Monthly Archives: September 2015

Côtes de Castillon: good value wines galore!

When I first arrived in Bordeaux, the word going round was that Fronsac was the up-and-coming wine region, and was headed for great things. However, this never really materialized. Then a similar buzz was heard about Castillon. I must admit to feeling there is more potential for the latter appellation, not only because it’s so much bigger (2,300 hectares compared to just over 1,000 for Fronsac and Canon-Fronsac), but because the wines are more appealing to the general public.

Although “Castillon, Côtes de Bordeaux” is not exactly a household name, it has long been a treasure trove of good-value Bordeaux beloved of connoisseurs. Historically, the appellation was known as “près-Saint-Emilionais”, and the geographical proximity with Saint-Emilion is unquestionably reflected in the wines. Let’s be clear: a good Castillon is better than a ho-hum Saint-Emilion, and has a much lower price tag to boot.
In fact, Castillon is where to bring people who moan that Bordeaux is too expensive or Burgundy lovers with blinders on. This is where you can find worthwhile wines for as little as 7 or 8 euros a bottle and truly delicious ones for not much more. And I’m talking about really good wine here.
Bordeaux has Portes Ouvertes (“Open Days”) in most major appellations. These are marvellous opportunities for anyone who’s interested in visiting châteaux, meeting the winegrower, sampling the wine, and either buying or not as one sees fit. Absolutely no pressure is brought to bear. The Portes Ouvertes in Castillon Côtes de Bordeaux took place on Saturday the 5th and Sunday the 6th of September. The number of participating estates was relatively limited (17), but included a good cross-section of the appellation.
I went there on Sunday with an American friend, author, and fellow blogger, Tom Mullen:

Portes Ouvertes programme

Portes Ouvertes programme

We visited 7 châteaux and had a wine lunch at Château Pitray. Here’s a brief rundown of the experience, which I can strongly recommend.

Proud owners of Ch. Rose Poncet

Proud owners of Ch. Rose Poncet

Our day started off with Château La Fleur Poncet in Gardegan-et-Tourtirac, where we were greeted by Madame Elisabeth Rousseau-Rodriguez, Vice-President of the Castillon winegrowers association, and her husband. This 10-hectare estate, in the family for the past two centuries, is located 7 km from Saint-Emilion and within sight of Château Michel de Montaigne in the neighboring Bergerac appellation. The predominately Merlot grapes were in excellent condition and had already reached a potential alcoholic degree of 13.5° on the 6th of September! So things were looking very good – as opposed to 2013 when a hail storm virtually wiped out the entire crop… The estate makes two wines, the regular cuvée and Mon anGe, an anagram of her children’s names. The latter is 100% Merlot, made from 35 year-old vines, and aged in new oak. My favorite wine was the 2010 La Rose Poncet.

The Lydoire family

The Lydoire family

The next stop was Château Bellevue in Belvès-de-Castillon. This 12.5 hectare estate is owned by the Lydoire family. They have a higher-than-than usual percentage of Cabernet Franc: 25%. We tasted their quaffable 2012 Bordeaux Supérieur and interesting 2012 vieilles vignes from Castillon, as well as the unusual 2011 Cémacuvée, made in a successful ripe, oaky, modern style.


The last stop before lunch, one of the best of the day, was at Château Lapeyronie in Gardegan-et-Tourtirac. When we arrived, we were somewhat surprised to see three gendarmes in the cellar and I quipped that, honestly, I had spat everything out so far! I don’t think the same could be said of them… Furthermore, they were from Burgundy, whose wines were obviously much better than ours ;-). Anyway, we were welcomed by Hélène Thibaut, a professor of viticulture and oenology and partner of Jean-Frédéric Lapeyronie. He looks after the vines, and she’s in charge of the cellars. The 2012s we tasted were among the best all day, and the prices quite reasonable. Several nice surprises were in store for us. One was an excellent Côtes de Francs with a nice tannic texture to round out the fleshiness of the Merlot – the best Francs I can ever remember tasting. The other was an exceedingly rare 100% Carménère. This is sold as vin de table français, presumably because it is considered a secondary rather than a primary grape variety. Not only rare, the wine also happens to be quite enjoyable with a peppery bouquet – quite the wine to baffle someone at a blind tasting! And as if this weren’t enough, Lapeyronie also makes a wine with zero sulfur, a so-called natural wine. Despite my scepticism, I had to admit it was good, and commend the estate for branching out and doing unusual things.

Lunch was an outdoor affair open to the general public on the beautiful grounds of Château Pitray. Several hundred people attended and, fortunately, the weather cooperated. We skipped the tasting part of the event and sat down to enjoy the inevitable grilled entrecote steak with a sturdy 2009 Cuvée Madame from Pitray (aged in new oak) and a previously enjoyed 2012 unsulfured Château Lapeyronie.

Madame de Ch. Pitray

Madame de Ch. Pitray

After lunch, we met with Madame Françoise Lannoye, President of the Castillon winegrowers association and owner of Ch. Moulin de la Clotte. The affable Mme Lannoye, who speaks very good English, talked to us about the appellation. She feels that joining forces with the other Côtes de Bordeaux (Bourg opted out) for promotional and marketing efforts was the right move.

