The Côtes de Bourg lies just south of the Côtes de Blaye, opposite where the Rivers Garonne and Dordogne merge, 35 km north of Bordeaux. The AOC is comprised of 15 communes: Bayon sur Gironde, Bourg, Comps, Gauriac, Lansac, Mombrier, Prignac and Marcamps, Pugnac, St. Ciers de Canesse, Saint Seurin de Bourg , Saint Trojan, Samonac, Tauriac, Teuillac and Villeneuve. It houses around 500 winemakers, mostly family based and makes white wines as well as red.
The Côtes de Bourg is sometimes called “The Girondine Little Switzerland" as the soils are so diverse that the locals say that "the soil changes at every step". The soils are mostly of clay and limestone but there are mosaics of sand and gravel in the area round Pugnac and the Sienna-red Quaternary alluvium (red marl) can be found lying on the hilltops. The Atlantic Ocean plays an important role in the temperate climate of Bourg and this is aided by the regulation of temperatures by the effects of the Gironde estuary so that unlike many other regions around Bordeaux, this region is basically free of frost and hail.
The Côtes de Bourg has seen a surprising number of new vintners drawn to the area over the past few years. François Mitjavile of the Saint Emilion Grand Cru Tertre Roteboeuf owns Chateau Roc de Cambes and Domaine de Cambes and Bernard Magrez of Chateau Pape Clement owns Chateau Guerry. The wines use the highest percentage of Malbec in Bordeaux and this is the region’s historic grape variety, known locally as Cot de Bourg. Côtes de Bourg sells 85% of its production at home and 15% abroad. The red grapes grown here are Merlot 67%, Cabernet Sauvignon 21%, Cabernet Franc 6%, Malbec 6% and the white grapes are Sauvignon Blanc 46%, Colombard 23%, Sémillon 23% and Muscadelle 8%.
The red wines are an extremely deep purple, with hints of black and are elegantly full-bodied. They have aromas of blackberry jam with touches of undergrowth and spices. Their complexity allows them to age for 5 to 10 years in the bottle, especially when they are aged initially in oak barrels. The whites have only 20 ha in production and are vivacious and full with of citrus, peach, yellow and white flowers. Chateaux to look out for are Château de Barbe, Château Bégot, Château Brulesécaille, Château Clos du Notaire, Château de la Grave, Château Falfas, Château Fougas, Château Guerry, Château Haut-Guiraud, Château Haut-Macô, Château Macay, Château Mercier, Château Nodoz, Château Pexchaud, Château Roc de Cambes, Château de Rousselet, Château Tayac, Château Terrefort Bellegrave and Château La Tuilière.
The Côtes de Bourg is named after the historic town of Bourg sur Gironde and the first vineyards in the area were founded by the Romans. It's thought that Bourg was founded by the Roman General Pontius Paulinus sent by Caesar to install a fort on the cliffs (the Latin for a fortified market town is Burgus). The General's son was to become Saint Paulinus of Nola. Saint Paulinus was educated in Bordeaux, where his teacher, the poet Ausonius, (whose villa is located at Chateau Ausone) also became his friend. Descendants of Paulinus remained in Bourg until the 12th century and the last surviving member, Leontius II, built a troglodytic abbey dedicated to St Vincent at his villa at the point of the rocky promontory in 1124. This was destroyed in 1595 as the cliff collapsed, taking the congregation with it.
Bourg developed around its Roman roots and was an important early commercial centre, subsequently becoming a fortified city (Bastille). It's strategic value lead to Bourg being heralded as the Shield of Bordeaux and the area was ravaged by the Visigoths, Franks, Merovingians, Saracens, Carlovingians and Normans. In the Middle Ages the town of Bourg was a major port for wine and the vineyards developed at the same tempo as the estuary traffic. At the time, the inhabitants of Bourg were fishermen, sailors or winemakers and the latter benefited from the perfect combination of a commercially minded town and a soil made for the vine. Bourg's exports of wine have been important enough to justify the title of “First god-daughter of Bordeaux” and the town has housed Charles VII, Charles IX, Francis and Louis XIV even lived there in 1650.
Louis XIV's time in Bourg gave rise to a speciality: La Figue du Roi (the King's Fig). The legend goes that one day in 1650, when he was out walking in a garden in Bourg, the young King Louis XIV wanted to pick a fig. He was too short to reach it, and a monk lifted him up to help him. Condemned for having dared to touch the King, the monk was soon pardoned by the Queen Mother. The story inspired the creation of the local speciality of a crystallised fig surrounded by marzipan, cream, chocolate and fig spirit.
It seems rather fitting to include a recipe for figs and this is a delicious one:
Chicken with Figs
4 tbsp plain flour
5 skinless, boneless chicken breast fillets
2 tbsp (40g) butter
80ml port wine
125ml dry white wine
125ml chicken stock
6 dried figs (stems removed)
2 tbsp (40ml) thickened cream
Place the flour in a shallow dish. Coat the chicken breasts in the flour. Melt the butter in a large frying pan over medium high heat. Cook the chicken in the preheated pan until golden brown, about 2 minutes per side. Pour the port, white wine and chicken stock over the chicken, and scatter the figs around the frying pan. Bring the liquid to the boil and reduce heat to low; simmer until chicken is fully cooked, about 15 minutes. Remove the chicken from the pan and cover with aluminium foil. Bring the sauce in the frying pan to the boil over medium high heat. Reduce the heat to medium low and simmer for 5 minutes. Whisk in the cream and pour over the chicken to serve.