They’re hotbeds of innovation, experimentation, affordability and sustainability. For as much as they fly under the radar, the Côtes de Bordeaux are instigating and leading a dynamic kind of change in the world’s largest fine wine region.
So what are the Côtes de Bordeaux? Where are they? And who are all these mostly family-run, smaller-scale producers who together produce 1 in 10 bottles of Bordeaux?
In this, the concluding instalment of our 3-part sponsored mini-series on Bordeaux, we dive in to find out more about the intriguing world of the Côtes de Bordeaux. We hear from Bordeaux expert Jane Anson and chat to Pauline Lapierre of Château Haut-Rian, plus we recommend some great value wines along the way.
What’s more, we have a GIVEAWAY! So, if you want to win a mixed case of 6 bottles of fine Bordeaux, details are below…
Thanks for listening!
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Sure you do. So just recommend the podcast to a friend – and then let us know.
Either tag a friend in a social post of ours or email us by clicking on this link.
OR just leave us a quick voice message via the magic of SpeakPipe (super easy – don’t forget your contact details though!)
We’ll pick a winner at random from all entrants by Monday 14th Feb. Entrants must be 18+ (ID will be required) and deliveries can only be made within mainland UK.
Tune into our previous episodes on Bordeaux, full of fascinating chat, opinion and interviews, which also feature everything from bats to non fungible tokens via robots, ‘heavy metal’ orange wine and the ULTIMATE breakfast cocktail.
Peter: Hello and welcome to Wine Blast.
I’m Peter Richards. And joining me, as ever, is my wife and fellow Master of Wine Susie Barrie, who’s looking generous.
Susie: I wondered what you were gonna say then! What exactly does generous look like I wonder?
Anyway, I’m gonna take it as a positive because I think we have got good reason to feel generous, considering this episode does feature a pretty tasty giveaway. We have two 6-bottle cases of fine Bordeaux wines to give away to two lucky winners.
How about that?
Peter: It’s well worth playing for, isn’t it?
I mean, more details on how to enter will come towards the end of show.
In the meantime can I just clarify that generous looks lovely.
Susie: Does it now!
Peter: Does that get me out of the doghouse?
Susie: No, try harder.
Peter: Yeah, don’t I know it.
Anyway, yes. This is an episode in association with Côtes de Bordeaux, and forms the concluding instalment in our 3-part mini series on Bordeaux, which has really been quite a lot of fun and also pretty eye opening on the way.
Susie: Absolutely, we’ve talked to some fascinating producers.
And Bordeaux expert Jane Anson.
We’ve recommended some great value wines.
We’ve even had a pop quiz and featured things like bats, non fungible tokens, robots, heavy metal orange wine and the ultimate breakfast cocktail.
Peter: Oh now that involves blood orange and Sauternes doesn’t it, anyway.
Susie: So, well worth checking out the previous episodes, if you haven’t already.
But now we’re turning our attention to the hotbed of innovation, affordability & sustainability that are the Côtes.
Pauline Lapierre: In the Côtes de Bordeaux, we are historically wine growers and wine makers. But at the same time there’s a new generation coming in, we’re all in our 30s, 40s, and we have the flexibility and agility in small family run estates to create some new wines, to plant what we think is the best.
Peter: More on that in a bit, as well as some of our top tips for great value wines.
But it’s an interesting topic, isn’t it?
Because because the Côtes are parts of Bordeaux that often fly under the radar, even though you know they do tend to offer what we all crave and talk about a lot, which is affordability and value for money.
Susie: And it’s not as if it’s a tiny area either is it.
You know the Côtes de Bordeaux are a grouping of five sub-regions.
You’ve got; Blaye, Castillon, Cadillac, Francs and Sainte-Foy. They tend to be fairly hilly, hence the term Côtes, which means hillsides. And between them they account for more than 12,000 hectares of vineyards, 950 producers – and around one in every 10 bottles of Bordeaux.
Peter: It’s quite something when you think about it.
Susie: It is.
Peter: So I read it was the fourth largest AOC in France, which puts things into perspective.
Susie: It really does, yeh.
Peter: It’s important to say they’re not all contiguous or next to each other.
These particular Côtes appellations, they’re dotted all over the Entres deux Mers and right Bank of Bordeaux.