Furthermore, she explained that Castillon benefits greatly from tourism. The battle ending the Hundred Years’ war was fought here, when the forces of King Charles VII of France defeated John Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury (yes, who gave his name to Château Talbot in Saint Julien), thus ending three centuries of English rule over the Aquitaine region.
A much-acclaimed re-enactment of the battle is held throughout the summer:

There are also a number of medieval castles in the region and a Maison du Vin in Castillon (population 3,000) – whose full name is Castillon-la-Bataille

Maison du Vin

Madame Lannoye said that Castillon is sold mostly in France, but also exported to Belgium, England, and Japan. She also places hope in the US market. When you see the value for money these wines represent, they should do really well in America. However, there is somewhat of an image problem: not a bad image, but rather a lack of image altogether. The Côtes group are working on this as much as their budget allows.

We visited three more châteaux after lunch. Most of these were in “hop, skip, and taste” mode 🙂

The first of these was Clos Védélago. A roofer by trade, Jean-Paul Védélago bought 2.5 hectares vines in 2004. He brings grapes from two of those hectares to the cooperative in Puisseguin-Saint-Emilion. The remainder (exactly 0.47 hectares!) are in the Castillon appellation. These are used to make a luscious 100% Merlot wine. We tasted through 5 vintages (2010 to 2014). The ones I liked most were the 2014 and 2012. His wines have received medals and been cited as Coups de Cœur (“special favorites”) in the Guide Hachette.

Les Fleurs de Trentin
We then went on to Château Château Les Fleurs de Trentin in Sainte Colombe, who grow their grapes organically. We enjoyed their 2012, what the French call a vin plaisir, i.e. an up-front, seductive, easy-drinking wine. The 2009 Cuvée Nathanoé was a little rustic, but showed a strong personality. We tasted the estate’s cuvee prestige in the 2008 and 2009 vintages, much preferring the former.

Our final visit of the day was to Château Fontbaude in Saint-Magne-de-Castillon. We arrived to see Christian sitting in the shade of a large tree behind a table with several bottles, in a beautiful and infinitely calm setting. We tasted the 2014 Pélerin de Fontbaude, a delight to drink young, followed by the 2010 Fontbaude and the 2012 cuvée vieilles vignes. The star of the show was 2011 l’Ame de Fontbaude a rich, fruity wine with a sinewy, silky texture, great aromatics, and some fine spicy nuances.

Thus ended our day in Castillon Côtes de Bordeaux.

La Brasserie Bordelaise: southwest cuisine and a great wine list…

The primary meaning of brasserie in French is “brewery”. But it also means a specific sort of establishment in France: a café-cum-restaurant with a relaxed atmosphere that serves food outside the usual set mealtimes. Brasseries usually offer a limited range of popular dishes rather than an elaborate menu, and diners frequently do not linger, often ordering just one dish.
What is the difference between a “brasserie” and a “bistrot”? It’s actually more complicated than it sounds, and you can find a long discussion (in English) on that subject here:

But I’m sure you get the idea :-).

The Brasserie Bordelaise is located at 50 rue Saint-Rémi in Old Bordeaux, about a 5-minute walk from the Grand Théâtre. There are no fewer than 25 restaurants practically side-by-side on this street, ranging from the sublime to the ridiculous…

Where does the Brasserie Bordelaise fit in?

in Old Bordeaux

in Old Bordeaux

First of all, created in 2008, the Brasserie has already become an institution. It is relaxed, authentic, and lively, sometimes to the point of boisterousness. No chichi here. There’s a good buzz and a lot of positive energy. The food is simple, hearty, and wholesome. The wine list is outstanding.

The first part of the restaurant has a bar and perhaps a dozen tables, and there is a larger room downstairs with long wooden tables and wooden benches, as well as a mezzanine overlooking it.

Counter service

Counter service

Cuisine: The theme here is superb ingredients simply prepared. Delicacies from Southwest France have been carefully sourced: oysters, dry cured ham, foie gras, lamprey, caviar d’Aquitaine and, above all, beef. In fact, the beef is superb, and what better food to go with good red Bordeaux?
The restaurant’s website gives the background to suppliers:
Prices are in the moderate range. The meal I enjoyed last week with friends (4 of us altogether) included the following: foie gras, cuttlefish cooked with garlic and parsley, and melon with wafer-thin dry cured ham for the first course followed by rump steak, entrecote steak, and Waygu beef skirt steak for the main course. Everything was just fine, and the beef top class.
We enjoyed a 2010 Cuvée Flora from Château Patache d’Aux (AOC Médoc), that was quite enjoyable, not ridiculously young, and mercifully not over-oaked like many cuvées presige are.


