I spent a week touring the Côtes de Bordeaux this past October in the company of fellow wine writer Cindy Rowe Rynning and a convivial group of importers from all over the U.S. Cindy and I visited wineries concentrated in Blaye, Cadillac, and Côtes de Castillon on three consecutive mornings while the importers made prospective deals over timed meetings and speed tastings, before reconvening with the entire group in the afternoons.
Most of us had arrived on Sunday, a day before the official start of the tour. I met Wilfrid Franc de Ferrière of Château de Carbonneau over a casual meet-and-greet dinner with Cindy and most of the importers at Le Ferme restaurant, a 5-minute drive from downtown Bordeaux.
Château de Carbonneaux is a sustainable winery located in Sainte-Foy Côtes de Bordeaux, an appellation nestled between the winemaking areas of Saint Emilion in the Gironde, and Bergerac in the Dordogne. Both lie within the region of Nouvelle-Aquitaine in southwest France. The Atlantic climate and hot and dry summers of this hillside area near the Dordogne River is prime winegrowing territory. Here, Merlot (48%), Cabernet Franc (17%), Semillon (3%), Sauvignon Blanc (18%), and Cabernet Sauvignon (12%) are cultivated on 22.8 hectares of clay and limestone soil vineyards standing at 75 meters above sea level. The Château itself was constructed in 1860 by Blanche Fouignet and Jean-Jacques Bachan. It remained under the ownership of the Fouignet and Bachan family until the early twentieth-century. The Ray and Franc de Ferriere family acquired it in the 1930s under whose ownership it has remained since.
The history of the Ray and Franc de Ferriere families are as diverse as their wine portfolio. The families have roots in as far-flung places as New Zealand, and their international as well as local ties are reflected in, for instance, their Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon blend, which I will discuss later. In addition to the winery and vineyards, there’s a guesthouse, a two-hectare park and garden, a swimming pool, and the “Glasshouse” where visitors can enjoy an assortment of teas and homemade pastries.
Château Carbonneau, Margot (named after the family’s eldest daughter)
Blend of Sauvignon Blanc (95%), Sémillon (5%)
Fresh and complex, with flavors of lemon, grapefruit, green apples, and passionfruit, along with a balanced minerality, followed by a persistent and crisp finish. This white wine blend demonstrates both the crisp and mineral-driven character typical of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, as well as the roundness, and softer orchard and tropical fruit flavors reminiscent of Bordeaux whites.
Château Carbonneau, Lulu Rose’ (named after the family’s youngest daughter)
Blend of Merlot, (33%), Cabernet Sauvignon (33%), Cabernet Franc (34%)
Juicy flavors of lemon zest, pink grapefruit, candied citrus peel, and strawberry, as well as a subtle sapidity and minerality. If you like this rose’ and you happen to be in New York City, do stop by at “From Lucie NYC” bakery in the East Village and Lulu herself just might be there.
Château Carbonneau, Sequoia (named for the old Sequoia tree on the premises)
Blend of Cabernet Franc (71%), Merlot (25%), Malbec (4%)
Aged ten months in French oak barrels.
Full-bodied and elegant, with soft tannins, and complex flavors of mixed berries, red and dark fruit, spice, and clove, along with balanced toast and oak, followed by a long finish.
Ready to drink now. Can be aged for another 5-10 years
Château Carbonneau, La Verriere (named for the Napoleon III style conservatory on the premises)
Blend of Merlot (60%), Cabernet Franc (40%)
Twelve months in new French oak barriques.
Full-bodied and round, with flavors of raspberry, blackberry, cherry, and plum, as well as tobacco, licorice, mocha, and scented wood, followed by a long, toast-accented finish.
Château Carbonneau 33890 Pessac-sur-Dordogne, France
Phone: +33 5 57 47 46 46 Website: https://www.chateau-carbonneau.com
We visited Vignobles Raguenot on the following morning. Vignobles Raguenot is a tale of two wineries. Château des Tourtes (French for turtledove) in the Blaye-Côtes de Bordeaux appellation was founded in 1967 by Lise and Philippe Raguenot. The couple managed the winery for two decades before relinquishing the reins to their daughters Emmanuelle and Marie-Pierre, who, in 1998, along with their respective husbands, Daren Miller and Eric Lallez, acquired Château Haut Beyzac in the Haut-Médoc appellation..
Château des Tourtes is located in the village of Saint-Caprais-de-Blaye. It spans seventy hectares of silica-clay and gravel soil vineyards, fifteen of which are dedicated to the production of the white varietals Sauvignon Blanc (80%), Sémillon (15%), and Muscadelle (5%). The remaining fifty-five hectares are dedicated to the production of the red varietals Merlot (72%), Cabernet Sauvignon (14%), Malbec (7%), Petit Verdot (6%), and Carménère (1%).
