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Staying at the Château

by Patrick Hilyer, 2007

See also part I of this feature, where Patrick visits St Emilion.

Part II - around Saint-Emilion

After spending a few days in the famous vineyards of Saint-Emilion, our journey continues in the Côtes-de-Castillon. The appellation is formed by a range of small limestone hills, which begins east of the Saint-Emilion plateau rising from the right-bank of the Dordogne and is bounded by the Côtes-de-Francs to the north and Bergerac to the east. The scenery among the valleys is picturesque; a varied landscape popular with walkers and wine-lovers alike. A mild Atlantic climate and the limestone-clay slopes provide ideal growing conditions for the 3000 hectares of vines primarily Merlot with the Cabernets Franc and Sauvignon and a little Malbec. The wines are very similar in style to their neighbours in Saint-Emilion, average prices are much lower, and many are now competing in quality with the grand crus.

Château Terrasson

Marie-Jo Lavau, the proprietor of this family-run wine estate in the Côtes-de-Castillon is pleased that we have found the property before the winter nightfall (there are at least two châteaux of the same name within 15km). She and her husband Christophe give us a quick tour of the guest accommodation; a comfortable annex that serves as a small self-catering apartment for up to three people, and a recently restored three-bedroom gte that sleeps up to six.

She suggests that it might be better to give us a full dégustation of the property's wines in the morning but hands me a bottle of their top Côtes-de-Castillon wine, Cuvée Prévanche 2004, to go with our supper. The wine is the perfect accompaniment to a simple meal of rillettes, duck pâté and celery rémoulade and serves as our first taste of one of one of Bordeaux's best kept secrets; the juicy and structured Merlot-dominated wines of the Côtes-de-Castillon.

Early the following morning the bare vines are shrouded in mist. After a quick stroll in the vineyard we are treated to a horizontal tasting of four wines from the 2004 vintage. The 'côtes' wine Cuvée Classique, from 90% Merlot, is clean and fresh with pleasant red fruit aromas. Its oak aged counterpart, Cuvée Prévanche, coming from vines with an average age of 40 years and matured in 25% new oak releases toasted and spicy notes and reveals a sound but supple structure. The Lavaus also have a vineyard just over the parish boundary in Saint-Christophe-des-Bardes that contains 0.7 hectares of grand cru rated Saint-Emilion vines, botled as Clos d'Hortense.
  

A clay-limestone soil coupled with a high proportion of Cabernet produce two wines (one oak-aged, one vat-aged) with a rich blackcurrant aroma and a mouth-watering acidity. The oak-aged wine is firm and juicy enough to be put away for a couple of years.

The Clos d'Hortense may possess a little more finesse than the Prevanche, but the biggest difference between the two is price - in today's market côtes wines fetch half the price of their grand cru stable-mates.

Château Grande Maye

British customers may be familiar with the wines of Paul Valade who sells a good proportion of his wines to the UK market. He cultivates 15 hectares of Côtes-de-Castillon vines, vinified in a thoroughly modern winery in the commune of Belvès-de-Castillon.

The Valades produce two wines - Château Grande Maye, the first wine, is from 30 year old vines (75% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon). The 2001, like many others tasted from this oft-overlooked vintage, is bursting with ripe red fruits supported by a restrained oak and firm tannins.


   The second wine, Château Brisson, from the same year is lighter in style and softer. The business is a family affair and Madame Valade's sister accommodates guests of the Château in her home near the property.

Lise Gonin is an impeccable B&B host and fount of local knowledge. Breakfast includes fresh home-made specialities, great coffee and real English tea. She has three double rooms, one of which has a private bathroom, the other two having shared facilities. Evening meals aren't served, but there are a couple of good, inexpensive restaurants in nearby Castillon-la-Bataille.


Château La Roche Pressac

Members of a growing number of new winemakers in the area, Chrystelle and Jean-Marc Lirand (below) bought this property in the commune of Saint-Magne-de-Castillon in 2002 leaving behind successful careers in retailing. 'We both went back to school,' Chrystelle explains, 'to become qualified in winemaking. Then we chose the Côtes-de-Castillon, at that time still an affordable area, for its potential to produce high-quality wines.'