They’re often sort of not too far from the rivers (Garonne & Dordogne), and the vast majority of the appellation production is red wine.
It’s about 97% red.
So we’re talking really red wines here with merlot tending to be the dominant variety.
As is typical of these, you know of these parts in Bordeaux.
Susie: But what’s really interesting about the Côtes, I think, is the way that because they’re slightly under the radar, they can do more interesting, innovative things.
And almost if you like, be the agents for change in what is, let’s face it, quite a traditional region.
Both, I think, in terms of things like sustainability, but also more experimental wine styles.
And the younger generation and family owners, they also do a very good job, I would say of challenging the stereotypical image of Bordeaux as a region of suits and bankers and crazily priced wine.
Peter: So you could say, you know, their importance or influence may be greater than it seems at first sight.
So well worth taking a look at.
When we spoke to Bordeaux expert Jane Anson, we asked her for her take on the Côtes, and this is what she had to say.
Jane Anson: The Côtes probably took the lead way before other people in terms of going back to older varieties, because they know they have to stand out.
So where I first started seeing the rise of Malbec, for example, was always in the Cotes, particularly Bourg, Blaye.
And now you’re seeing it being planted all over. But it started in Bourg and Blaye. So good for them.
The nice thing about the Cotes is they tend to be small family run properties, largely: 90% family run, very high. They’re usually smaller, a lot of family transmission, going from one generation to the next so you have that innovation.
They’re not able to charge a lot for a bottle, which is tough for them, but good for the consumer.
And it’s going direct. So you have that relationship with them.
They’re the guys who’ve led this idea of single varietal cuvees.
Susie: I think the rise of the single varietal wines (which are really not typical in Bordeaux) and the revival of older varieties like Malbec are really interesting.
You know, I read a stat recently – that it’s been the likes of Petit Verdot, Carmenère and Malbec – traditionally the lesser-planted Bordeaux varieties – that have been growing the fastest in the region.
Over the past 20 years the vineyard area for these three varieties has doubled from 1,440 hectares in 2000 to 3,411 in 2020.
Peter: Good stats
Susie: You like a good stat don’t you?
I mean, let’s face it, it’s still relatively small fry in a region of 110,000 hectares, but we’re starting to see some of these varieties emerging as single varietal wines now and they’re often really delicious.
Peter: They are, and we’ve got one coming up a bit later in the programme.
I think, I don’t know, I feel (don’t know what you think), but I feel that these varieties just going to keep growing and becoming more and more important.
You know, I think everyone right now is re-evaluating their vines in the light of climate change.
Peter: Among other things. And these particular varieties are prime candidates, in that sense, they’re often the sort of later ripening type of varieties…
Susie: They suit a world where climate change is happening.
Peter: So we’re going to be seeing more experimental ones anyway, in the future, I imagine. We’ve already talked about, in previous programmes, you know, the new experimental varieties like Touriga National and Marselan and other things like that.
And I just wonder if this trend won’t be led by growers in the Côtes.
Susie: It could well be, you know, why not?
Peter: It’ll be interesting to see won’t it.
Susie: Anyway, we wanted to get the views of a family wine grower in the Côtes, so we turned to the lovely Pauline Lapierre of Chateau Haut-Rian in Cadillac.
It’s a relatively large property. It’s got 85 hectares of vines.
The family set up shop there in 1989 and it isn’t your average family, either, because Pauline’s parents, Michel and Isabelle were originally from Alsace and Champagne, respectively. They came to Bordeaux via a stint managing Remy Martin’s vineyards in the Clare Valley in Australia.
Peter: It’s an intriguing back story – Pauline took over three years ago and the estate is based about 30 minutes south east of Bordeaux city, up the Garonne River.
They’ve got all sorts of things there, old vine Semillon, they’re adding Petit Verdot and Malbec
Susie: So they really do sort of exemplify the dynamic we were just discussing
Peter: Exactly. They also make a no-added-sulphur Merlot.
They’re in the process of moving the estate fully organic, with Terra Vitis certification and they place a big accent generally on sustainability. Anyway, I started by asking Pauline to explain the Côtes and what they mean for a wine drinker.
Pauline: So it’s a big family in the Côtes de Bordeaux.
