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Cotes de Castillon

Côtes de Castillon is named for the town of Castillon-la-Bataille and the battle that brought an end to the Hundred Years War in 1453. The battle of Castillon, and the death of General Talbot, leader of the English troops, brought an end to the troubles and the domination of the English. General Talbot incidentally was the same Talbot who owned the future Third Growth Château Talbot in Saint Julien. These days those battlegrounds across the rolling hillsides and gentle valleys are covered in vines stretched along the low ridge between Saint Emilion and Bergerac.

The AOC Côtes de Castillon is now one of the most fashionable of all the Bordeaux satellites with several prominent winemakers buying chateaux there. The family Perse of Chateau Pavie, Premier Cru Classé Saint milion has acquired 3 chateaux in the appellation: Chateau Clos l'Eglise, Les Clos Lunelles and Château Sainte Colombe. Count Stefan von Neipperg of Château Canon La Gaffelière, Grand Cru Classé Saint-Emilion, owns Château d'Aiguilhe and Francois Despagne of Château Grand Corbin Despagne handles 5 hectares of Château Ampelia.

The vineyards of Côtes de Castillon cover 7,500 acres and lie east of St Emilion and south of Fronsac on the right bank of the river. Most of the domains are less than 25 acres. Côtes de Castillon rolls down the steep slopes of hills and valleys created by the Garonne and Dordogne rivers that flow through the area. Often facing south or south east, the vines that grow on these slopes have excellent exposure to the sun. The climate is slightly warmer and drier than most of Bordeaux. The soil is clay and limestone on the hilltops, sandy gravel at the base of the slopes and clay and silt in the valleys.

The Côtes de Castillon consists of 9 communes: Belvès-de-Castillon, Castillon-la-Bataille, Saint-Magne-de-Castillon, Gardegan-et-Tourtirac, Sainte-Colombe, Saint-Genès-de-Castillon, Saint-Philippe-d´Aiguilhe, Les Salles-de-Castillon and Monbadon. Wines to look out for are Château d´Aiguilhe, Château Cap de Faugères, Château Castegens, Château Clos L´Eglise, Château Fongaban, Château Lardit, Château Haut-Tuquet, Château Moulin-Rouge, Château Pitray, Château Roquevielle, Château Sainte-Colombe and Château Thibaud-Bellevue.

The region is steeped in history with the ruins of Roman villas lying under early churches and great fortified chateaux in stunning countryside; the name of the commune Belvès-de-Castillon translates as “beautiful view of Castillon”! Vestiges of the Gallo Roman past lie not only in the soil but in the Saints names of the villages: Saint-Magne-de-Castillon owed its growth to the monks who came to settle in large numbers there between the 11 th and 12 th century. It's namesake was Saint Magnus of Avignon - a Gallo-Roman senator.

Saint Genesius, the Patron saint of actors gives its name to the commune of Saint-Genès-de Castillon. Saint Genesius was a Roman actor hired for a play that made fun of Christian baptism. During a performance in Rome, before the Emperor Diocletian, Genesius had a vision of angels whilst on stage and stopped the show. He was killed for his actions.

Saint-Philippe-d´Aiguilhe is home to Chateau d'Aiguilhe whose ruins although plundered long ago clings to a rocky plateau - Aiguilhe means needle in French. Another impressive chateau rising from the crest of a peak is the Château de Monbadon. It's one of the last witnesses of medieval military architecture in Gironde and in 1330 Edward III, King of England gave licence Monbadon to strengthen this stronghold of Guyenne in order to watch over the Dordogne and l’Isle valleys at the beginning of the Hundred Years War. The same family has owned the estate since 1602 with numerous lords, the Barons of Monbadon, succeeding one another in direct line or by marriage.

The region is Merlot based like its surrounding neighbours and its wines have right bank characteristics. The wines can be drunk whilst young but are also able to age and improve with a few years in the bottle. The wines are known for being concentrated, fruity and typified by strong blackcurrant notes. Other flavours are plums, cherry, leather, raspberry and vanilla according to the terroir and the vintage.

