When we think of Bordeaux wine most of us immediately think of its famed red wines. Maybe it is time to take a more serious look at what the Bordelais are doing with dry white wines, because dry white Bordeaux is making a strong comeback.
I specifically refer to 'dry' in my post as, after red wine, Bordeaux is most noted for its noble, sweet white wines, Sauternes and Barsac. Dry white Bordeaux wine is typically a blend of the same three grape vareities, namely Sauvignon Blanc, Sémillon and Muscadelle. Production is tiny compared to red wine. Dry white Bordeaux only accounts for about 8% of all Bordeaux wine production.
Understanding the Label for White Bordeaux
There are far fewer commune designations (i.e AC or AOC) for white Bordeaux than for Red Bordeaux. Most white Bordeaux is sold under the regional designation of AC Bordeaux. Two left bank communes, Graves and Pessac Leognan, which are considered to produce the finest dry white Bordeaux, have commune designations for white as well as red wine. Producers in these communes can label their dry white wines as AC Graves or AC Pessac Leognan respectively. In contrast the famed Médoc communes of Margaux, Pauillac. St. Estèphe and St. Julien are only designated AC for red wine. Producers of dry white wines in these communes must lavel their wines with the regional put AC Bordeaux designation.
While these more lauded areas produce some dry white Bordeaux, most of it is produced in the larger vineyard area of the 'Entre-Deux-Mers'. The Entre-Deux-Mers is situated between the two rivers, the Garonne and the Dordogne, that separate Bordeaux's left bank (notably the Médoc communes) from the right bank (notably the communes of St. Emilion and Pomerol). This large area is home to the production of much of Bordeaux's lighter, easier-drinking red and white wines. Within the Entre-Deux-Mers there are a number of sub-appellations such as Sainte-Foy, which is a small area that is quietly building a reputation for very good, value Bordeaux wines. In fact, one of my favorite everyday white Bordeaux wines comes from this area (See below).
White Bordeaux Grapes
As indicated above, white Bordeaux wines are blends of Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon with a small percentage of the more aromatic Muscadelle. Sauvignon provides aroma, acidity and fruit, Sémillon adds texture (think lovely beeswax), weight and some citrus aromas, and Muscadelle adds exotic notes and a touch of spice.
Styles of White Bordeaux
In my opinion, there are three main styles of white Bordeaux. These are:
- Fruity and aromatic, crisp, easy drinking, unoaked wines made predominantly from Sauvignon Blanc. Lovers of racy Sauvignon Blanc wines will love this first style.
- Subtle aromatics, with more emphasis on structure and texture. Unoaked and crisp, but more complex with a higher percentage of Sémillon and Muscadelle. This is a lovely alternative to an unoaked Bourgogne Blanc or Chablis.
- Oaked, richer, rounder style, typically made from a blend of all three varieties. These are usually the more expensive and most age-worthy of dry white Bordeaux. This style is a good option for those whose preference is for more serious, white Burgundy (but at a more attractive price).
Given the diversity of style, dry white Bordeaux is actually very versatile at the table. The lighter styles are wonderful on their own, or with nibbles, while the richer styles can complement a variety of fish, poultry as well as veal or pork dishes.
Dry White Bordeaux Wines Under $20
This week I bought a selection of dry white Bordeaux wines under $20. Here are some notes on those that I liked.
• 2009 Chateau Marjosse, Bordeaux AC (A Pierre Lurton wine), $15 - A blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon, with about 10% Muscadelle. Pale lemony color. Quite intense nose of gooseberry, lime zest, orange peel and passion fruit. Dry, crisp with refreshing and lively youthful flavors similar to the nose. Very juicy texture, with a moderately long finish that has a spicy, warm kick.
• 2009 Chateau Sainte-Marie 'Vieilles Vignes' Source de Passion, AC Entre-Deux-Mers, $14. A blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon with a small percentage of Muscadelle. Restrained nose showing notes of hay, smoke and a flinty minerality. Dry, crisp and refreshing. Appealing beeswax texture. Quite good flavor intensity of orchard fruit, apricot, lemon curd and delicate citrus notes. Lots of minerality, especially on the finish.
• 2009 Chateau du Champ des Treilles Vin Passion, AC Sainte Foy-Bordeaux, $16 - An equal blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Sémillon and Muscadelle. Refined aromas of creamy citrus, apricot, tangerine and honeysuckle. Dry, vibrant acidity and a delicious texture that is both juicy and creamy. Lots of minerality persists across the palate and on the finish. Very good flavor intensity and long length. This wine has long been a favorite in our house and I am delighted that the 2009 vintage does not disappoint.
• 2009 Chateau de l'Emigré, Graves Blanc, $15 - A blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon, the wine opens up with a lively cocktail of citrus fruit, spice and a hint of smoke. Wonderfully dry, crisp with lively flavors of white cherry, tangerine, apricot cream and hints of bay, laurel and anise. Fairly light-bodied, with a juicy, fresh finish.
• 2010 Chateau Graville - Lacoste, Graves, $18 - A blend of Sémillon, Sauvignon Blanc and a dash of Muscadelle. This was the only 2010 that I tasted and the fruit was noticeably more youthful. Very aromatic nose, typical Sauvignon Blanc, with aromas of gooseberry, passion fruit, citrus and grassy notes. Dry with a creamy texture and crisp acidity. Vibrant youthful flavors carry through with ample zesty citrus fruit, gooseberry with a kick of spice and smoke on the finish.
These are but a few of the many offerings of white Bordeaux available around the country. I would love to hear from reader fans of white Bordeaux.
Until next week enjoy!
Mary Gorman-McAdams, MW (Master of Wine), is a New York based wine educator, freelance writer and consultant.
(Images: Mary Gorman and CIVB (Official Bordeaux wine website)