In this big family there is a lot of different small regions of Bordeaux which are gathered into Côtes de Bordeaux. So it’s mostly the idea of outstanding terroirs where historically wine was made. And usually it’s let’s say quite small family run estates.
Peter: You’re in Cadillac, tell us more about that.
Pauline : Cadillac is a small medieval village.
Historically, we used to make a lot of sweet wines in Cadillac. Nowadays, the terroir there is mainly hills and hills and slopes, a bit everywhere. Usually South-SE exposure where vineyard is planted.
We are facing the Garonne River. Mostly on this bank of the river, it’s mostly clay and limestone, so nice terroirs for Semillon for white grapes, and for Merlot in red grapes.
Peter: Cadillac used to be mostly sweet wines. Less and less sweet wine nowadays?
Pauline: Yes. Definitely nowadays – but for the past 30 years maybe, which is nowadays when we talk viticulture. It’s red grapes mainly.
Peter: Is that just because the market wants more red less sweet?
Pauline: At some point it can explain why historically in the 1960s so many red grapes were planted.
Nowadays I think that the red wines we make prove to be interesting enough so we continue in that direction.
Peter: You’re not usual in Bordeaux – your parents came from Alsace and champagne. Also lived and worked in the Clare Valley in Australia. What does that mean for the domain, for you and the wines?
Pauline: So my parents settled 30 years ago. They bought this place and some plots around. And I grew up here, I lived for a few years in Singapore as well. So…this history let’s say, small story, makes me maybe a bit more free in what I’m doing. I don’t have ten generations of wine growers before me so maybe that’s easier to cope with on a daily basis!
Peter: How does that freedom manifest itself? What are you doing with that freedom that’s a bit different and less traditional?
Pauline: In the Côtes de Bordeaux, we are historically wine growers and wine makers. But at the same time there’s a new generation coming in, we’re all in our 30s, 40s, we have the flexibility and agility in small family run estates to create some new wines, to plant what we think is the best. So I think there is a kind of flexibility and agility that we really have in that region.
Peter: You’ve started to make a no-sulphur-added wine, a Merlot called Les Bouens, Pure Gourmandise. Why are you doing that?
Pauline: Two interesting things in that wine.
First it’s a plot selection – Les Bouens. And I think for a long time in Bordeaux we’ve been more buying a label coming from one chateau or one estate.
Nowadays, specifically in the Côtes de Bordeaux, wine growers are promoting themselves saying: I’m making that wine. Which is nice. And by the way I’m making that plot, which is specific, and you need to taste alone.
So it’s a bit the idea behind this wine.
It’s frankly beautiful clay on limestone in my village of Rions. One of the most beautiful plots of the estate.
So instead of putting it in the blend and expecting it would improve the blend, we decided to show it as a stand-alone plot.
And Merlot is a grape variety which is really pure in terms of fruit and richness, and not adding any sulphur really helps showing it in a rustic way
Peter: So an emphasis on terroir starting to emerge more and more, and also on purity. You mention you like to make ‘honest’ wines, which I was intrigued by. Also wines with ‘freshness’. What do you mean by both those terms?
Pauline: So ‘honest’ is maybe the easiest to define.
It’s when I buy a bottle personally, I don’t want to think for one hour if I can open this bottle cos it’s very expensive.
I think when you buy directly from a wine grower, wine that is made for example in the Côtes de Bordeaux, it’s a bottle that’s not too expensive.
Meaning I’m not making cheap wines, I’m just making affordable wines.
On the contrary, that means for me as a winemaker and wine grower, if one of my customers opens one of my bottles, I want him or her to spend a good time.
And the quality…for me being an honest wine is a wine when you taste you really enjoy and you discover something and you understand something maybe about terroir.
So: affordable but at the same time with higher quality standards.
Peter: Did you recently plant Malbec?
Pauline: Malbec is planned for June. We planted Petit Verdot four years ago, started to produce. But it’s true nowadays more and more wine growers are a bit exploring the varieties they can plant.
Of course we are Merlot based for our red blends because it’s our history and soils. But on the 20-30% that remain, it’s very interesting to enrich with new grape varieties.
You are allowed to play with more shades when you blend. Which is always interesting.
Peter: Why Malbec and Petit Verdot particularly?