These wines pair beautifully with dark neats such as duck, and lamb as well as Italian tomato and pesto pastas, roasted aubergines and moussaka. I would suggest a regional French dish to accompany them such as Alouettes Sans Tête.Despite its name (it means, literally, larks without heads) this dish is actually stuffed beef rolls, or paupiettes as they are sometimes called in France. Because of the long slow cooking time, braising or chuck steak can be used, as well as the more usual paupiette beef topside (top rump).

Alouettes Sans Tête

8 thin slices of beef
8 tsp. Dijon mustard
8 tbsp parsley, chopped
8 garlic cloves, halved
2 thick slices bacon, diced
16 black olives, pitted and roughly chopped
2 tbsp olive oil
2 carrots, finely diced

2 onions, chopped
1 bouquet garni of 6 parsley sprigs, 2 bay leaves, 8 leafy thyme branches, 2 leafy celery sprigs
1 tbsp tomato puree
2 tbsp flour
splash of eau de vie or cognac (optional)
1 cup dry white wine
3 - 4 cups beef stock
kitchen twine
salt and freshly ground pepper
2 tbsp additional chopped parsley

To make the rolls: spread each slice of beef with the mustard. Near the wider end, place the halved garlic, cut side down, lengthwise. Add the diced bacon (about 2 tablespoons per roll), 2 chopped olives, and 2 tablespoons chopped parsley. Roll up the slice of meat snugly around the filling. Tie a loop around the roll at each end. Trim any excess.

Heat the oil in a frying pan and brown the rolls on all sides and remove to a plate. Add the chopped onion and carrot along with a healthy pinch of salt and cook in the pan, stirring until softened (about 5 minutes). Add the tomato puree and cook until slightly charry. Return the rolls to the pan, sprinkle with the flour, and stir about gently until flour is no longer visible. Remove from heat. Sprinkle with the eau de vie or cognac (if using) and ignite. Turn the rolls in the flames until they are extinguished. Return to low heat and deglaze with the wine. Bring to a boil. Add 3 cups of stock and stir gently. Bring to a simmer and reduce heat the lowest possible setting. Cover and simmer, turning the rolls occasionally in the sauce, until very tender when pierced with a knife. This can take up to 3 hours depending on the cut of beef used. Adjust the seasoning, remove the bouquet garni, and delicately snip and remove the twine. Sprinkle with the parsley, and serve immediately.

It seems highly appropriate to name Chateau Talbot as a fine wine to pair with this dish given Talbot's association with Castillon. John Talbot, 1st Earl of Shrewsbury was the only Lancastrian Constable of France and was a seasoned commander having already served in the Welsh War (or the Rebellion of Owain Glyndŵr). Owain Glyndŵr, by the way, was the last native Welshman to hold the title of Prince of Wales and was crowned King of the Welsh. Talbot was a daring soldier and when he was taken hostage at Rouen in 1449 he promised never to wear armour against the French King again, and he was true to his word. The 69 year old Talbot went to battle at Castillon unarmed and met his end in the final defeat at the fortress where Château d'Issan stands today. The victorious French generals raised a monument to Talbot on the field called Notre Dame de Talbot.

Château Talbot has a reputation for consistency and is a charming wine which is silky, fruity and elegant. Talbot embodies all the complexity of its terroir. Its firm, well rounded tannins offer a smoothness still present after years of ageing. The wine is richly aromatic with a bouquet of cedar wood and vanilla scented cassis fruits. Being highly concentrated, it ages very well indeed although it is approachable when young due to its fruit and smooth finish.

Next I would recommend a Côtes de Castillon wine. Chât
eau Cap de Faugères is from the Château Faugères estate and is hailed as one of the up and coming wines from Bordeaux, wine critics have claimed that it is the beginning of a legend. The 140 acre Faugères estate straddles two appellations in the region, with half its vineyards in Saint Emilion and half in Côtes de Castillon.

Being made with a high proportion of Merlot the wines of Cap de Faugères are a luscious velvet style. The wines are full bodied, aromatic and concentrated with blackcurrant, spice, chocolate and floral notes. They are deeply coloured, well balanced and complex. They age well but can be enjoyed young.

And finally I would choose Château Puyanché which is made in the Côtes de Castillon by a family owned property since the turn of the century. It's a dark garnet colour with the aromas of blackberry and plum compotés, leather and spices. Puyanché is a supple, aromatic and complex wine, well balanced and silky and is well worth discovering!

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