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Take a little detour into white Bordeaux

September 17, 2018

Bordeaux immediately evokes French, red, expensive. One should remember that Bordeaux, unlike Burgundy, produces a great deal of wine, and it is more diverse and prolific. Bordeaux is the name of the largest city in Nouvelle Aquitaine. The wine region is quite a bit larger in scope than just the city, encompassing both coasts of the Gironde estuary and extending to the Atlantic on the west where one finds lovely Cap Ferret and its oyster shoals, and wonderful waterfront wine and oyster bars. The movie “Little White Lies” was shot here. “Les petits mouchoirs” refers to the French expression, “le mettre dans la poche avec le mouchoir,” meaning to put something in your pocket with your handkerchief on top of it, to keep something hidden, try to forget about it. I enjoy French movies because many of the players resemble real people, unlike Hollywood’s always young, skinny, busty, muscular, shaped pretty girls and boys with ultra-white teeth, chiseled chins and/or pert, upturned noses. Gerard Depardieu and Marion Cotillard would likely still be playing summer stock if they started here. Hollywood is gradually coming around to homely people with great talent though. Wow! Did I get off track or what? 

So, today it’s about some under-reviewed but wonderful white wines of Bordeaux. I betcha didn’t know that many of these are very expensive. You are likely unaware that prior to the great frost of 1956, about 50 percent of Bordeaux production was white, primarily Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc, Muscadelle and Sauvignon Gris, with a smattering of Colombard, Folle Blanche, Ugni Blanc and assorted varietal grapes in field blends. Inquisitive folks can read an in-depth look here: thewinecellarinsider.com/wine-topics/guide-white-bordeaux-wine-chateaux-taste-character-grapes.

Probably the most famous Bordeaux white is Sauternes. Sauternes is not a varietal grape but a blend and region name. Generally speaking, Sauternes are sweet, and the ill-informed often label them as dessert wines.

I am sad that more folks don’t try Sauternes. They are one of the most multifaceted wines, satisfying anything acidic, beef filet, foie gras, several fish presentations, cheese, fruit, veggies and many types of desserts. You see, they also have lots of balancing acidity. Today, however, it is about the ne plus ultra, by reputation, of Bordeaux dry white, Chateau Haut-Brion Blanc.

Haut Brion, in Pessac Leognan, formerly part of Graves (say Grahv, the “s” is silent), is where most of the best dry white Bordeaux originates. The regional boundary change occurred in 1987. These will run up to $1,600/bottle. Since 2003, Haut Brion Blanc has been rated 94 points or better by most of the likely suspects, with 2009, ‘10, ‘11 and ‘14 coming in at 95. My guru Jancis Robinson loves the 2014 and ‘15, awarding 18 points. That’s an RP 105. Sadly, I have not sampled the ‘14 and ‘15. Too many wines, too little time.

Other names from Pessac Leognan producing great but expensive dry whites are Domaine de Chevalier, Smith Haut Lafitte, Malartic Lagraviere, La Tour Martillac, Haut Bergey and Carbonnieux.

A word to the wise. Although these whites normally age for decades, recently there has been some alarm. Problems with aging white Bordeaux due to premature oxidation, Premox, were uncovered around 2003.

Bordeaux issues are not as widespread as in Burgundy and other locations worldwide, but this can be a problem worth knowing about as it affects most types of wine held for aging. For more on premox, go to wineandspiritsmagazine.com/news/entry/post-premox. Another good read is Premox by Lewin on Wine.

This issue is very important for cellarers and resellers, but is also a worthwhile read for winos of every stripe. Of particular interest to me was a remedy being explored. Samples of each vintage are enclosed in an ampule for evaluation of the wine, as it should be, over time. To date, evaluation outcome is premature.

OK, here’s an affordable winner to sample: Denis Dubourdieu (Decanter’s Man of the Year) Clos Floridene Blanc Pessac Leognan 2010, 91 points, perfect now, can be found under $35.

The 2011, also 91 points, is a bit easier to acquire at about $30. It shows straw, citrus, gooseberry and chamomile aromas, long finish with quinine and butter aftertaste. Very dry, great shellfish wine. I promise less gabbing and more reviews next week.