Pauline: Both are beautiful with nice and hot summers. And apart from 2021, which was unfortunately a very poor summer, we tend to have drier seasons and hotter warmer seasons in Bordeaux.
Peter: Talking climate change, let’s move onto sustainability. It’s big on the agenda in Bordeaux at the moment. But what does sustainability mean for you and your business?
Pauline: I think I always link sustainability to my age. And my generation.
It’s really something that is fully integrated and people of my age, winegrowers of my age, can’t imagine making wine without thinking of sustainability. Which is quite astonishing.
And that’s why with the new generation coming in we have this wave of organic farming coming in.
For ourselves now we grow half of the vineyard organically and the objective is to go to 100% within 2 years.
And I think what is really important as well to understand is that being sustainable doesn’t mean only being organic.
It can be, it’s socially, working with a team that you respect. It’s maybe thinking of your packaging and for example not using heavy bottles.
It’s a lot of, under sustainability, there are many ways to see the issue. And I think 99% of wine growers in Bordeaux address the problem or try to answer this issue by one way or another. One certification or another.
There are many ways to answer the issue. But at least it’s something on top of our minds.
Peter: Just to be clear, you talk about your age and your generation and for people who can’t see you, you are very young, and that’s lovely to see!
Really interesting to hear what you say about your generation having sustainability front and centre of your mindset. Alongside the winemaking. We tasted your wine: it had a sticker on the label saying: ‘bee friendly’. Tell us about that.
Pauline: So this was a label funded by a union of bee keepers.
And they try to promote farmers, not just wine growers, it can be all types of farming. That in their daily work respect bees and insects.
I don’t get that label by buying bees, it’s more important when I work in my vineyard I have rules I have to comply with to be able to live with bees around my estate or on my plots.
Peter: Bordeaux traditionally hasn’t been big on things like organics. You’re going organic. What’s the effect on the vineyards and wines that you’ve noticed going through that process?
Pauline: I think it’s a lot of attention being organic. A lot of work. And being very close to the vineyard.
You have to be very precise in your work to make it happen. Meaning you are meaning more often in the field, in the vineyard, even in the cellar.
So you have to be more precise and that’s I think an interesting part of being organic.
Peter: You’re a hard-working family domain in Côtes de Bordeaux. Bordeaux’s a big place. When you see all these controversies going on in Bordeaux like Angelus withdrawing from the St Emilion classification, what do you make of all of that, how does it impact you?
Pauline: Frankly, maybe it’s a bit weird to say that, but we’re all making wines and we’re all living in Bordeaux so we still share a lot of things… But at the same time it’s a very different world from the world of Grands Crus Classés and the world of Côtes de Bordeaux.
We share the same home and house, we share the same job, potentially we could all be friends and have dinner together. But on a daily basis and in our day-to-day work we are quite disconnected.
I read that like you in the newspapers but I’m not fully linked with that kind of topic, which is quite far from the day-to-day work on the farm.
Peter: So slightly different worlds. Pauline Lapierre, thank you.
Pauline: Thanks a lot! Thank you.
Susie: Same house, same job, but different worlds, interesting.
Peter: Yeh Bordeaux, it’s a big tent, isn’t it?
You know, David Cameron might say it like that. I think that sometimes we in the media and also to be fair wine drinkers, we tend to focus on the big names don’t we, you know the fancy chateaux, the big dogs.
But actually, there is so much good, exciting, interesting stuff going on at the more grassroots level isn’t there, which is often worlds apart from the machinations and politics of the big boys.
Susie: It certainly is.
It certainly is.
I thought it was also really interesting how Pauline highlighted an increasing focus on terroir and on individual plots as part of what she and other smaller producers are doing.
Because, let’s face it, I mean, Bordeaux has traditionally been about the brand or the chateau, rather than individual sites, which you think of as a, I think you think of as more of a Burgundian trait really.
Peter: Yeah, I mean, you know, in our simplistic world, but I think it will be interesting to see how that develops.
I think it’s really positive, isn’t it?
You know, I think the big trend in Bordeaux in recent times has been to focus on the vineyard more and more, which is really encouraging, really, really positive.
Bordeaux is a big place and there must be so many interesting plots to focus on, which I and you, I’m sure, would love to be able to taste.
