The French region of Bordeaux is famed and loved for its red wines… But what about its whites? For today’s Wine of the Week, I wanted to explore the unknown universe of the (dry) White Bordeaux – as opposed to the Sauternes, its sweet alternative. Made primarily from Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon and sometimes Muscadelle, the dry White Bordeaux is an age-worthy, complex wine filled with character. Today, a little more than 10% of the vineyards in Bordeaux are used for dry white wine, the rest being mostly red, with a few rosés and sparkling wines. It’s interesting to note that this was not always the case: until the end of the Second World War, half of Bordeaux’s production was white. Now, it is pretty rare to find a Bordeaux Blanc on restaurants’ wine lists – and let’s admit it, that’s a pity.
So let’s zoom in on this forgotten wine. To do so, we decided to call in a French – but more specifically Bordeaux – wine expert and lover: Laurie Taboulet, North American Sales Development Manager at the trading house Cordier Mestrezat Grands Crus.
Why would you say the White Bordeaux is a “phantom wine”?
There are several reasons for people’s unfamiliarity with the White Bordeaux. When one hears “Bordeaux wines”, they often associate it automatically with the reds grown in the region. Bordeaux is well-known for its red wines, but not as much for its whites. It’s a pity, because they are rich and complex wines that offer great diversity. Another reason why these whites can sometimes be left out is the “competition” they face. When picking a white wine, a lot of people would rather go for a Pinot Grigio or a Chardonnay, much more well-known and common than a white wine from Bordeaux. Customers are only enthusiastic and willing to purchase it during blind tastings – in which case they love it.
What should I look for on the label when picking a bottle?
My first piece of advice when reading the label is to look for the word “Château.” I think the hardest part that can be a source of confusion is the label; French wine labels can be a little complicated, and this is especially true for white Bordeaux wines. The “Bordeaux” appellation truly is a brand, easily recognizable and known by most. But some of the best quality dry white Bordeaux wines – aged in barrels – are produced in the Graves and Pessac-Leognan appellations. A lot of people probably see the words “Pessac-Leognan” on the bottle without knowing that it is a wine from Bordeaux.
Does it age well?
White Bordeaux is actually complex and age-worthy, especially the high-end wines from Pessac-Leognan, that age nicely to 10 to 15 years.
Which vintages do you recommend?
2005, 2010, 2012 and 2014 were all great years.
Well Chateau Haut-Brion, from Pessac-Leognan, is a producer that’s widely recognized as the “king of the dry whites,” their white Bordeaux being some of the most acclaimed and expensive bottles. We cannot all afford those wines – Smith Haut Lafitte, Carbonnieux and Latour-Martillac are some of my favorite alternatives.
How about your favorite pairing?
Lobster, definitely. White Bordeaux wines also pair well with fish, especially sea bass, or even a carpaccio. Whatever I pair it with, I always make sure the sauce is not too heavy.
For a full list of appellations for the dry white wines of Bordeaux, visit the official webpage for the AOC of Bordeaux.