Think of wine from France’s Bordeaux region and almost inevitably red wine comes to mind. This huge, world famous wine region is renowned for the quality of its red wines and some of the world’s most expensive wines are produced here.
However, Bordeaux is not just about red wine. There is plenty of white wine produced in the region, both sweet and dry and because of Bordeaux’s complicated appellation rules some of the best dry white wines are sold under the basic Bordeaux AOC classification making them excellent value for money.
Bordeaux’s white wine producers are best known for their sweet whites. Some of the world’s great names in sweet white wines are produced in the appellations of Sauternes and Barsac. However, there are other sweet white wine appellations worth seeking out which may be less expensive but still enjoyable.
The region’s dry white wines are less well known but still worth sampling. Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc are the dominant grapes and recent advances in wine making technology have improved the quality of the region’s dry white wine substantially, although because of the region’s appellation system it is not always easy to guarantee the quality of the wine.
Sauternes is one of the most famous sweet white wine regions in the world. It is produced using Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc and Muscadelle grapes and is a powerful, deliciously sweet wine. Chateau d’Yquem is the most famous wine estate of this most famous of sweet white wine regions and if you are lucky enough to sample a glass of Chateau d’Yquem you will understand why. The most prestigious Chateaux – Yquem, Suduiraut and Rieussec – are located on small hills by the Ciron river. Here, the mists rising from the river produce perfect conditions for botrytis, or noble rot, essential for the production of sweet white wine. The wines produced by these Chateaux are excellent but expect to pay high prices. However, don’t be tempted to opt for cheap sweet whites sold under the general Sauternes label – look for a named Chateau on the label to ensure a reasonable level of quality.
The smaller area of Barsac produces similarly delicious sweet white wines using the same combination of grapes as Sauternes. The area sits on the opposite bank of the Ciron river and benefits similarly from the mists. Because the soil in Barsac is richer in limestone and sandstone than in Sauternes, the Barsac wines tend to be slightly lighter and more elegant. Sweet white wines sold under the general Barsac AOC label are likely to be more reliable in quality than those sold under Sauternes AOC, but in a typically French fashion of complicating the AOC classification system, Barsac sweet wine producers can also sell their wines under the Sauternes AOC.
Other sweet white wine appellations include Cadillac, Loupiac, Ste Croix-du-Mont and Graves. These wines are produced from the same combination of Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc and Muscadelle grapes but are only partially made from botrytized grapes. These wines tend to be lighter than the best Sauternes and can often be better value to buy.
Despite the dominance of red wine in Bordeaux there are some appellations producing decent dry whites. Graves is probably one of the most famous, producing some classy dry whites from Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc grapes alongside its top quality reds. Pessac-Leognan, one of France’s youngest appellations, neighbours Graves and in fact stole some of its best known wine estates when it was created in the late 1980s. Many of the vineyards in the north of the Graves appellation were producing better quality wines than those located on the poorer land to the south and the variation in the quality of wine sold under the Graves AOC was damaging the reputation of the appellation. It was therefore decided to make a north-south divide and the northern area became the Pessac-Leognan appellation. The gravely soil in the north suits Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc grapes and the appellation is producing some good quality dry white wines.
Apart from the generic Bordeaux Blanc appellation the highest volume white wine producing appellation in Bordeaux is Entre-Deux-Mers. Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, Muscadelle and Ugni Blanc grapes are used to produce rather ordinary dry white wines. The same is true of many of the dry whites sold under the generic Bordeaux Blanc AOC label but you can chance upon a gem if you know what to look for. Because of the appellation rules which dictate the style of wine which can be sold, some prestigious Chateaux in appellations known for red wines or sweet whites are forced to sell their dry whites as Bordeaux Blanc. If you do buy a Bordeaux Blanc, look for a named Chateau on the label and keep an eye out for dry whites produced by famous Chateaux such as Chateau d’Yquem and Chateau Margaux.
Image from Wikipedia by Domenico-de-ga.