Bordeaux hs been hitting the headlines with the focus on the wines it is most famous for – the great Grand Cru Classes that are collected, relished and treasured throughout the globe. However Bordeaux has a wide range of high quality, good value wines that are simply pushed out of the headlines that most of us simply miss out on. The rural backwaters of Bordeaux produce some fantastic wines that slip under the radar.
The wines of Bordeaux have been part of the region’s history for so long that they are an inseparable part of its culture with tiny villages supporting ancient domaines where wine making is part of everyday life. Times change and with it so do wine making practices – they have improved under the shadow of their grander peers and there are many admirable wines available if you know where to look.
Appellations slip in and out of favour down the centuries and you’ll often find that wines from lesser known appellations today were sometimes the most desired in the past. Likewise chateaux rise and fall but one thing that does not change is the potential of the land they were raised on. Enterprising wine makers frequently re-discover the long lost potential in a crumbling estate with neglected, forgotten vines and surprise their critics by working hard, investing savings and effort to bring great wines back to life.
Families of wine makers often go back generations and where the wine is renowned locally it quickly becomes snapped up – never reaching the larger market outside France, sometimes not even outside Bordeaux!
With the price of wine rising and the poor choice available in our supermarkets these wines offer an excellent alternative as they are reasonably priced and very well made. They are overlooked by the big chains as they come from small producers who do not make the volumes needed to stack shelves countrywide and can not produce wines for the mass market.
It is these hidden gems that I want to concentrate on in my next series of blogs. The first chateau I would like to introduce you to is Chateau Vrai Caillou. The chateau’s name literally translated means ‘The True Chateau of Rock’. You might think this is an odd name but there is a story behind it.
Firstly ‘caillou’ means ‘pebble, stones or rock’ and you can find examples of chateaux named after pebbles dotted across Bordeaux – an example of a Grand Cru Classe so named is the Second Growth Chateau Ducru Beaucaillou (meaning ‘beautiful pebbles’).
Why name a chateau after rocks you might ask? Because the stony ground it sits on is vitally important for growing the vines – most great vineyards lie on slopes or hillsides of gravelly or limestone based soils as vines need good drainage.
Chateau Vrai Caillou lies on around 200 acres of clay-limestone and is located in the small village of Soussac in the Entre Deux Mers, on the high plateau of the range that divides waters between the Dordogne and the Garonne rivers. Chateau Vrai Caillou sits on the slopes of Butte de Launay, the highest point in the region.
Secondly the reason Chateau Vrai Caillou is known as ‘The True Chateau of Rock’ stems from the fact that centuries ago it was originally known as Chateau Caillou. Since 1863,
Chateau Vrai Caillou has been owned by the Pommier family and its wines were noted in the famed Bordeaux wine directory Cocks & Féret in 1879. As was common in this period in time the chateau grew other crops as well as vines but when the Pommiers decided to concentrate on wine making as their sole industry in 1920 they discovered that another chateau had registered the name of Chateau Caillou, in Sauternes.
Rather than change the name of their chateau Odette Pommier’s response was: “Ah! Yes, is there another Caillou? Then, mine will be the true (Vrai) one!” And that is the story of how the chateau got it’s name.
The Entre Deux Mers is one of those regions that is undervalued nowadays but in the past it was a hive of activity and wine making. It is criss crossed with Roman roads (one runs through Soussac) and the landscape is peppered with historical forts and Medieval châteaux, mills, churches and monasteries.
Wine production here dates back to Gallo Roman times but it was the Benedictine Monks in the Middle Ages who helped to create the reputation of this region and its wines. The reason that the region attracted monastic settlement is that one of the most important pilgrimage routes in the Christian world runs right through it: the route de Santiago de Compostella (the ‘Way of Saint James’). It was nicknamed the Milky Way by travellers, as according to legend, the Milky Way was formed from the dust raised by travelling pilgrims.
It was the ‘road under the stars’ and the pale arm of the Milky Way stretched out and pointed the way to the edge of the known world: Compostela itself means ‘field of stars‘.
I think that is a rather good analogy for the little chateaux scattered across the area – and Vrai Caillou is one of these ‘stars’. The Pommiers make both red and white wines – both are good and well worth seeking out. The red Chateau Vrai Caillou Bordeaux Superieur 2009 is an elegant, silky, traditional claret with good structure and supple, well balanced tannins. The bouquet is packed with ripe black cherry and cassis and the flavour is full of layers of intense blackcurrants, violets, vanilla, earth and spice.
The blend is 60% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon and 20% Bouchet. Bouchet is the local name for Cabernet Franc – which is thought to be native to the area. It’s known that the infamous Cardinal Richelieu, who was also Duke of Fronsac (another lesser known appellation in Bordeaux that produces excellent wines) transported cuttings of his favourite grape Bouchet to the Loire Valley where they were planted at the Abbey of Bourgueil.
Oddly enough there is a Chateau de Bouchet in Grezillac (only 13 miles away from Vrai Caillou) which is now owned by Marc and Agnes Lurton (from the famous Lurton family that own many top chateaux in Bordeaux) – so may be the story that Cabernet Franc is native to the area has some substance.
The white Chateau Vrai Caillou ‘Les Vignes de la Garene’ 2010 is aclear white/green tinted colour and has aromas of melon, ripe fig and acacia blossom. This is a bright, fresh and elegant wine with flavours of peach and lemon and a hint of smoke and spice. The blend is 70% Sauvignon Blanc, 20% Semillon and 10% Muscadelle – the classic grape varieties that make the dry Bordeaux white wines. Both wines cost £9.74 and are extremely good value for the money.
Both are available at Bordeaux-Undiscovered for under £10 a bottle delivered to your door when you order a case of 12 bottles and I hope that you will try them – and discover two little stars for yourself.