Finding great value for money in the vineyards of Bordeaux

John Wilson: Not all the great wines in this region come with great price tags

Bordeaux is the most famous wine of all. Home to so many of the great names, it conjures up images of grand Châteaux set in immaculately manicured gardens with neatly trimmed rows of vines stretching off into the distance. These do exist, but they are only one side of Bordeaux. With collectors and (sadly) investors eager to buy, the top wines now sell for anything from €100 to €500 a bottle, and sometimes an awful lot more. Obviously, this is beyond the budget of most.

But the great names of the Médoc, St-Émilion and Pomerol account for only a fraction of overall wine production. The rest of Bordeaux is made up of more than 6,000 growers, many with small holdings, who struggle to sell their wines. For these, the term Château is merely a farmhouse. Many wines simply labelled Bordeaux sell for uneconomic prices (Lidl currently has one for €8.99) and are rarely worth the money.

However, there are sub-regions that produce wines of real quality, often at reasonable prices. One name worth looking out for is Côtes de Bordeaux. In 2009, the four sub-regions of Castillon, Francs, Blaye and Cadillac formed an umbrella group covering each region. They have since been joined by Sainte-Foy. One Côtes, the Côtes de Blaye, decided to stay out, but certainly produces equally good wine.

Some of these regions have been producing wine for centuries, far longer than the Médoc, which was drained only in the mid 17th century. Many have conditions that are perfect for viticulture – areas such as the Côtes de Francs and the Côtes de Castillon share very similar soils as neighbouring grander appellations of Pomerol and St-Émilion. Other Côtes have long been recognised as having superior terroir too.


In Bordeaux terms, they can offer great value for money. Recognising this potential, many of the top producers of Bordeaux have invested in vineyards there. Although little known to many, the various Côtes de Bordeaux account for about 10 per cent of production, 950 growers, including many of the most dynamic young producers, yet is little known. Expect to pay anything from €15 to €50 as the quality increases. The grape varieties are the same as the great Châteaux: Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot, sometimes with a small percentage of Petit Verdot or Malbec.

Red Bordeaux is perfect with red meats; roast beef and lamb, gourmet burgers or cottage pie are all good. Vegetarian options include macaroni cheese, rich gratins and firm cheeses.

It is worth remembering that the various Côtes are all within a short drive of the city of Bordeaux, itself a great tourist destination. These days, most are only too happy to welcome visitors.

Château Guibeau 2016, Castillon, Cotes de Bordeaux
13.5%, €16.95
Elegant savoury red fruits with a touch of tobacco, and a long dry finish. Classic Bordeaux at a very fair price. Try it with mushroom casserole or a rack of lamb. 
From: O'Briens,

Château Haut-Rian Selection Parcellaire 2016, Premières Côtes de Bordeaux (Organic)
13.5%, €17.95
A hugely satisfying Bordeaux with smooth ripe blackcurrant fruits, subtle toasty oak, and a nice, rounded finish. Slips down so easily. Good with most red meats or a roast of pork. 
From: Wines Direct, Mullingar,

Château La Grolet Origines 2018, Côtes de Bourg (Biodynamic)
13%, €12 for a half bottle
A very nicely balanced wine with concentrated dark plum fruits, a touch of spice and good firm dry tannins. Try this with a roast of lamb or a robust bean casserole.
From: Mary Pawle Wines, Kenmare,; The Little Green Grocer, Kilkenny,; The Grainey, Scarriff; The Connemara Hamper, Clifden,

Château Ampélia 2019, Castillon-Côtes de Bordeaux
14%, €25
A very seductive lush, hedonistic Bordeaux with delicious ripe red fruits, and well-integrated tannins. Perfect with a steak or roast beef.
From : Whelehan's Wines, Loughlinstown,