Winter nights by the fireplace with a glass of Bordeaux is a classic pairing — for good reason. But counter-intuitive as it might seem, white Bordeaux has its cold season appeal as well. As an apéritif, as an accompaniment for a first course, or just to give your palate a break from heavier wines — crisp, mineral-driven white Bordeaux works in any season.
And, although white wine in Bordeaux is often an after-thought these days, Bordeaux Blanc was once much more of a presence. Believe it or not, a century ago “more white grapes than red grapes were planted in Bordeaux, producing wines that included the sweet whites of Sauternes and Barsac as well as the ocean of dry to semi-dry “vin ordinaire” that was usually labeled Bordeaux Blanc, Entre-Deux-Mers or Graves. After World War II, growers began shifting to red until the amount of Bordeaux Rouge produced went from about a third of the harvest in the mid-20th century to more than 85% by the end.” (The Wines of Bordeaux, Clive Coates)
White Bordeaux is generally a blended wine, mostly of Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon, with a few other varietals such as Sauvignon Gris or Muscadelle. The inclusion of Sémillon is one of the unique features of Bordeaux Blancs. Sémillon brings richness to the final texture of the wine and a honeyed, nutlike note. Top white Bordeaux are also fermented and aged in oak barrels, adding further to the voluptuousness and complexity of the wines.
Bordeaux Blancs can be sublime — quite different from the tropical Sauvignon Blancs of New Zealand. And, much as we love Loire Sancerre, the Bordeaux Blancs are a different pleasure. Hopefully the ratio will re-shift a bit eventually, so that more Bordeaux whites are available.
LEFT BANK WHITES
In the late 1980s, the northern part of Graves, considered the best area for making dry whites, was renamed Pessac-Léognan, after two towns in the region. Today, the area remains the home of more than a few renowned châteaux: Haut-Brion, La Mission Haut-Brion, Pape Clément, Malartic La Graviere, Domaine de Chevalier and Smith Haut Lafitte, to name but a few. All these estates continue to make Bordeaux Blanc — particularly Châteaux Haut-Brion and La Mission Haut-Brion, where the exquisite Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon blends are especially prized and go for $800 a bottle or more.
Perhaps less well known, is Châteaux Carbonnieux, although it is one of the oldest estates in the entire Bordeaux wine region, with a history dating back to the 12th century. In 1990, the estate was purchased by the über-talented Perrin family, owners of Château de Beaucastel, in Châteauneuf du Pape. The Perrins completely renovated the cellars and replanted much of the massive 2,273 acre vineyard. A broad collection of wines is offered, including three highly-regarded whites. The Châteaux Carbonnieux Blanc Grand Cru Classé is typically 70% Sauvignon Blanc and 30% Sémillon, aged 10 months in barrels and wooden casks (25% new oak).
Further north, along the legendary Châteaux Road of Bordeaux’s Left Bank, Margaux produces the highly-rated Pavillon Blanc, almost always 100% Sauvignon Blanc and treasured for its aromas of white peaches and pear with a saline finish.
In Pauillac, Château Lynch-Bages has produced a white wine since 1990, with a blend of three varietals, typically in these proportions: 60% Sauvignon Blanc, 27% Sémillon and 13% Muscadelle. Meanwhile, Château Cos d’Estournel in the northernmost Bordeaux appellation of Saint-Estèphe, produces a blend of 65% Sauvignon Blanc and 35% Sémillon. Interestingly, Cos has increased use of Sémillon over the past years with superb results.
As mentioned previously, Entre-Deux-Mers, located directly east of Bordeaux City, was once almost entirely devoted to the production of white wine and continues to offer up outstanding Bordeaux Blancs. Our personal favorite, Château Thieuley, is owned by two sisters — Marie and Sylvie Courselle. The talented pair blend up two whites, each with Sémillon and Sauvignon Blanc, usually with a bit more Sémillon. Best of all, Thieuley is priced just over $11.00.
RIGHT BANK WHITES
In Pomerol, Ronan Laborde, owner of Château Clinet, recounts the history of his estate, during the Middle Ages. At that time, the Knights of Jerusalem had established hostels throughout the region for pilgrims traveling to Santiago de Compostela. These visitors particularly enjoyed the hearty, locally-produced “white” wine on their arduous journeys.
Ronan continues to make an excellent Bordeaux Blanc, blending Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon, from fruit procured in Castillon, Lussac-Saint-Émilion and Côtes de Bourg. An entry level wine, priced at $11.00, it is a tremendous value.
Still on the Right Bank, but closer to Bergerac than Saint-Émilion, is the up-and-coming appellation Côtes de Bordeaux. Created in 2009 to merge four existing appellations: Côtes de Blaye, Côtes de Castillon, Côtes de Francs and Cadillac, the region is attracting savvy investors and winemaking legends, such as Alexandre and Guillaume Thienpont (Vieux Château Certan), Hubert de Boüard (Château Angélus) and Francois Mitjavile (Château Le Tertre Rôteboeuf).
Château Puyanché, in the Francs region of Côtes de Bordeaux, has been managed by the Arbo family for the past five generations. They produce an exceptional collection of wines, including a Bordeaux Blanc. The Puyanché white is typically 75% Sauvignon Blanc and 25% Sémillon, aged for seven months in oak barrels (30% new oak). This complex, carefully produced wine is a bargain at just under $15.00.
At the higher end of the market, Château Cheval Blanc produces Le Petit Cheval Blanc. This 100% Sauvignon Blanc is aged on the lees for 20 months in equal proportions of demi-muids, foudres and wooden vats. Only a thousand or so bottles are offered annually, so we feel very fortunate to be able to share a few of these with you.