Investments in the vineyard and cellar in consultation with Michel Rolland's team and Jean-Luc Thunevin of Château de Valandraud had already been made before they took over the property. Their first vintage, the 2004, was cited in Le Guide Hachette (2007) and was recently placed fourth in a list of the best Castillon wines, including Château d'Aiguilhe and Domaine de l'A, by La Revue du Vin de France (February 2007). The wine comes from 2 hectares of vines at the western limit of the Côtes-de-Castillon, just 500 metres from the Saint-Emilon AC boundary. Only 10,000 bottles were produced in 2004 of the main label La Roche Pressac. A second wine, Cadet de la Roche, and a third, La Rochecotte are also produced.

La Rochecotte 2004 expresses a delicately perfumed nose of redcurrants and spice; a wine for early drinking but lively enough to support a salad of gesiers de canard - the entrée to a perfect meal with the Lirand family. Next came the second wine Le Cadet 2004 which, after 12 months in second- and thrid-year barriques, adds a nice layer of oak with notes of liquorice and a good lively acidity to the palate. The top wine, La Roche Pressac 2004 was tasted with a hearty confit de canard, a recipe from Jean-Marc's place of origin, Toulouse. The wine has a greater concentration of almost stewed fruits on the nose especially cassis and a deliciously toasty oak. Firm and full, with a good level of acidity and a long finish - this is a wine to put away somewhere cool and dark for a couple of years.

Staying with the Lirands is like staying with friends. The guest accommodation has a lived-in, unfinished feel but one that makes you feel quite at home. It's easy to see why some of their visitors stay longer than intended. Chrystelle speaks fondly of one particular guest from overseas, 'We had a visitor from Canada here last year looking for an overnight stop during a cycling tour. He ended up staying for a month and paid his keep by working in the vineyard.'

No one should leave this property empty-handed - even the Canadian cyclist went away with a bottle of La Roche Pressac tucked into his pannier!
  

Château Puisseguin Curat

A few minutes' drive from the Côtes-de-Castillon and you find yourself in the appellation of Puisseguin-Saint-Emilion and the little village of Puisseguin, dominated by its feudal Château. Following a siege 1587, the castle's military use was gradually replaced by viticulture.


   In the late 1950s Jean-Albert Robin purchased the property and, by selling the main castle buildings, invested in the development of the vineyards and winery.

Today, Château Puisseguin Curat is still in the hands of the Robin family and is managed by brothers Jean-David and Jean-Francois. Madame Robin manages a 3-bedroom gte in an annex of what used to be the 19th century vineyard workers' lodgings.

From the gte, one looks out onto the castle, the tower and the clay-limestone slopes of the vineyard, planted to 70% Merlot, 25% Cabernet Franc and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon.


'We make, mature and bottle all of our wine,' Madame Robin tells us, 'but much of what we produce is sold through the négotiant, the rest we sell direct to our clients.' Madame also relies on Gtes de France to market and manage her delightful gte and this gives British clients the ability to book the property through an English-speaking agent. This hands-off approach to marketing allows the family to concentrate on what they do best - cultivating healthy vines and producing high quality wines.

After showing us the gte, winery and cellars, we are given a dégustation in the impressive tasting room. The Robin's produce two wines; a full-bodied oak-aged cuvée prestige which is matured in new oak and a well-structured cuvée tradition which is assembled from wines matured in stainless steel and second- and third-year oak barrels.

Château Belles-Graves

Travelling west from Puisseguin-Saint-Emilon takes us towards Pomerol and its powerful, creamy wines. Richness and concentration, as well as stratospheric prices, have earned the appellation world-wide fame. The gravels and clays provide a unique geology, ideally suited to the Merlot grape.

Although situated in the neighbouring appellation of Lalande-de-Pomerol, Château Belles-Graves is only a few hundred metres from Pomerol's unofficial first-growths. The property also shares a similar terroir on steep, south facing slopes above the river Barbanne. Xavier Piton, whose grandfather bought the property in 1938, produces a classy wine from 17 hectares of Merlot and Cabernet vines. His young team is led by cellar-master Silvain Garoste who greets us outside the winery and soon we are chatting about cultivation techniques and yields as we take a promenade of the vineyard.

'We have quite a good topography here,' says Silvain with typical Gallic understatement. We look out over the vines that cover the entire hillside down to the river 100 feet below. The property overlooks this wonderful panorama, as do the four guest bedrooms in the west wing of the main house. Officially registered as a Gtes de France chambres-d'hotes this is a B&B with a difference. The rooms are furnished and decorated with antiques and each has its own en-suite bathroom. In the summer breakfast is served on the terrace overlooking the formal gardens and the labyrinth made entirely from young Merlot vines.
  

The two main soil types here are clay and gravel, and both sit above a subsoil rich in iron oxide. The wines, which are full and firm in their youth, have a good balance of oak and fruit and age well. We taste a vertical flight of three vintages - 2002, 2003 and 2004.

The 2002 has fresh, leafy, red fruit aromas and is soft and lively on the palate. The 2003, a year which can produce a flat wine, has a nice lively palate with riper, black fruits and empyreumatic aromas. The 2004 extols its fruit and shows great promise, although like the others is drinking well now. These are not explosively concentrated wines, but they are harmonious - an adjective that aptly describes this handsome château.

conclusion

Saint-Emilion's neighbours are graced with a landscape rich in well-managed vineyards and well-made wines. The appellations are relatively young; Cotes-de-Castillion for example only achieved AC status in 1989. As such the market for these wines is still developing and many offer good value for money. This gives the canny wine-buyer an opportunity to find great wines that compete in quality but not in price with their grand cru cousins. The B&B's and gtes here also offer value for money, even compared to the formulaic roadside motels seen all over France, and there are few better ways of tasting and buying wine than while staying at the château.

Addresses and tariffs

Château Terrasson
Château Terrasson, 33570 Puisseguin
Tel: +33 (0)5 57 56 06 65
paul.valade@wanadoo.fr (winery), lise.gonin@wanadoo.fr (B&B)
GPS Ref: 0734-4980
B&B 60 euros - 80 euros per room per night. Table d'Hote 22 euros per person

Château Grande Maye
Rouye, 33350 Belves-de-Castillon
Tel: +33 (0)5 57 47 93 92
latourfigeac@aol.com
GPS Ref: 0720-4977
B&B 45 euros - 50 euros per room per night

Château La Roche Pressac
3 route de Saint Colombe 33350 Saint-Magne-de-Castillon
Tel: +33 (0)5 57 40 48 24
contact@laroche-pressac.com
GPS Ref: 0731-4972
B&B by arrangement

Château Puisseguin Curat
Curat, 33570 Puisseguin
Tel: +33 (0)5 57 40 61 29 (winery) +33 (0)1 49 70 75 75 (Gtes de France)
chateau-de-puisseguin-curat@wanadoo.fr
GPS Ref: 0723-4976
B&B 333 euros - 510 euros per week

Château Belles-Graves
33500 Neac
Tel: +33 (0)5 57 51 09 61
x.piton@belles-graves.com

Restaurants:

Restaurant la Fontaine de Manon
57 rue Victor Hugo, Castillion-la-Bataille 33350
Tel: +33 (0)5 57 40 24 48
Traditional, family restaurant.

Hôtel Restaurant Le Phenix
24 Place Pierre Orus, Castillion-la-Bataille 33350
Tel: +33 (0)5 57 40 00 14
'Plat du jour' workers' dining room.

Restaurant Le Petit Palais
Le Petit Palais 33570
Cheap, authentic, workers' menu.

Wine Tourism Information:

Syndicat Viticole des Côtes-de-Castillon
6 Allées de la République, Castillion-la-Bataille 33350

go to part I - St Emilion

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