Some of greatest and most expensive red wines and dessert wines in the world come from Bordeaux, France. While these two styles garner most of the attention in this iconic region, the white wines of Bordeaux are often forgotten – but never lost.
Merely 10% of Bordeaux’s production is dry white wine.
The Bordeaux region lies in southwestern France, just inland from the Atlantic Ocean. The region benefits from a coastal influence in conjunction with the Gironde River. The bodies of water lie on either side of the Medoc (meaning “between the waters”) region. They assist in keeping the temperature from getting too hot in summer and too cold in winter. The region’s long, sunny fall days are ideal for ripening grapes.
Topsoil conditions are similar across the region with subsoils that consist of gravel, sand and limestone. This soil structure is very low in organic matter and is a perfect place to grow grapes. These soils produce white wines of exceptional structure and character. Because of the high minerality in the soil, the wines always display strong mineral notes; these are very complex wines with vibrant acidities.
The three white grape varieties responsible are semillon, sauvignon blanc and muscadelle. While each chateau may use varying blends of the three varietals, semillon is most commonly the driver in the blend. Semillon gives the wine its richness and weight. Sauvignon blanc adds a crisp acidic and fresh backbone to the blend. And muscadelle adds aromatics to the bouquet.
Depending on the quality and price point, the blends will shift. The less expensive wines are typically dominated by sauvignon blanc. These entry level wines start at $10 per bottle and offer a unique flavor profile that differs from New Zealand and California sauvignon blancs. While these affordable gems offer a light and crisp wine with classic notes of lemongrass and lemon peel, they are not as tart as their New Zealand counterparts nor as tropical and herbal as their California brethren. Because of the lighter nature of these styles, the wines taste more refreshing and the mineral notes are stronger. These make excellent cocktail wines on warm afternoons and evenings and pair best with lighter fare such as salads, shrimp and lighter fish entrées.
Higher-end white Bordeauxs are a completely different profile, with semillon dominating the blends. These semillon-based wines display differentiating notes. They are also barrel-aged, which adds considerable complexity and richness – and of course the price increases as well. These barrel-aged wines show notes of waxiness, tropical fruits, honey and, as expected, a strong mineral backbone to the finish. These full-body wines require food to balance out the power and are best paired with heavier fish dishes or seafood stews. One might think these wines would be outrageously expensive, considering the cost of the finest red wines, but in actuality, they are sensibly priced, starting at $30.
Alan Cuenca is an accredited oenophile and owner of Put a Cork in It, a Durango wine store. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.