Bordeaux is famous for its chateaux – big country houses surrounded by row after row of carefully cultivated vines producing cabernet sauvignon and merlot grapes for red wines, and sauvignon blanc and semillon grapes for whites. Chief among these chateaux are the “classified growths” of the Medoc region on the left bank of the Gironde estuary, the top estates that can charge hundreds and hundreds of pounds for each bottle of their wine.
Yet Bordeaux has a split-personality. As well as producing some of the world’s most expensive and renowned wines, the region also makes millions of bottles of everyday wine. There are around 113,000 hectares of vines growing in Bordeaux, making it France’s biggest wine region; by comparison the whole of Chile has around 125,000 hectares under vine.
So while the sky-high prices of first growths being sold “en primeur” may grab all the headlines, the vast majority of the wine produced in Bordeaux – some 97 per cent – sells for under €15 a bottle. A recent tasting organised in London by the region’s wine marketing agency reminded me of the great value that can be found when you look at the everyday wines from Bordeaux. These are wines that can be drunk now and don’t need to spend years ageing in a cellar.
Chateau des Tourtes Cuvee Classique 2014, £9.50 (French Wine Project)
Run by sisters Emmanuelle and Marie-Pierre, Chateau des Tourtes makes wine in the Blaye region on the right bank of the Gironde. Their Cuvee Classique is a blend of 80 per cent sauvignon blanc, which gives the wine fresh grapefruit flavours and minerality on the finish, and 20 per cent semillon, which contributes to the rounded mouthfeel. The wine would go nicely with the oysters and other seafood for which Bordeaux is famous.
Chateau des Tourtes Cuvee Prestige 2013, £13.90 (French Wine Project)
Emmanuelle and Marie-Pierre’s other white from Chateau des Tourtes is made with 100 per cent sauvignon blanc and is made to go with richer dishes, such as fish with sauce, seafood or cheese. The wine is placed into large French oak barrels, which gives it notes of vanilla and adds to the creamy mouthfeel. The oak is really well integrated, marrying nicely with fresh fruit flavours of apricots and peaches, plus floral notes of honeysuckle.
Chateau Reynon 2013, £10.50 (The Wine Society)
The summer of 2013 was wet and cool in Bordeaux, helping the grapes to retain their acidity, which is fresh and lively in this white from Chateau Reynon. On the nose, there are plenty of the traditional asparagus and gooseberry aromas from this 100 per cent sauvignon blanc example, with fresh lemon and grapefruit flavours mingling with apricot and peach notes on the palate.
Chai de Bordes Blanc 2014, £9.99 (Dulwich Vintners)
Chai de Bordes is a brand owned by Cheval Quancard, one of Bordeaux’s historic wine merchants, which is now managed by Roland, the sixth generation of his family to run the business. His blanc is a blend of 80 per cent sauvignon blanc and 20 per cent semillon, giving aromas of gooseberry, grapefruit and apricot leading on to a fresh lemon finish. This wine is dry and fresh, with a good balance between the ripe fruit and the acidity.
Chai de Bordes Rouge 2012, £60 per case (Dulwich Vintners)
Despite weighing in at just £10 a bottle, this red wine packs a punch, with plenty of plum, bramble and blackcurrant aromas on the nose thanks to its blend of 80 per cent merlot and 20 per cent cabernet sauvignon. It’s dry and has definite tannins, but these are balanced by an ample amount of fruit, creating a soft and easy-drinking wine.
Fortin Plaisance 2012, £108 per case (Dulwich Vintners)
Sticking with Cheval Quancard but taking a step up in quality and we reach Fortin Plaisance from Saint Emilion on the right bank of the Gironde. Like the red Chai de Bordes, this is a blend of 80 per cent merlot and 20 per cent cabernet sauvignon but the difference is the use of oak, which adds vanilla flavours and helps to create a rounded and fuller style of wine. The long fruity flavours of plum, blackcurrant and blackberry are all still there too.
Chateau Des Tourtes Cuvee Classique 2012, £10.90 (French Wine Project)
As well as producing whites, Emmanuelle and Marie-Pierre also make interesting reds, like their cuvee classique, which is soft and easy-drinking, balancing the fresh fruit aromas and flavours of red plum, redcurrant and blackcurrant with bright acidity. It’s a blend of 70 per cent merlot for the plum notes and 30 per cent cabernet sauvignon for the blackcurrant.
Chateau Des Tourtes Cuvee Prestige 2010, £12.99 (French Wine Project)
Like the cuvee classique, the prestige is 70 per cent merlot and 30 per cent cabernet sauvignon. But here the winemakers have been more selective in the grapes they have used, choosing older vines and then ageing the wine in oak barrels for one-to-two years. The result has more of the familiar Bordeaux herbal notes on the nose, with a touch of smoke. On the palate, it’s drier and more structured, with notes of vanilla and plenty of the fruit blackcurrant and redcurrant flavours shining through.