In Sauternes, at the southernmost point of Bordeaux, traditional sweet wines are better than ever. Sadly, however, international consumption of dessert and fortified wine has dropped precipitously. In the U.S., dessert and fortified wine, once 70% of the entire market share, has now dropped to a measly 2%. (Statistics from GildSomm)
Fortunately, growing interest in Dry Sauternes is providing the appellation with a much needed boost. Easier to produce than traditional Sauternes, with their complicated, botrytis-induced harvests, Dry Sauternes are considerably less expensive. Château d’Yquem’s “Y” — undoubtedly the best known of this category — has been available during strong vintages since 1959, and every year since 2004. Recently, many young winemakers have begun producing these beautifully crisp, affordable Dry Sauternes so the category is becoming more readily available.
Below is a collection of Bordeaux Blancs to liven up your winter selections. And, for those of you who can’t be enticed away from vin rouge, we have some exceptionally nice surprises available as well. To order, write firstname.lastname@example.org or call 850-687-1370. Linked products can be ordered directly online.
Bordeaux Blanc – available now
2017 Château Carbonnieux Blanc, Pessac-Léognan. DC-95. $49.99. 24 bottles.
2018 Château Pape Clément Blanc, Pessac-Léognan. JS 98-99. $134.99. 6 bottles.
2018 Château Puyanché, Francs – Côtes de Bordeaux. WE-90. $14.79. 72 bottles.
2018 Château Thieuley Blanc, Entre-Deux-Mers. $11.79. 120 bottles.
2018 Ronan Blanc by Château Clinet, Bordeaux. $10.99. 84 bottles.
2019 “Y” de Château d’Yquem. Sauternes. $129.99. 12 bottles.
2019 Pavillon Blanc du Château Margaux. DC-96. $224.99. 9 bottles.
2019 Château Carbonnieux Blanc, Pessac-Léognan. NM 91-93. $30.99. 32 bottles
The following list is a collection of our “Jewels” – extremely rare vintages with only a few bottles available.
1982 Château Certan de May, Pomerol. JS-97. $299.99. 1 bottle.
1998 Château Lafleur. Pomerol. DC-98. $779.99. 2 bottles.
1998 Château Pichon-Baron, Pauillac. W&S-95. $156.99. 3 bottles.
1998 Château Haut-Brion, Pessac-Léognan. RP-99. $574.99. 3 bottles.
2000 Château Beau-Séjour Bécot, Saint-Émilion. RP-92. $109.99. 10 bottles.
2000 Château Branaire-Ducru, Saint-Julien. WE-95. $129.99. 10 bottles.
2001 Château Pichon-Baron, Pauillac. DC-95. $189.99. 4 bottles.
2003 Château Lafleur, Pomerol. WS-97. $839.99. 4 bottles.
2004 Château Latour, Pauillac. WE-97. $629.99. 5 bottles
2005 Château Beauséjour Duffau, Saint-Émilion. $92.99. 3 bottles.
2006 Château Beauséjour Duffau, Saint-Émilion. $79.99. 9 bottles.
2006 Château Palmer, Margaux. NM-94. $265.99. 10 bottles.
2008 Château Latour, Pauillac. NM-96. $599.99. 9 bottles.
2009 Château Palmer, Margaux. JD-99. $349.99. 4 bottles.
2009 Château Pape Clément, Pessac-Léognan. RP-100. $219.99. 6 bottles.
2009 Château Clinet, Pomerol. RP-100. $339.99. 6 bottles.
2017 Olivier Bernstein Chambertin Clos de Beze. $999. 3 bottles.
2018 Domaine Comte de Vogüé Bonnes-Mares. NM-98. $599.99. 3 bottles.
California – Napa Valley
2000 Abreu Madrona Ranch. $229.99. 1 bottle.
2001 Lokoya Mount Veeder Cabernet Sauvignon. RP-100. $339.99. 2 bottles.
2002 Hundred Acre “Kayli Morgan” Cabernet Sauvignon. RP-100. $499.99. 2 bottles.
2005 Hundred Acres “Kayli Morgan” Cabernet Sauvignon. RP-100. $494.99. 3 bottles.
2006 Colgin “Herb Lamb Vineyard” Cabernet Sauvignon. RP-96. $355.99. 2 bottles.
2006 Colgin Cariad Cabernet Sauvignon. RP-98. $273.99. 2 bottles.
2006 Colgin “Tychson Hill Vineyard” Cabernet Sauvignon. RP-98. $389.99. 2 bottles.
2008 Colgin IX Estate Red. JS-99 WE-99. $419.99. 1 bottle.
2009 Colgin IX Estate Red. JS-99. $419.99. 1 bottle.
2014 Colgin IX Estate Syrah. JS-97. $299.99. 2 bottles.
2015 Sloan Proprietary Red. RP-100. $569.99. 3 bottles.
2015 Bryant family Cabernet Sauvignon. JS-99. $449.99. 2 bottles.
2016 Colgin Cariad Cabernet Sauvignon. RP-100. $499.99. 1 bottle.
2017 Realm Cellars “The Bard” Bordeaux Blend. JD-96. $139.99. 2 bottles
2018 Schrader Beckstoffer “Las Piedras” Colesworthy in Magnum. JS-98. $799.99. 3 bottles.
And, as always, be sure to see more great wine offers and savings at DOUBLE P IMPORTS.