A bold assertion, I know, but hear me out. Who wouldn’t want to drink wines that border Saint-Émilion and, at their best, are rich, round and complex and share the same limestone slopes and grow the same grapes as the grands châteaux of Saint-Émilion. Côtes de Castillon wines offer top value, match their august neighbours for class, drink well whilst still youthful but have the potential to age relatively well. I know I’m in.
As a lover of Bordeaux wines, in all their many styles and hues, I am always on the lookout for reasonably priced, well made wines from the region, for everyday drinking. We all like an opulent Pomerol – my longstanding weakness is Clos Rene – perhaps a decadent Pessac-Léognan (like Ch de France) or, a personal favourite of both me and my brother, the elegant wines from Moulis-en-Medoc which, although only designated as Cru Bourgeois, punch mightily above their weight: Château Poujeaux or Chasse-Spleen are simply spectacular.
But, at maison Fuseblower, we need everday claret to keep us ticking along. With this in mind I want to advocate this appelation in Bordeaux (AOC Castillon Côtes de Bordeaux since 2008) that I believe has a lot to recommend it. With just under 3,000 ha under vine and appx 250 family vineyards it is easy to visit many of the key châteaux, if you should so wish.
The last battle of the 100 Years War was fought in Castillon in 1453 and saw a decisive French victory! But let’s not dwell on that loss. Instead let’s look at why it is winning as a site of considerable interest and investment over the past decade and why some of Bordaeux’s wine royalty and confreres have staked big sums and reputations in Côtes de Castillon. Stèphane Derenoncourt (dubbed by Jancis Robinson as the new Michel Rolland) consultant for a veritable Who’s Who of Bordeaux Grands Cru Classé vineyards owns Domaine le’A; Stephan von Neipperg owner of several fine Grands Cru Châteaux is major domo of his favoured property Château d’Aiguilhe; Bordeaux mega-nègociant and ‘garagiste’ winemaker, Jean-Luc Thunevin, owns Château Peyfol; Gerard Perse guiding light at Château Pavie brought Château Sainte Colombe; Caroline and Louis Mitjavile (whose family own Tertre-Roteboeuf) fell under the spell of Domaine de l’Aurage; Jacques and Fiona Thienpont MW (owners of Le Pin) recently purchased Château Goubau and renamed it L’Hêtre and the UK’s very own wine godfather Tony Lathwaite (founder of Laithwaites Wine – parent company of Direct Wine) has added Château du Bois, to the two other properties Lathwaites already own in Castillon. As an aside Tony Laithwaite set up his first company, Bordeaux Direct, to sell wines from… you guessed it… Côtes de Castillon!
Why have they done this? Well in part it is a recognition that today’s ‘lesser’ known Bordeaux satellites can quickly become tomorrow’s sought after wines that, whilst less expensive now, will help to retain interest in Bordeaux wines and simultaneously trade off the global reputation that wines in this region have fostered over the years. Keep in mind the competition right now is fierce and the euro is pricey. They must also have an eye on future markets around the globe that are already well aware of the quality and legacy of Bordeaux, along with Burgundy and Champagne. But it is fundamentally about terroir. The finest terroir of Côtes de Castillon is located on the plateau bordering Saint-Émilion with large deposits of limestone and clay soils. And it is not just any old limestone. It is known as asteries, which is the hardest type of limestone found in nature and is named after the calcified starfish that are a constituent part of the rock formed over 30 million years ago.
The combination is ideal for the merlot and cabernet franc vines that are the predominant grapes used (although a few may also add a tiny % of cabernet sauvignon) and give these wines their unique identity. Importantly you will also find one of the highest concentrations of growers using either organic, biodynamic or self-sustaining, vineyard management techniques. So what, you ask, are the wines like? Their main characteristics are richness, complexity and overall harmony backed up with lots of black fruits, floral nuances, a hint of leather and often (from winemakers that use it) some oak. But don’t just take my word for it, here is what Robert Parker has to say about Ch Sainte Colombe: “Its dark ruby color is followed by a concoction of ripe, sweet blackcurrant and cherry fruit, incense, spring flowers, and spice” Whoa, I’m getting giddy Bob! But then reading the Wine Advocate can often do that to me!
Because Fuseblower has always got your back, here I believe, are a dozen of the best wines it would pay you to seek out – many available through good UK wine merchants like Berry Bros & Rudd, Corney & Barrow, Lea & Sandeman, Fine + Rare, Direct Wine, etc. But, if you choose to visit Bordeaux (and who wouldn’t, given half a chance!) pop into la Maison du Vin, 6 allée de la République, 33350, Castillon la Bataille: Tel : 05 57 40 00 88 firstname.lastname@example.org
They will happily arrange a château visit for you if you haven’t contacted any of the vineyards in advance and, best of all, you can even select and buy your own mixed case of Castillon treasure. You’re welcome.
- Château d’Aiguilhe
- Domaine le’A
- Domaine de l’Aurage
- Château du Bois
- Château la Clarière
- Château Clos l’Eglise
- Château Cap de Faugeres
- Château Goubau/ L’Hêtre
- Château Peyfol
- Clos Puy Arnaud
- Château Sainte Colombe
- Château Verniotte