our first Côtes trip out, we headed to the large town of Blaye where we stopped for lunch and a wander round the ancient Citadel providing impressive views of the Gironde estuary splitting into the Dordogne and Garonne rivers. It was nice to get away from the traffic behind the impressively solid walls!

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The Maison du Vin shops that are scattered around Bordeaux each represent a specific appellation and give you a chance to see what is on offer from a variety of producers and enable you to come away with a range of wines. We luckily found a Maison du Vin specialising in what Blaye had to offer, where we were given a wine tasting of good examples from the region, these were excellent value and on average cost less than 10 euros.


Further down the river, we stopped at the smaller Citadel of Bourg, set high above the river, we took in the views looking down upon the sea of tiled rooftops below, there was a strong sense of history all around. A game of boules was being seriously played out by a group of local men in the square in front of the church, completing what was quite a classic French scene.


The area had a certain rustic feel to it but still had a sense of grandeur with its majestic buildings and impressive architecture.


Lyre Trellising at Château Bertinerie

We made a beeline for Château Bertinerie, a producer of particular interest after reading about their lyre trellising system that enables them to ripen Cabernet Sauvignon almost every year. We pulled into the château and had a good nosey at the trellised vines, however we soon realised that we might have come to the rear of the building finding no sign of an entrance. Taking a quick drive around to what was in fact the front of the property, we were greeted by a lady who had been tending to the gardens. She welcomed us into the building and commenced a tour of the winery for us. It was quite hard to imagine the hustle and bustle that must have taken place just a few weeks earlier with the harvest in full swing as it was now so still and no one else was around.


As the tour continued, we enquired who the owner was, to which our guide revealed this to be herself. Jacqueline Bantegnies and her husband Daniel run the business with their sons and come across as very down to earth, even emphasising that they don’t have any airs and graces hence they endeavour to host each winery tour themselves preferring to see all those they receive as equals. Daniel later joined us while we had a tasting although he was rather anxious to get off to the shops on what was now early Saturday evening, but this didn’t deter Jacqueline from giving us a thorough and proper tasting of their wines. This lead to some good humoured banter between husband and wife and made for a very enjoyable tasting leaving a lasting impression. We were very appreciative of their time and hope that they managed to get all their shopping done after we left. We thought they were a great couple and it is certainly a place we hope to return to in the future. We were pleasantly surprised when given a couple of the bottles that had been opened for our tasting to take home with the wines that we had purchased. We thought this was a very kind gesture and the wines were enjoyed that evening.


One lovely sunny day, having a moment of respite from our work in the winery at Château la Tour de Chollet, we took a drive up to Castillon and Francs, which were just up the road. We wanted to find a couple of places, one of which was Château d’Aiguilhe as we had picked up their second wine, Seigneurs d’Aguilhe 2008, for €8.50 in our local E.Leclerc – a fantastic wine at a fantastic price.


Château d’Aiguilhe

Following this, we found the hilltop and windswept village of Francs where we enjoyed the beautiful views surrounding us along with a picnic lunch.


We stopped for a walk around the town of Cadillac on a rather damp afternoon, true to Bordeaux’s changeable weather. The town was undergoing some cosmetic restoration to return it to some of its former glory. Our arrival coincided with France’s leisurely lunchtime so the place was quite deserted and everything, including the castle, was closed up.

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On our travels, we came across the inconspicuous Château Marjosse, the home of Pierre Lurton, who happens to own both Château d’Yquem and Cheval Blanc. The handwritten sign made us smile considering the grandiosity of the other Châteaux revealing that underneath all this are people who prefer to maintain a level of modesty.


Another trip found us driving through Fronsac, one of the St Emilion satellites that is starting to get back on form, and we were pleased to see several shiny new Vignobles de Fronsac welcome signs having read in Oz Clarke‘s Bordeaux book that the signs were particularly dilapidated. The area is an interesting mix of grand châteaux as well as smaller farm-esque “châteaux”, all set in very pleasant countryside.


Château de la Riviere, Fronsac AC

We especially enjoyed a moments stop off at the hill top village of Cars, which at first seemed deserted, until we stumbled upon the village hall, desperately in need of a loo break, only to be met by what seemed to be the entire village, who were all going out on a 12 mile walk of which we were kindly invited to join. We politely declined having other places to visit that day but we did accept the offer of a hot cup of coffee and a chat.

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Being able to visit all these places, wine tasting aside, gave us a real sense of history and a glimpse into the bigger picture of what Bordeaux is.

Join us next time for a taste of the sweeter side of Bordeaux.

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