Finding Bordeaux wines that don’t break the bank – my top choices

*Ch‰teau Cassagne Haut-Canon, St Michel de Fronsac (33)Mains Bordeaux is the home of some of the world’s most expensive wines. There are only 200 of these classified wines in Bordeaux out of 8000. They are in high demand and their prices have gone up 5 times in 5 years. We seem to have lost sense of reality. If you know where to look, Bordeaux is also the home to many great value wines. Some of these lie just on the ‘wrong side of the boundary’ with similar terroir to famous neighbours but a fraction of the cost. Some are in less fashionable areas with names that don’t have the cachet of more famous appellations. In the complex world of understanding wine labels (and the French inconsistent classification words do not help!) preconceptions abound often dating from decades ago. With 25 years in the region I have come across such treasures, some are obvious, some are hidden away and hardly spoken of. Many of them are SIP wines (from the SIP Wine Club quarterly mixed case deliveries direct from Small Independent Producers family-owned and run for generations. For more information on the SIP Wine Club see: Many of these appellations have been tarnished by a reputation from the past when the most important criteria was the ageing potential of a wine. Over the past ten years or so there has been a new understanding in the grass roots of vine growing with a new focus on the vine and what it needs to ripen its grapes in this temperate climate. Bordeaux might not be trendy, might not be a new discovery but it is time to give it a fresh look.   cropped-sip-2-005.jpg   November 083     Bordeaux Vineyard Map


Normally predominance of Cabernet Sauvignon

1.  THE HAUT MEDOCit is a big area that encompasses Bordeaux’s most famous and expensive wine villages. It often has wines that just fall outside the area of the famous communal village such as Margaux, St Julien or Pauillac but for a fraction of the price. They cannot put these names on the label but are the poor cousins ‘just next-door’ falling on the wrong side of the appellation boundary.


MARGAUX  look/taste-a-likes: the silky *Château d’Agassac (though this is closer to Ludon village just before Margaux starts) and the wonderful *Château Cambon la Pelouse Look out for the other Margaux village names on the label (Soussans, Macau, Labarde, Arsac, Cantanac and Margaux itself) which will tell you that they are located close to the Margaux appellation. (As an aside here are a couple of Margaux Appellation Value for money wines;*Château Angludet lies just outside of the village of Cantanac (off the D2). It is not classified. *Château Ferriere, Margaux. Despite being classified represents good value)

ST JULIEN look/taste-a-likes: *Château Beaumont (run by a big insurance company but still good in the hands of Etienne Priou and *Château Lanessan. (Bouteiller family with new feminine winemaker Paz Espero) Look out for the village name of Cussac Fort Médoc on the label which will tell you that it is located close to the St Julien appellation.

Also Château Camensac which borders the St Julien appellation close to Gruaud Larose is a wonderful source of creamy wines full of fruit – typical of the area!

(As an aside, here are a couple of examples of good value wines from the St Julien Appellation;*Château Moulin Riche made with the same attention to detail as classified Léoville Poyférré and Château Gloria.*Château Branaire Ducru  and St Pierre despite being classified often represents good value) Route de Chateaux PAUILLAC look/taste-a-likes: Château Cissac. I would be interested to taste Haut Medoc wines from St Saveur such as Peyrabon, La Fleur Haut Carras, Fontesteau, La Fon du Berger Look out for the village names of St Saveur and Cissac on the label which will tell you that the wine is located close to the Pauillac appellation.

ST ESTEPHE look/taste-a-likes:  *Château Sociando Mallet and Château Loudenne Oct Nov 2014 105 Look out for the village names of St Seurin and Vertheuil on the label which will tell you that the wine is located close to the St Estephe appellation. (As an aside, here are a couple of examples of good value wines from the St Estephe Appellation; Château Haut Marbuzet  sandwiched in between the giants of Montrose and Cos d’Estournel, the Dubosq family continue to offer great value silky wines  on the same terroir) and *Château Phelan Segur. Château Lafon-Rochet despite being classified often represents good value)

Also Château Pontoise Cabarrus at St Seurin de Cadourne.