Wine: The full wine list can also be found at the above link. It is quite extensive and intelligently broken down into different categories: “Specially Recommended”, “Right Bank”, “Left Bank”, “Wines by the Glass”, “Pomerol”, wines from different négociants (including Bernard Margez, Cordier, and Jean Merlaut – who is part owner of the restaurant), ones from famous winemakers and consultants, “Rare and Exceptional”, etc. As for this last category, you can find crus classés going back to 1995, up to and including first growths, at reasonable retail prices. The choice of vintage Armagnac is very impressive, and not outlandishly priced. I might add that the Bordelais are traditionally more partial to this brandy than Cognac although the former is much closer geographically.
The restaurant recently began handing out the wine list on iPads. However, 4 out of 10 were stolen, so they are rethinking that particular innovation…

Nicolas Lascombes

La Brasserie Bordelaise is the brainchild of Nicolas Lascombes, a serial entrepreneur who managed La Tupina restaurant in Bordeaux for ten years. Monsieur Lascombes also owns and runs three restaurants on Arcachon Bay: le Comptoir du Port in Arcachon and l’Hôtel de la Plage and Le Bouchon du Ferret in Cap Ferret. Last, but not least, he has been chosen to run the restaurant in the new Cité du Vin, due to open next year.



L’Univerre restaurant in Bordeaux – a wine lover’s paradise

Burgundy in Bordeaux? How kinky can you get? And yet… there’s a restaurant in the center of Bordeaux that has a phenomenal selection of wines from the Côte d’Or (and elsewhere).

I first knew Fabrice Moisan when he managed a restaurant called Verretigo on the rue Georges Bonnac. The décor did not suggest it, but the food was good and wine list phenomenal, with a great selection of Burgundy (!) and oddball wines you’d never expect to see in Bordeaux in a million years, such as fine German wines. What’s more, the prices were downright reasonable.
Two years ago, Fabrice and his associates created Univerre (another play on words…) and moved to a new location, 40 rue Georges Bonnac, also in the Mériadeck district close to the heart of the city. The décor is more in keeping with the restaurant’s standing this time and has gained a devoted clientele.

A visit to l’Univerre’s website will give you a good feel for the place: And you can enjoy drooling over the wine list: some 1,300 different ones to choose from! The main list is 50 pages long. As incredible as this may seem, Burgundy has pride of place. Confused or overwhelmed by all these “foreign” wines? Fabrice will be glad to guide you!
The first thing you see when you enter the restaurant is the small Pinot Bar which serves fine wines by the glass thanks to a Eurocave dispenser with neutral gas that keeps the wines from going off. The dining room itself is rather small, with just ten tables. The decor is simple and modern, and one wall has a plate glass window with a wonderful view of bottles, some quite rare (Henri Jayer Cros Parantoux anyone?).

The cuisine? Let’s start off by saying that this is a restaurant for wine lovers so the food is necessarily good. But, let’s be honest: the star at l’Univerre is what’s in the glass. The menu is limited, featuring tried-and-true options. My first course was veal kidneys with garlic and parsley, and the main course was a tournedos of aged Aubrac beef. The latter was wonderful and served with chips and shallots cooked in butter.

The wines? We drank a Chablis and a red Burgundy.




2007 Premier Cru La Forêt from Vincent Dauvissat (60 euros) was very enjoyable. The color was medium-deep with chartreuse highlights and showed some age. The understated nose was very typical of its appellation with lemony and delicate orange blossom overtones. The wine had a lovely soft attack, going on to show gooseberry and white currant flavours before evolving into a nippy, dry, mineral aftertaste with good texture and little evidence of oak ageing. The acidity was very precise and there was something deliciously lip-smacking and appetizing about this Chablis. It is quite enjoyable to drink now, but will last for years. The serving temperature was perhaps a tad too cold.


2007 Gevery Chambertin Premier Cru Clos Saint Jacques, vieilles vignes, from Domaine Fourrier (200 euros) went extremely well with the beef. This climat is considered by many Burgundy aficionados to deserve an upgrade to grand cru status along with the likes of Meursault Perrières, Nuits Saint Georges Les Saint Georges, Pommard Les Rugiens Bas, and a few others. Furthermore, Jean-Marie Fourrier is a highly-reputed winemaker.
The color was looking a little older than its years. The nose was sleek and sophisticated with very pure, soft, candied fruit nuances along with some musky and new leather overtones. In fact, the bouquet was altogether sensual, perfumed, and very classy, with cranberry and powdered talc aromas – a real treat just to smell, and impossible to describe with mere words…. Fresh, silky, and spherical on the palate, the wine seemed more ripe than many others from that vintage, and the oak influence was just right. In fact, this 2007 Clos Saint Jacques was so enjoyable that the mind boggles to think what it must taste like in a great year! I found it to be squarely in its drinking window.
Interestingly, Fabrice decanted the wine. I approve, although I know that some Burgundy lovers scoff at this.
I should also point out that Univerre uses impeccable Zalto glasses.

There’s a small branch of the Univerre (shop and wine bar) in the 6th arrondissement of Paris with a function room for tastings.
The associates have also set up a business in Hong Kong, where they are agents for several Burgundy producers (Roulot, Cathiard, etc.).