Food & Drink

Dry White Bordeaux, Crisp, Complex, and Neglected

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A Vineyard in Bordeaux
A Vineyard in Bordeaux

A friend called me the other evening, she was enjoying a glass of wine and wanted to know if there was a Bordeaux grape. I was momentarily taken aback as I perhaps wrongly assume that most wine drinkers know the three main grape varieities that go into red Bordeaux: cabernet sauvignon, merlot, and cabernet franc. But when she mentioned it was a white Bordeaux, a whole new avenue of consideration opened up. My first thought was how long it had been since I deliberately sought out a white Bordeaux. Next, that it might surprise some wine lovers to know that they’re produced from sauvignon blanc, semillon, and, in some cases, a small amount of muscadelle. After concluding our conversation, I realized my interest had been piqued. I’d have to start looking for some of these wines to try.

That’s when the difficulties commenced. The shelves of French white wines in most stores I searched are filled with wines from Burgundy, the Loire, and Alsace but often not a single Bordeaux. And when there is one, it is usually an Entre-deux-Mers. Not that there is anything wrong with Entre-deux-Mers and since it is the largest area within the Bordeaux region and the wines are relatively low priced, it’s a good place to start.


This area to the east, and mostly south, of the city of Bordeaux gets its somewhat fanciful name, which translates as ‘between two seas’, from its position between the Dordogne and Garonne rivers. Although it is still possible to find pleasant, tasty wines from this appellation for $10 and even a bit less, one consistently reliable label is Chateau Bonnet ($17). The 2007 has a flowery, mineral, and slightly citrusy profile. Surprisingly, in addition to sauvignon blanc and semillon it has a higher percentage of muscadelle (10%) than the average.

Another way of looking at the Entre-deux-Mers appellation is that, along with such Bordeaux appellations as Moulis, Fronsac, Listrac and others, it does not claim any classified growths. These are the wines such as Chateau Latour and Margaux and Ducru-Beaucaillou and Pichon-Lalande that we all hope to drink as much of as we can. And they, in turn, indicate something about the qualities of the appellations they come from, which include, from north to south, St. Estèphe, Pauillac, St. Julien, Margaux, and Graves.

Now Graves is the place to go looking for lively, flavorful, interesting dry whites. One perennial favorite is Chateau Graville-LaCoste. While similar to the Chateau Bonnet, it has a creamier texture, more complexity, and finesse ($17).  The minerality is more definite, the fruit more nuanced.

Despite how satisfying the Graville-LaCoste was I was still looking for some of those names I remembered from decades ago. Where was Malartic-Lagravière, La Tour-Martillac, de Fieuzal, or La Louvière? Why, judging from their absence on store shelves, are these wines so out of favor?  I got one answer from a successful retailer I’ve known for years when I stopped at one of his stores. He could remember when he was able to sell the white wine of Chateau Lynch-Bages, for instance, for a reasonable enough price, but when wines such as these hit the sixty dollar mark, his customers looked for alternatives.

Neverthless, I persisted in my quest which didn’t yield the results I wanted but did lead to something of a surprise. Although I was seeking out chateau-bottled wines, I came across the Reserve Speciale Bordeaux (white) from the Barons de Rothschild. There is no indication on the label of where in Bordeaux the grapes are grown or where the wine is bottled. It turned out to be a delightful, well-made wine, a blend of semillon and sauvignon blanc only. It has a vivid crispness balanced by subtle, but sufficient fruit, and a tantalizing finish ($18).

To make things timely, white Bordeaux makes an excellent aperitif for Thanksgiving. Maybe you should get some oysters too.

While on the subject of Bordeaux, I might as well mention running across a Bordeaux rosé recently, one from a bona fide chateau, a first for me. However, the 2007 Rosé de Phélan-Segur, a property in Saint-Estèphe, was a shade too bitter and not redeemed by sufficient fruit for my tastes.

1 thought on “Dry White Bordeaux, Crisp, Complex, and Neglected

  1. The latest vintage, 2010, has brought a quality that, across the region, is very high. A raft of lesser known Cru Bourgeois and Petit Chateaux have produced beautiful wines, at accessible prices. Wines that have something to say about the place in which they are grown. As money chases the big guns, such chateaux have been widely hailed as offering some of the best value to be found in the fine wine market.

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