Château Haut-Beyzac is located in the village of Vertheuil within the Gironde in Nouvelle-Aquitaine, in southwest France. The winery consists of thirty hectares of clayey-limestone soil vineyards on which Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Petit Verdot are cultivated.
Cindy and I tasted a selection from the Château des Tourtes portfolio alongside our gracious host Emmanuelle.
Château des Tourtes, Le Duo, AOC
Blend of Sauvignon (70%), Sémillon (20%), Muscadelle (10%)
Twelve days of temperature-controlled fermentation at 16°C in stainless-steel tanks. Aged on the lees for two months in stainless-steel tanks.
Soft, with a generous structure, good minerality, and white flower, as well as citrus and tropical fruit flavors.
Château des Tourtes, Cuvée Classique Blanc, AOC
Blend of Sauvignon (80%), Sémillon (20%)
The grapes are pressed together and cold-settled at 8°C for four days. Fermented for twelve days at 18 °C. Aged six months in stainless-steel tanks on the lees.
Pale yellow color with green highlights. Balanced, with soft acidity, and flavors of citrus fruit, and white flowers.
Château des Tourtes, Cuvée Prestige Blanc, AOC
100% Sauvignon Blanc
Maceration with the skins for twelve hours. Fermentation in oak barrels. Aged nine months on the lees in oak barrels.
Deep golden color. Rich aromas, with white and yellow flower, as well as mango, litchi, and grapefruit flavors, along with subtle vanilla and toasted notes.
Château des Tourtes, Le Duo, AOC
Blend of Merlot (80 %), Cabernet Sauvignon (20 %)
The juice is macerated on the skins for twenty days at 28-30°C before undergoing temperature-controlled, as well as malolactic fermentation. Aged six months in stainless-steel tanks.
Deep purple robe. Supple and smooth texture. Bright red and dark berry and fruit flavors. Best when enjoyed young.
Château des Tourtes, Cuvée Prestige Rouge, AOC
Blend of Merlot (85 %), Cabernet Sauvignon (15 %)
Fermentation is carried out at between 28 and 30°C for eight to ten days. After fermentation, the wine is kept on the skins for an additional fifteen to twenty-five days before undergoing malolactic fermentation. Aged twelve months in oak barrels.
Deep, garnet color. Full-bodied with good structure, and balanced flavors of blackberry, plum, and scented wood. Can age five to eight years.
Château des Tourtes, L’attribut des Tourtes, AOC
Blend of Merlot (75 %), Cabernet Sauvignon (25 %)
Cold pre-fermentation maceration, followed by an eight to ten-day fermentation. Long maceration period of three to four weeks. Malolactic fermentation in barrels. Aged in oak barrels for twelve to fifteen months (70% new barrels).
Deep and concentrated purple color. Complex, well-balanced, and elegant, with rich and powerful tannins, and plum jam, and vanilla, as well as roasted flavors. Can age well up to fourteen years.
Visitors can take an electric bicycle tour of the vineyards, and opt to visit the winery, enjoy a tasting of four wines, have a picnic lunch, and even participate in a wine blending workshop as part of the “La Bulle Verte” relaxed exploration initiative.
Château des Tourtes, Vignobles Raguenot
65 Rue Léonce Planteur, 33820 Val-de-Livenne, France
Phone: +33 5 57 32 65 15 Website: https://www.vignoblesraguenot.fr
On the second day of the tour, we found ourselves at Château Biac, overlooking the Graves wine district, on the left bank of the Garonne River. The site has a history dating back four centuries. The winery stands on fifteen hectares of land (roughly less than half of its original thirty-seven hectares), where silt, clay, gravel, and chalk soil vineyards yield the red varietals Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot.
“Le Vieux Biac,” the site of the original château, has been repurposed as a guesthouse, while the adjacent buildings, once employed for agricultural needs, have been converted into offices and conference rooms.
The present day château was constructed in 1755 by the daughter of the Baron of Langoiran (Langoiran is a town in the Gironde department in Nouvelle-Aquitaine in southwest France). Château Biac was acquired in 1820 by Gregoire Andrieu, the town’s mayor. It remained under the ownership of the Bassal Andrieu family until the 1960s, when it was sold to oenologist Frederic Bonnard.
Château Biac exchanged hands once more in 1977 when it was purchased by Paul and Marie Helene Ducatez. It was acquired by the Schroeder Rossini family less than two decades later.
Lebanese financier and entrepreneur Tony Asseily bought the Château in 2006 after he and his family fell in love with the beauty of the Château and its grounds during a stay at one of its guesthouses. Ironically, Tony had been initially reluctant to purchase the property precisely because he had little interest in winemaking. But Tony eventually changed his mind and now he and his family are committed to making fine wines that reflect the land’s distinct terroir.
