While the Left Bank and the Right Bank, between the two of them, certainly take most of the national and international spotlight, a number of excellent wines are also to be found in the area that lies between the Dordogne and Garonne rivers in Bordeaux. Called Entre-Deux-Mers, this area produces a dazzling variety of all kinds of wines that, though not exceeding the best estates on the Left or Right Bank, provide good prices and steady quality.
Most famous are the sweet white wines of Cadillac, Loupiac, and Sainte-Croix-du-Mont, but the upfront, approachable red wines of Premières Côtes de Bordeaux, as well as dry whites, also offer good values. The region’s AOC system is not extremely logical, but can be understood fairly easily.
The history of Entre-deux-Mers winegrowing began along with the rest of Bordeaux; it was greatly assisted by the marriage of Henry II to Eleanor of Aquitaine, but did not flourish until the entire Bordeaux industry began to flourish in the 1700s. Even then, it took a back burner to Graves, the rapidly growing Médoc, and to a lesser extent St-Émilion and Pomerol.
For whatever reason, Entre-deux-Mers does not have any villages that rival those on the Left and Right Banks, and so it never reached as high a status as any of the Left Bank areas. However, it has nonetheless been recognized by the French government and various AOCs have been set up to ensure the quality of its wine.
Climate and Viticulture
Entre-deux-Mers is nowhere near as famous or popular as the Médoc, Graves, or either of the Right Bank appellations. The reason lies in its inferior climate. A variety of soils and subsoils, ranging from gravel and clay to limestone and sand, span the Entre-deux-Mers appellation. At first this might seem to be a good thing, but one of the faults of the area could be that it doesn’t have any concentrated deposits of any of those particular minerals. As a result, the fabulous concentration that distinguishes Left Bank and Right Bank wines simply can’t be replicated in Entre-deux-Mers.
But the variety in soils means that a great number of wine styles exist, even if none of them are world-class. In fact, it can be something of a relief from the strict, terroir-dependent nature of Left Bank and Right Bank wines. Right next to a botrytis-filled sweet wine vineyard, one solely yielding fresh, approachable reds might be found. It is this that keeps Entre-deux-Mers a crucial part of the Bordeaux wine market.
Critics have suggested that reds and rosés from the Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, and occasionally Malbec grapes are now the best buys in Entre-deux-Mers. Generally, the reds follow the typical style of a Bordeaux blend, although they of course lack the intensity of a Left Bank grand cru or the soft lusciousness and velvety texture of a St-Émilion or Pomerol. Rosés are less common but also good.
Although reds are becoming increasingly competitive, Entre-deux-Mers remains most famous for its Sauternes-style sweet white wines. As usual, these botrytized examples are made from Sémillon, Sauvignon Blanc, and Muscadelle. As a matter of fact, Muscadelle is used more often in Entre-deux-Mers than it is in Sauternes across the Garonne. Dry whites use the same grapes, usually with a little less dependence on Sémillon.
Entre-deux-Mers accounts for most of Bordeaux AOC and Bordeaux Supérieur AOC wines. There is no way of knowing these wines are Entre-deux-Mers, but it can be safely assumed that they are. Only 25% of these lower-end wines come from the Left Bank or Right Bank, mostly because producers there generally file their wine under a more relevant appellation. Exceptions are largely constituted by the second wines of famous châteaux who sell their Bordeaux AOC based on their name rather than on a label of quality.
These wines are generally very obscure, and usually not too remarkable, although some exceptions can be found with a good bit of digging. Still, the more ambitious producers generally brand their wines under an Entre-deux-Mers subregion; these are covered below.
Entre-deux-Mers accounts for nine AOCs, listed below in order of importance.
- Entre-deux-Mers AOC: Entre-deux-Mers is itself an AOC. This appellation was formed in 1937 for the dry white wines produced in Entre-deux-Mers, largely from the Sauvignon Blanc grape, with Sémillon and Muscadelle also important. Due to the size of the Entre-deux-Mers appellation, it is now one of the hubs for affordable white wine in France. Keep in mind that no sweet wine is labeled under this appellation. The wine is simple in style and focuses on being crisp and refreshing–Sauvignon Blanc’s fans should love the best examples. Château Bonnet is one of the best examples, with wine almost always under $15. Minerally wines from Château Turcaud are equally inexpensive and these two should be credited as leaders of the AOC.
- Premières Côtes de Bordeaux: This appellation was created in 1937 for sweet Entre-deux-Mers. Nowadays, however, the wines from this appellation to buy are the reds and rosés. The rosés are less popular but provide good value when you can find them. The reds follow a simple, very drinkable and approachable style. A standout producer is Château Reynon, which also produces excellent dry white wine. These wines are more costly than Entre-deux-Mers, but not by much; for example, Reynon’s red is often under $15.
- Sainte-Croix-du-Mont AOC: Made AOC in 1936, Sainte-Croix-du-Mont uses its land, the best for sweet wine in all of Entre-deux-Mers, to make most of the leading botrytized sweet whites of the area. They are hard to find and rarely as good as any Sauternes, but the low price of the wines makes them worth seeking out. The wines are usually only modestly sweet, without the famous “decadent richness” of Sauternes, but often quite delicious. Château du Pavillon is a name to remember; Château la Rame is probably the most available Sainte-Croix-du-Mont. Prices, like most of the sweet Entre-deux-Mers, are usually under $30.
- Cadillac AOC: Cadillac AOC has a natural marketing advantage since it shares the name of the American luxury car. The style varies between rich, luscious examples and mildly sweet, gentle examples. Once again Château Reynon makes some of the prime wines of this appellation. Château Manos is also a name to remember.
- Loupiac AOC: Another of the sweet AOCs of Entre-deux-Mers, this one’s wine is actually pretty hard to find in America. Clos Jean is one of the main wines. It was made AOC in 1936.
- St-Macaire AOC: The longhand name for this appellation, granted status in 1937, is Côtes-de-Bordeaux-Saint-Macaire, but it is much easier to remember as St-Macaire. This appellation is very obscure outside France, but nonetheless holds some of Entre-deux-Mers’ best sweet wine bargains.
- Graves de Vayres AOC: Various soil types contribute to solid, well-flavored red wines that have long been considered underpriced. Merlot is used to make approachable, fruity wine, but white wine is also made from Sauvignon Blanc. There are also non-botrytized Sémillon sweet wines. Château Fage makes some of the least expensive red wine, charging only $10 for its simple, Merlot-based chugger. Château Toulouze is another of the prominent names here.
- Sainte-Foy-Bordeaux AOC: Although it has been an appellation since 1937, this area never really gained recognition for its wine.