Susie: I’d just say though, as long as it doesn’t fuel a sort of price boom for the super cuvées, you know. And then what happens is the more affordable blends suffer by having the best bits kind of stripped out of them, which is what’s happened in other regions let’s face it.
Peter: Yeh that is a good point.
I mean, we’ll all have to see how it evolves and where it goes.
But I also loved Pauline you know, almost in that context, I love her notion of honest wine.
Much the same as I hate the idea of clean wine.
But that’s another podcast isn’t it.
Susie: Let’s not go there, not right now.
Peter: You know, honest wine, in her view, is wine that’s affordable but still high quality in the context and also something that’s a little bit instructive.
You know about the terroir that made it, it’s got something to say for itself, something distinctive.
But most importantly, an honest wine is an enjoyable wine.
I love that
Susie: Absolutely. Hopefully we’re an honest podcast too, and enjoyable.
And just one final thing. I think it’s interesting how, she says for her, and her generation of younger wine growers, what matters to them so much is sustainability.
It isn’t a vague, distant notion.
It is automatic to them, it’s ingrained.
It’s absolutely part of the fabric of their approach to wine growing, and I imagine that’s partly what’s fuelling or driving this wave of sustainability initiatives and awareness that’s happening right across Bordeaux right now.
Peter: And it bodes well for the future too doesn’t it. But talking about waves.
We’ve got some wines to recommend haven’t we?
Susie: Of course we do
Peter: We need to get onto that.
Susie: Deary me. Ok well we’ve done a couple of tastings for this episode.
A whole range of different wines, some real diversity on show.
And definitely good value, too.
We’re gonna pick out a few highlights.
We didn’t always agree, did we?
Peter: We did not. I think everyone would be disappointed if we did.
Susie: It would be awful if we actually agreed.
Peter: Yeah, it’s just another way of saying that I was wrong and you were right, isn’t it?
But we didn’t agree.
So we’ve got some slightly different personal recommendations.
Susie: We have. You go first. Off you go.
Peter: So let me start with this one then Chateau Pré la Lande, Sainte-Foy, Côtes de Bordeaux.
This is their Cuvée TerraCotta 2016.
This is quite fun, it’s biodynamic, wild yeast, no sulfites. Aged 12 months in Italian amphorae.
It says its suitable for vegans.
Now I find this one, it’s quite wild, bit meaty, gamey, definitely smoky.
Susie: Where can we buy this?
Peter: Wild, dark juicy fruit, dense, chalky tannin.
And I really liked it.
You found it a little bit big and maybe a little bit wild.
Susie: A little bit.
Peter: This one’s not cheap. It was £16.99 at Majestic.
I don’t think it’s there anymore, it’s sold out. But you can get it for about 15 euros in France and Germany
The second one I’ve got is the Arbo Malbec.
We were talking about single varietal wines and this is Malbec 2018 from Côtes de Bordeaux. This is 14%.
It’s really deep, quite a bit leathery and floral, sort of fleshy and meaty.
I love this expression of Malbec. It’s a bit rustic, but it’s complex. It’s savoury. It’s refined.
I think you found a tiny bit alcoholic because it is 14%.
Susie: And quite modern as well but you know, horses for courses.
Peter: So this was £13.99 at Avery’s. Again it’s sold out.
It’s about 17 euros.
Susie: Clearly everybody loves the wines you love, you’re right Mr. Richards.
Peter: There you go.
Susie: Anyway, one of mine is low stocks as well.
So I choose, of the selection we tasted, I loved Chateau La Clarière 2018 from Castillon.
It’s got really rich… It’s really wintery. Rich, woody, dried fruit notes – it is oaky, but it was dry and just quite muscular.
It had this. It sort of offered a bridge between modern and traditional and I like that.
Peter: It’s the way you sell it, I’m loving it now, much more than I did when I tasted it.
Susie: There we go, it’s all about the chat. And it’s 25 quid from Waitrose so it’s not a cheap one.
Peter: Quite stylish
Susie: I thought a really stylish wine.
The other one is less expensive Chateau Monconseil Gazin 2018 from Blaye.
This was more Bordeaux, more traditional Bordeaux.
I think you found it a bit old school, but I like that sort of classic graphite, peppery, very drinkable.
Very everyday and £9.50 from The Wine Society, but low stocks.
