Bordeaux has always been a bit of a confusing region. Thanks to the classification of 1855 (which categorized the first through fifth growths of the Medoc) and the 57 distinct appellations (or is it 58 or 59?), navigating Bordeaux has always seemed like a task best left to the wine professionals. But luckily for all of us, Bordeaux recently got a lot easier to understand!
Four of the best regions for high quality, value priced wines have joined together under the banner "Côtes de Bordeaux." The regions -- Côtes de Blaye, Côtes de Castillon, Côtes de Francs, and Premières Côtes de Bordeaux -- all produce Merlot-based wines that are styled for early approachability. These are fruit-driven wines, but still decidedly Bordeaux. While all of these regions will now fall under the appellation Côtes de Bordeaux, they will not lose their unique character. In fact, the labeling laws for the Côtes de Bordeaux will continue to afford each producer the option of including their more specific geographic location.
By banding together, these four regions have made it easier for the consumer to identify their wines' common traits. Côtes de Bordeaux stands first and foremost for value. These small, so-called satellite regions have labored away in the shadow of their more famous neighbors for years. While the regions lack a superstar producer, they have been quietly producing the wines that many people know as Bordeaux. This new appellation will help introduce consumers to wines produced in the styles with which they have become familiar. It’s a win-win situation.
While only four of Bordeaux’s satellite regions have adopted this new appellation, the group remains open to accepting new members. The most likely addition would have to be the Côtes de Bourg, which was intimately involved in the early stages of planning. The Côtes de Bourg is a very interesting appellation, decidedly medium-sized as far as Bordeaux appellations go, but almost completely covered in vines!
There are plenty of excellent wines being produced in the Côtes du Bourg, and with a breakout producer in Ch. Roc des Cambes (whose proprietor seems to be willing to push ahead with a marketing plan that challenges those of some better known properties), their decision to take a wait and see attitude as far as joining the Côtes de Bordeaux is not terribly surprising.
Another factor that helps set apart the wines of the Côtes de Bourg is the emphasis the region is placing on Malbec as a component of their wines. While still minor, and no doubt spurred up by the wild success of the Argentine Malbec, there is a noticeable focus. From what I have tasted it looks like this is a very promising development, and one well worth following.
While on the subject of these so–called satellite appellations, it’s worth noting that most are producing wine at a very high level. These are certainly not wines to be collected (though many benefit from some time in the cellar) but rather are wines to be enjoyed. I have found wonderful wines from many appellations, though some, like Canon-Fronsac, Fronsac, and the satellites of St. Emilion, have always outperformed their paltry pricetags.
The truth is that the wines from these regions tend to surprise to the upside for a very simple reason: They remain decidedly Bordeaux. As the many more expensive wines of “important” Châteaux strive to produce an ever more “important” style, the consumer is oftentimes left by the wayside wondering what has happened!
The great Chateaux of Bordeaux have certainly changed their wines over the past years; whether it's for better or worse may be debatable. What is not open to debate is that these changes, which include lowering yields, hiring consultants, and increasing investments in the vineyards and the cellars, have driven the prices of Bordeaux ever higher.
So what is a lover of Bordeaux to do? Well, if you are like me and sometimes just want an affordable bottle of classic Bordeaux, Bordeaux in the style that made Bordeaux a household name, the places to turn to are the satellites. I’ve only focused on the satellites of the Right Bank today. They tend to share a style, driven by Merlot, that makes them easy to enjoy and immediately approachable so thay are the logical place to begin.
Next time I’ll turn my focus to the Left Bank, where values still abound in the Medoc and Haut Medoc. In either case, left bank or right, you should always remember that while the image of Bordeaux is being shaped by a handful of high-end producers, there is almost an endless supply of fine, affordable wines being produced here. Bordeaux has taken a lot of heat from all corners of the wine world over the past few years but the truth is that a lot criticism comes because it’s still hard to find a better bottle of wine that a fine, inexpensive Bordeaux.