2. LISTRAC known for its hard wines in the past is now the source of wonderful smooth red wines traditionally made from a predominance of Cabernet Sauvignon. *Château Mayne Lalande, owner and wine producer Bernard Lartigue built the property up to 18 hectares starting from scratch. Very talented winemaker. *Château Saransot Dupré, Yves Raymond makes fabulous wine here (though more Merlot than Cab Sauv). His old vine Semillon white is remarkable. 3. MOULIS  * Château Lestage D’Arquier – a lovely smooth wine made from vineyards in the heart of the appellation near to the village of Moulis from father and son team, the Bernards. * Château Biston Brillette  Serge Babarin and his family run this little jewel of a property in Moulis (close to the stunning Moulin de Tiquetorte and produce concentrated wines with elegance. A lot of work is done on the soil with regular analysis to ensure that everything is done to help the vine to ripen its grapes. biston brillette moulis 4. THE MEDOC – *Chateau L’Ousteneuf Bruno Segond makes great wine towards the top of the Medoc not far from where the Gironde estuary meets the Atlantic. It has a feel of no-man’s land’ but has its own charm being so cose to the River and Sea and with its forests, mushrooms, hunting and little pockets of great terroir. His father started with nothing coming from Algeria. One of his oustanding wines is a hommage to his father, Le Lousteau de mon Père. * Château BourdieuNext door also in Valeyrac is a stunning chateau that has been around since medieval times. Guy Bailly makes great wine here too, half Cab Sauv and half Merlot.


Predominance of Merlot

fronsac view

1. FRONSAC – Bordeaux’s most beautiful wne region (only 30 minutes from Bordeaux) with its vine-clad hills and views of fairytale castles and winding rivers. In the shadow of St Emilion despite the similar soil (limestone plateau and all), this is a good source of excellent value for money wines due to their poor reputation (too hard in the past) and poor communication. The wine merchants prefer to sell more lucrative St Emilion next door. * Château Cassagne Haut Canon Jean-Jacques Dubois makes fabulous wine here on his high tertre overlooking the Dordogne and vineyards of Canon Fronsac. It is probably one of the most stunning views in Bordeaux. He makes an exceptional wine ‘la Truffiere’ finding the perfect terroir for the 3 different grape varieties of Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon. November 118 November 126 July to October 2013 970   * Château La Rivière – not a small chateau, infact a real medieval castle done up by Violet le Duc. Great improvement in winemaking here. Great terroir complete with hectares of underground cellars in the limestone which gives lovely minerality. fronsac riviere *Cru du Monge – Pierre-Luc Alla makes a super wine on this tiny plot of vines on a well exposed hillside with a rare concentration 2. ST EMILION You may be surprised to see this region in the list of sources of best value wines. It is a large wine region (5000 ha) with 800 châteaux. Less than 100 of them are classified. It is dominated by the big names that sell for hundreds of euro per bottle (Pavie, Angelus, Cheval Blanc). Ausone sells for 1000s of euro. There are however some good value wines to be had for reasonable prices in the Grand Cru category. Many have coasted on their name in the past so beware. *Château Béard La Chapelle IMG_4341   Franck Moureau represents the 9th generation of his family to make wine here in St Laurent des Combes just outside of St Emilion vilalge passing in front of Pavie. They have illustrious neighbours such as Tertre Roteboeuf  and Bellefond Belcier. It is unknown as in the past it was sold to a sole wine merchant. Today the wine reflects its noble terroir and is silky, complex and fragrant. A true elegant St Emilion at a great price.   *Château le Chatelet – next to Beausejour Bécot on the prime plateau of St Emilion lies the tiny Le Chatelet. It is not classified (though was in the past). Concentrated wines from this noble terroir.

Château Coutet
Château Coutet

One to look out for; Château Coutet, on the plateau and slopes not far from Angelus (better position even) this jewel of a property has a rich history and is one of the truly original organic properties. For generations to has been owned by the same family and thanks to the stubborness of 2 sister spinsters who did not understand the need for chemicals, its soils has never been contaminated!  One can find rare tulips that were abundant in the vineyards of St Emilion during Roman times. The youngest generation of the David Beaulieu family run it with passion today and the wine is becoming more like its potential with time. 3. GRAVES – since the creaming off off the appelation’s finest classified growths into the superior pessac leognan appellation in 1987, the Graves one of Bordeaux’s oldest appellations has become an ‘also ran’. There are some great properties though to be discovered. *Château des Places – in Arbanats a brother team run this property and produce a range of wines *Clos Floridene– one of the wines in the Dubourdieu stable (whit and red avialable) 4. BLAYE  – Especially for white wines. It is one of the rare appellations that is allowed to produce both red and white wines. * Château Haut Grelot Joël Bonneau makes a great white wine here north of Bordeaux en route for Cognac country. Some barrel ageing gives it a real Pessac Leognan feel at a fraction of the cost. 5. COTES DE BORDEAUX CADILLAC –previously known as Premieres Côtes de Bordeaux this is a good source for value wines. * Château Montjon le Gravier Only one and a half hectares left just infront of this magnificent château now surrounded by urban sprawl in Ste Eulalie to the NE of Bordeaux. They kept the finest gravelly terroir which gives concentrated noble wines mostly sold to the family’s friends and friends of friends. montjon la graviere Château Reynon – from the fabulous winemaker and his sons Fabien and Jean-Jacques


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