This article was previously published in Forbes on October 6, 2016.
Why have consumers generally ignored white Bordeaux? There’s a degree of absurdity to the fact that while wineries everywhere — in Australia, New Zealand, the U.S, etc. — strive to emulate this classic region, bottling Sauvignon Blanc with Sémillon to create “Bordeaux-style blends,” the original flounders and languishes on shelves. And it’s even more astonishing, giving the spectacular rise in popularity of Sauvignon Blanc, that many drinkers of the variety don’t connect the grape back to its spiritual homeland in France.
I attended the “Somm’ Like It Bordeaux” tasting last week at Sons & Daughters restaurant in NYC. In total, the Bordeaux Wine Council presented thirty-six very good wines, but the six that stunned me were white. They were fresh, lively, aromatic, intensely flavored and all around f’ing delicious. And isn’t delicious drinkability what we want in our glass? I kept thinking “If I didn’t live in a ridiculously tiny NYC apartment, I could order a case of this. And this. And also this one. And probably this one, too. I really need to move.” Several examples achieved that elusive balance between precise acidity and creamy texture, and they all demonstrated versatility with food. For an average cost of $20, producers over-delivered on taste and complexity. So, if you’re tired of Chardonnay, drink white Bordeaux. If you’ve had enough NZ Sauvignon Blanc, drink white Bordeaux. If you’re looking for a white with enough heft to pair to heartier autumn foods, try white Bordeaux. These wines solve a lot of conundrums and should be household staples. So why aren’t people drinking white Bordeaux?
In the 1950s, dry whites represented 60% of Bordeaux production. Today, they make up a fraction of that number at 7-8% with the rest given over to red. The turn to vin rouge came in the ’70s, largely due to changes in consumer preference coupled with commercial viability; growers responded by ripping out white varieties to plant Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. But the partnership of Sémillon and Sauvignon Blanc, with the occasional dollop of Muscadelle, is a classic for a reason. Sauvignon brings crisp acidity, herb and fruit flavors, and expressive aromatics, while Semillon adds body, ageability and a textural honeyed roundness.
The finest white Bordeaux (for many, measured by journalists’ scores and price tags), derive from Pessac-Léognan and Graves. Pessac wines are often oaked, expensive, and capable of improving in the bottle for decades. Producers like Château Haut-Brion, Château Pape Clément, Château Carbonnieux are household names for oenophiles and make exceptional examples. Alternatively, those who venture into the area of Entre-Deux-Mers can find charming, easygoing, and extremely affordable whites.
With the mantra “drink white Bordeaux” in mind, listed below are my tasting notes on the six bottles I sampled last week. If you can’t track these down, don’t worry; a bevy of options exist in the market at great prices. For a change, Bordeaux Blanc offers the chance to pay a better price for an original than a copy.
Clos des Lunes “Lune d’Argent,” Bordeaux, 2014, $20
Delightfully vivid and aromatic, notes of grapefruit, white flowers, and clementine marmalade flecked with vanilla, pop from the glass. Medium-bodied, slightly waxy in texture, but full-flavored, shows great tension on the long, mouthwatering finish. This zesty wine would pair well to a seafood ceviche with mango and habanero, or fried soft-shell crabs.
Clos Floridene, Graves, 2011, $25
A vibrant hue of yellow-gold, this fuller bodied, lively wine offers a breath of fresh-snipped herbs and gooseberry layered behind grapefruit, golden apple, and lanolin. Beautifully balanced, the Sauvignon Blanc adds verve, the Semillon, roundness and texture. Try with spicy coconut mussels or spinach-stuffed chicken breast.
Château Moulin de Launay, Entre-Deux-Mers, 2014, $14
Like perfume for the wrist, this affordable, fragrant wine impresses with its orange blossoms, peaches, pears, and spritz of mandarin on the nose. Packed with sweet fruit, the palate balances flavor with a bright line of tension, finishing long and round. Would pair nicely with grilled fish or autumn rice salad with dried fruits and nuts.
Château Auney l’Hermitage, Graves, 2014, $29
Concentrated with mouthwatering freshness, this layered wine offers aromas and flavors of honeycomb, pithy citrus, and white flowers with a zip of chalky minerality on the brisk finish. Delicious now, but will further integrate and evolve with more time in bottle. A great partner to sushi or lemony veal piccata.
Château Peybonhomme-les-Tours, “le Blanc Bonhomme,” Côtes de Bordeaux Blaye, 2014 $22
This 50/50 blend of Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc mingles ocean spray minerality with golden apples, fresh herbs, and lemon custard to build a racy, yet exuberant wine. Texturally rich, but still fresh with a long finish, this should convert Chardonnay drinkers to white Bordeaux. Would go well with chicken with mushrooms or linguine with bottarga.
Château les Charmes-Godard, Côtes de Bordeaux Francs, 2014, $20
More mineral-driven than overtly fruity, this dynamic wine shows green, grassy flavors mixed with a dollop of orange marmalade and beeswax. Clean and taut with great focus from start to finish, at a nice price point. For a classic pairing, serve with a seafood tower or seared scallops with brown butter.