The original vines for the white varietals were originally sourced from Château d’Yquem, and the vines for the red varietals from St. Emilion.
Cindy and I tried the Château Biac portfolio of wines with Tony in the winery’s tasting room.
B de Biac
Blend of Merlot (77 %), Cabernet Sauvignon (21%), Cabernet Franc (2%)
Generous, round, and lively, with well-integrated tannins, fresh red berry, plum, and cherry, along with mint flavors, followed by a long finish. Great aging potential.
Blend of Merlot (85%), Petit Verdot (10%), Cabernet Franc (5%)
Fresh, silky, and well-balanced, with ripe red and dark berry and fruit, along with oak flavors, followed by an extended finish. Can be enjoyed young, or allowed to age.
Felix de BIAC
Blend of Merlot (76%), Cabernet Sauvignon (16%), Cabernet Franc (8%)
Discreet fruity aromas combined with toasted notes.
Well-balanced, with good weight, red and purple fruit-driven flavors, and round tannins. The inherent acidity in this wine will soften with age.
Secret de Château Biac
Blend of Sémillon (85%), Sauvignon Blanc (15%)
Pale lemon yellow in color. Silky and viscous, with a velvety texture, and ginger, green tea and lemon verbena, as well as dried apricot, and white peach flavors.
Château Biac and Le Vieux Biac
19, Rue de la Ruasse 33550 Langoiran
Phone: +33556676154 Website: https://chateaubiac.com
We arrived at Château de Belcier on Wednesday morning, ready to discover yet another hidden gem of a winery in the Côtes de Bordeaux. Château de Belcier is located within the Côtes de Castillon in southwest France. This three century-old property was once owned by descendants of the 16th. century French philosopher and essayist Michel de Montaigne. In the 18th. century, it was acquired by Francois de Belcier who met an untimely end on the guillotine after choosing the losing side of the French Revolution. Although the winery still bears his name, it’s currently under the ownership of mutual insurance company MACIF, and overseen by Frederic Dubois and his wife, the second generation of the Dubois family to manage the property.
Château de Belcier has around fifty-two hectares of clay, silt, and limestone soil vineyards on which Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Malbec are cultivated to make some terrific red wines (not to mention a rose’ produced from 100% Cabernet Franc).
After a tour of the property’s magnificent grounds and structures, Francois led us to the winery’s tasting room for a sampling of the Château de Belcier portfolio.
Château de Belcier, AOC Castillon, Côtes de Bordeaux
Blend of Merlot (69%), Cabernet Franc (25%), and Malbec (6%)
Aged eight months in French oak barriques.
Round and full-bodied, with integrated tannins, and ripe raspberry, blackberry, and plum, as well as fragrant oak flavors.
Château de Monrecueil, AOC Castillon, Côtes de Bordeaux
Blend of Merlot (90%), Cabernet Franc (10%)
Aged in French oak barrels.
Medium-bodied, with balanced acidity and tannins, and bright red and dark fruit, as well as tobacco, earth, and scented wood flavors.
Château de Belcier “B de Belcier,” AOC, Côtes de Bordeaux
Blend of Merlot (90%), Cabernet Franc (10%)
Aged in a combination of stainless steel tanks, and French oak barrels.
Well-structured, with fresh acidity, and firm tannins, as well as juicy mixed berry, and ripe plum, along with sweet spice, and garrigue flavors.
Château de Monrecueil, AOC Bordeaux Superieur
Aged on the lees in stainless steel tanks.
Well-balanced, with a lively acidity, and bright red and dark fruit, as well as vanilla and forest floor flavors.
Château de Belcier, Fleurs de Belcier, AOC Bordeaux Rosé
100% Cabernet Franc
Aged on the lees in stainless steel tanks.
Elegant and delicate, with a fresh acidity, and lively strawberry, cranberry, and raspberry, as well as grass and menthol flavors.
Château de Belcier, Le Pin de Belcier, AOC Castillon, Côtes de Bordeaux
Blend of Merlot (80%), Cabernet Franc (20%)
Aged in 100% new French oak barriques.
Complex, rich, and full-bodied, with soft acidity, smooth tannins, and ripe red and black berry and fruit, as well as coffee and licorice flavors.
As I continued to taste I began to think that the character of these wines from the Château de Belcier portfolio, the elegance, roundness, and soft and smooth tannins, as well as the balanced red berry and dark fruit, and oak flavors reminded me of wines from Saint Emilion. Frederic directed our attention to a large map propped up on an easel as if he had read my mind.
Château de Belcier is located in the Côtes de Castillon which is adjacent to the prestigious winemaking territory of Saint Emilion where some of the finest Bordeaux grand cru are created. It turns out this is both a good and bad thing. A good thing for us, the consumer, because we can get Saint Emilion quality at Côtes de Castillon prices. The downside? This proximity to Saint Emilion can be a disadvantage for wineries in the Côtes de Castillon like Château de Belcier that can be overshadowed by the lofty reputation enjoyed by Bordeaux heavy hitters like Saint Emilion.