Peter: Low stocks, buy, buy, buy. Yeah, I mean, I have to say, I think when I saw the price, you know, I slightly re-evaluated it. It is that classic graphite, pepper, earthy.
Susie: I mean if you’re looking for everyday Bordeaux under 10 quid, I don’t think you can go wrong with that.
Peter: Very classic Bordeaux, very drinkable.
Susie: It’s 13% alcohol so we’re not talking about high alcohol.
Peter: Under 10 quid it is a bit of bargain and it’s got a bit of maturity to it, so well worth it, Monconseil Gazin.
One other one we did agree on was the Chateau Haut-Rian Bordeaux rosé 2019, one of Pauline’s wines.
Susie: We did, we liked this didn’t we.
Peter: Really juicy, foodie, very correct sort of rosé.
Susie: And it was very Bordeaux rosé.
So it’s got that slightly, you know, you can tell it’s made from dark fruits.
You know, there’s a dark fruit feel to it.
Peter: So a lunchtime rosé.
Susie: But in a very stylish way.
Peter: It’s got a ‘bee friendly’ sticker on it.
That’s about 12 quid at The Wine Library
Susie: And then finally we did sort of agree on one wine, which was funky all round wasn’t it. Le Franc Touch 2020 from Chateau Carbonneau in Sainte-Foy Côtes de Bordeaux obviously.
It is organic.
It’s got a really cool label, which I wish you could see.
We’ll put a photo on the show notes, but the name is in big letters, and it looks really cool.
So, it’s organic, it’s pure Cabernet Franc.
So we’re back to a varietal wine here, it is seriously funky, it’s leathery, it’s meaty, it’s quite wild.
And if you understand Brettanomyces and what that gives to wine it’s bretty.
But there’s lots of dark fruit and there’s some bell pepper, and it is very Cabernet Franc. I think we decided it needed food. It’s not a kind of a quaffer. It’s a wine to have with food.
Peter: What did I say? It’s like licking a piece of leather or a piece of granite.
You know, it’s definitely bretty while, but it hasn’t dried out the tannin, the fruit’s still very vivacious.
It’s kind of, a bit crazy.
Susie: I think it’s that kind of thing to have with a really rustic paté and a big chunk of bread and you know some nice cheese as well.
Anyway, this is €22 from the chateau and that’s Chateau Carbonneau.
Peter: Yeh it’s an interesting story Chateau Carbonneau as well. There was a young family who revived this beautiful 1860 chateau in Sainte-Foy. They had three small kids at the time, it was in the 1990s. They must have been mad.
She is from New Zealand, Jackie, and he’s Bordelais, Wilfrid. And they now have this guesthouse, garden park and 20 Aquataine blond cattle.
They’re going biodynamic.
They’ve got some really interesting new wave wines, including this one, but also a sort of novel take on Clairet.
A wild ferment, Malbec / Cabernet Franc co-ferment, so they’re were worth checking out.
Susie: So they you have it.
It just remains for us to give you details of how to enter our competition, doesn’t it?
So to be in with a chance of winning a case of six fine Bordeaux wines, recommend us to a friend, and then just let us know. And you’ll go into the draw to win.
Remember, we have two cases to give away.
So you could tag someone in a social media post of ours or just email us, email@example.com.
Peter: Yeh we’re aware sort of entering these competitions isn’t easy, so we’re trying to make it as easy as possible.
Another way we’re gonna do this is leave us a Speakpipe message. Okay, it’s super easy.
We will put a live link in the show notes, which appear on your podcast app or on our website, but if it’s in your app you’re listening there now, you can just find it in the details. Click on it.
It’s like leaving a voicemail and it can be super short.
Just leave your name, your contact details. Say ‘Bordeaux Competition’ or something like that.
Susie: Maybe an air kiss?
Peter: Leave us an air kiss, something we can broadcast. Or if not we won’t broadcast it, don’t worry, just leave us a message.
It’s really easy.
Just important to add that the prize is for UK residents only, you must be over 18, we’ll put more details on our website.
But thank you in advance for entering and for recommending us.
Thanks also to Pauline Lapierre and to Côtes de Bordeaux, we hope you’ve enjoyed this episode, we’ll be back again very soon, and until then cheers.