There’s a saying in the Médoc that all the best vineyard sites lie within sight of the Gironde estuary. (Think of Château Margaux, Ducru Beaucaillou, Montrose, etc.)
There’s a lot of sense in that since this huge expanse of water has a major influence on temperatures, air currents, and rainfall. Add to that the importance of slope and soil types on drainage and you can easily conclude that the best vineyards, the very best ones, are on sloping mounds of deep gravels within view of the estuary.
So we wanted to put this theory to the test within the context of the more humble, everyday petit château wines that Rive Gauche Wines likes to specialise in. We put aside a few days and set off to scout for producers with just such a vineyard. It was a memorable adventure partly because the weather up there can be pretty monstrous, even in summer, and we got drenched and baked and blown around in waves for much of the trip, beneath biblical skies. It felt like we had left civilisation behind and gone into uncharted territory. At one point David Bowie’s Space Odyssey was playing on the radio and I remember laughing to myself as I stepped out of the Renault Espace (capsule) into the unknown!
Finally, at the point where the vines peter out and you begin to taste the sea air (the Médoc peninsular narrows at its tip and although you can’t see the Atlantic you know it’s not far), we came across a perfectly placed candidate, Château Bellegrave. On a south and east facing slope with a marked gradient, sitting on deep garonnaises gravels and only separated from the water by about 500m of alluvial prairies, the vineyards of Château Bellegrave enjoy prime position.
This is one of many properties in Bordeaux named Château Bellegrave, and there are also several with similar but slightly different spellings of the name, so you have to know which one you’re dealing with. This is not the 5th Growth in the Haut Médoc, nor the better-known Pauillac or Pomerol. As with many of our wines, this is one you have probably never come across before.
Our producer is the Caussèque family who have farmed this land in the commune of Valeyrac for many generations, and the estate is now in the hands of Célia, who took over in 2016 from her cousin Stéphanie. Unlike further south in Pauillac or Margaux, there is no château as such, just a rustic winery building, but that kind of image – pretty turrets, lush lawns and manicured roses – is not important all the way up here. You pay less money and you get less show, but we want good wine, and this is what the Caussèques do.
The Caussèques produce more than one wine, as well. We are the only négociant to buy their barrel-aged family cuvée (written on the label) so the quality is not the same as the cheaper and lighter version that is sometimes found as an own-label in some markets. We are happy to be the only ones to offer this wine, even though it can be difficult sometimes to explain clearly the point of difference.
One customer who loves this classic, fresh, mineral-laced Médoc, referred to the 2009 vintage as resembling Château Latour (he said it, not us) and certainly the quality is surprisingly good. So why is this wine not at least a Cru Bourgeois? In fact it was in the past but Caussèque family did not appreciate the Cru Bourgeois classification. Simply put, they decided to stop paying each year to participate in a system that didn’t generate extra income. They didn’t get a higher price for their wine with the Bourgeois title, and they are now selling the wine perfectly well without, so why bother?
Bellegrave is a consistent and reliable base claret for a Médoc range. Occasionally they produce an outstanding wine, like the 2009, but each vintage is a real pleasure, and it makes a perfect “club claret” for those who know and love the fine and elegant style of the northern Médoc.
|Château Bellegrave, Médoc, 2011|
|Château Bellegrave, Médoc, 2012|
|Château Bellegrave, Médoc, 2014|