Château Belcier 33350 Les Salles-de-Castillon, France
Phone: +33 5 57 40 67 58
Cindy and I each visited a different winery on our final full day in the Côtes de Bordeaux. I chose to visit Domaine des Graves d’Ardonneau after meeting its sweet and bubbly proprietor, Fanny Rey, at the tail-end of an importer-producer meet-and-greet and speed tasting the previous day. We had hit it off almost as soon as I sat down at her station, and after sampling a trio of wines from the Domaine des Graves d’Ardonneau portfolio, I was excited to learn about the story behind this family-owned winery. Fanny picked me up from my hotel and drove me to Domaine des Graves d’Ardonneau the following morning. The trip took less than forty minutes (downtown Bordeaux is less than a thirty minutes’ drive away).
Fanny introduced me to her brother Laurent who is in charge of oenology (Fanny is the marketing and sales manager) and we toured the vineyards before heading up to the top of a venerable stone tower where the two siblings use to play. The top of the tower afforded unparalleled views of the Côtes de Bordeaux in all its natural beauty. According to Laurent, the top of the tower is also a prime spot for viewing fireworks displays on Bastille Day (A tour of and tasting at the winery comes with spectacular views of the area from these heights). Fanny gave me a brief overview of the winery’s history as we made our way to the tasting room.
Well, it turns out Domaine des Graves d’Ardonneau had humble beginnings. The winery was established in 1763 and consisted of roughly two hectares of vineyards then. It’s grown considerably in the three centuries since, and now spans 100 hectares, 65 of which are populated by south and southwest-facing hillside vineyards (with a density of 5000 vines per hectare) that are situated at 65 to 100 meters above the Gironde estuary. The proximity of the property to the Gironde River, along with other environmental factors, help to create the ideal microclimate for wine cultivation.
Domaine des Graves d’Ardonneau has been under the ownership of the Rey family for two centuries and counting. At present, three generations are involved in every facet of the winemaking process. In the 1960s, grandparents Simon and Huguette restructured the property and converted more land to wine grape cultivation. A decade later, they made the decision to begin making wine under the Domaine des Graves d’Ardonneau label for the first time, ending their previous arrangement of supplying grapes to other Bordeaux area producers.
The different soil combinations (clay and gravel, clay, limestone, and silt, and sand) in the vineyards yield a number of varietals including Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc, and Colombard.
I had the pleasure of trying a duo of whites. and a trio of reds from the Domaine des Graves d’Ardonneau portfolio of wines in the winery’s tasting room with Fanny before having lunch at a top-rated local restaurant with our favorite bottles from the tasting in tow.
Domaine des Graves d’Ardonneau, Bordeaux AOC (white wine)
Blend of Sauvignon Blanc (90%), Colombard (10%)
Fermentation in stainless steel tanks. 90% of grapes are aged in stainless steel tanks for seven months. The remaining 10% are aged in oak barrels.
Soft and crisp, with a balanced acidity, and flavors of yellow flowers, ripe citrus and orchard fruit, and fresh grass.
Will remain fresh for two to three years.
Domaine des Graves d’Ardonneau, Cuvee Prestige (white wine)
Sauvignon Blanc (90%), Colombard (10%)
Fermentation, and eight months’ aging in new oak barrels.
Medium-bodied and balanced, with a subtle sapidity, and lemon, grapefruit, and green apple, as well as coconut, vanilla, and delicate oak flavors.
Can stay fresh for three to five years.
Domaine des Graves d’Ardonneau, Cuvee Tradition, Bordeaux AOC (red wine)
Merlot (85%), Cabernet Sauvignon (15%)
Fermentation, and aged six months in stainless steel tanks, followed by an additional twelve months in 3+ year-old oak barrels.
Soft and round, with bright red and black berry, plum, and cherry, as well as scented wood flavors.
This wine is fresh and lively when enjoyed young. Aging this wine for four to eight years will enhance its elegance and complexity.
Domaine des Graves d’Ardonneau, Cuvee Prestige (red wine)
Merlot (80%), Cabernet Sauvignon (10%), Malbec (10%)
Fermentation in stainless steel tanks. 40% of grapes are then aged in four year-old oak barrels, 30% in two year-old oak barrels, and the remaining 30% in one year-old oak barrels.
Full-bodied and smooth, with soft red and black fruit, as well as pepper and balanced oak flavors.
This wine can be aged five to ten years.
Domaine des Graves d’Ardonneau 33620 Saint-Mariens, France
Phone: +33 5 57 68 66 98 Website: https://www.gravesdardonneau.com