The small town of Blaye on the right bank of the Gironde estuary - a point of strategic significance for many centuries - is best known for its impressive citadel. Designed in the late 1600s by renowned military architect Sébastien Le Prestre de Vauban, it gained UNESCO world heritage status in 2008. Off the back of this, the influx of tourists has subsequently led to the unearthing of Blaye’s other great attraction - its wines.
Both red wines (Blaye Côtes de Bordeaux Rouge) and dry whites (Blaye Côtes de Bordeaux Blanc) are permitted under AOCs regulations, however it is the reds - as with the whole Bordeaux region - which dominate. With a fraction over five-thousand-five-hundred hectares under vine, only two-hundred-and-seventy-seven are occupied by white varieties. Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon are the key red varieties with Malbec, Petit Verdot and Carménère playing a minority role, and the white vineyard comprises almost entirely of the three traditional Bordeaux Blanc grapes - Sauvignon Blanc, Sémillon and Muscadelle. Both Colombard and Ugni Blanc are also allowed, but given that these varieties are typically less favoured by consumers, they are rarely used by Blaye’s wine-makers.
The topography of the Blaye district is somewhat more hilly than the flatter, less undulating countryside associated with the Médoc peninsula. Vineyards occupy free-draining slopes along the estuary as well as the high plateaus that reach elevations of seventy metres. The hillside plots are rewarded with lots of exposure to the area’s abundant sunshine - an average of two-hundred-and-forty days per year - and the soils of clay and limestone are perfect for cultivating the appellation’s key grapes.
The red blends of Blaye are fruity, well-rounded and vibrant in both colour and aromas. Blaye whites - based largely around the Sauvignon Blanc variety - are often delicate, crisp and fragrant. Both types can be consumed in their youth or aged for a few years, over which time the reds will develop notes of spice.
The fortified town of Cadillac, at the heart of the Entre-Deux-Mers district has a thousand year old viticultural history of which its vignerons - and the local towns-people - are extremely proud. The appellation’s eighty or so producers share a vineyard area of one-thousand-one-hundred hectares, which is dominated by gravelly, calcareous clay and limestone soils. Many of the plots occupy sites on slopes overlooking the Garonne river.
The vineyards of the appellation comprise of four key grapes typical of most Bordeaux red wine appellations. Merlot - the principal has been planted on Cadillac’s slopes since the 18th century and affords the blend approachability and suppleness. It covers more than half of the area under vine. Cabernet Sauvignon - the second grape accounts for one quarter of all plantings and contributes structure to the blend. The remaining quarter is composed of the region’s oldest variety, Cabernet Franc and Malbec. Carménère and Petit Verdot are also permitted here but very rarely seen.
Cadillac Côtes de Bordeaux AOC delivers wines which are both good quality and good value. Vibrant in colour, elegant and richly aromatic, the wines of this appellation can be ready to drink within a few years of vintage.
Castillon Côtes de Bordeaux is one of Bordeaux’s humble right bank satellite appellations. Generally the wines are inexpensive and quality varies significantly across producers. Chateau Beynat produce the best example I’ve tasted to date. The appellation covers around 1800 hectares planted with Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot.