Immediately across the Gironde from the superstars of the Medoc lies probably the least well known part of Bordeaux. There, at the sea end of the Right Bank, you find Côtes de Bourg and the Blaye part of the Côtes de Bordeaux.
Small, family-owned estates abound here – often run by ambitious and imaginative winemakers priced out of more prestigious Bordeaux areas. The soil is limestone and clay with little of the Medoc-style gravel. As clay warms up more slowly than gravel, the earlier ripening merlot is king in Blaye (as it is in St-Émilion further east) but, nevertheless, hot, dry summers are needed for the wines to give their best.
While higher, sunnier sites in neighbouring Côtes de Bourg do allow cabernet sauvignon to ripen – and, consequently, provide some structured and serious wines – both Blaye and Bourg are now acknowledged as the source of increasingly impressive, well-priced reds. They often have better acidity, fewer oak influences and softer tannins than those from other parts of the region. Like most Bordeaux wines, however, young vintages should be given plenty of air.
For a good yet inexpensive example of the style, take a look at 2012 La Patrie Côtes de Bordeaux Merlot (£8.50 at Sainsbury’s) with its balanced black cherry and bramble fruit, vanilla, neat acidic edge and savoury tannic grip. Alternatively, Blaye’s 2011 Château Segonzac (£10.49 at Waitrose) gives soft plum and cherry flavours with lively acidity, good density and hints of chocolate, allspice and vanilla.
My pick of the region’s accessible wines, 2009 Château de Passedieu (£7.59 – instead of £9.49 until 12 May – at Waitrose) is from the Côtes de Bourg. Its extra couple of years of ageing has helped it develop a smooth depth supported by clove and chocolate influences which adroitly underpin its rounded graphite touches and the ripe, merlot-influenced, cherry fruit. n
2012 Calmel & Joseph Saint Chinian
Languedoc, France, 14 per cent
Sandwiched between Minervois and Faugeres, the Saint-Chinian region has a number of soft, herby, bramble-charged reds like this. Blended from syrah, grenache and carignan, it provides an acidic edge and touches of spice to enhance the pleasing, robust substance and associated suggestion of graphite.
(£9.99 – instead of £12.99 – until the end of this month at Ellies Cellar’s seven shops in central Scotland)
2012 Surani Pietrariccia Fiano
Salento, Italy, 13 per cent
In recent years southern Italy has made serious progress with its indigenous fiano grape – which, apparently, the local bee kingdom loves above all others. This example gives you a light, floral, perfumed white wine with an attractive, spicy orange depth, but a lemon-influenced edge which provides a fresh, gently acidic backdrop. Full marks to the bees then.
(£7.49 at Majestic, where minimum purchase rules apply)
• For regular recommendations on sensibly priced wine, go to my new website at MidWeekWines.co.uk