The Inside Story from Italian Wine Merchants

A Look At Bordeaux, Part 2: Bordeaux’s Dry White Wines

Posted on | December 3, 2014 | Written by Robin Kelley OConnor | No Comments

unnamedFor part one of this series, go here:

What are the circumstances that have allowed the Bordeaux wine region to produce such outstanding wines for centuries? The short answer is the terroir. Bordeaux vineyards sit on the 45th parallel in Southwest France, right up against the Atlantic Ocean, giving Bordeaux a mild oceanic temperate climate. The same Gulf Stream that goes up the entire East Coast of the United States and the Maritime Provinces of Canada wanders across the Northern Atlantic and eventually makes its way to the Atlantic coast of France and, eventually, Bordeaux, where it warms and regulates the region’s temperatures. Just off Bordeaux’s coastline is a pine forest that acts as barrier protecting the vineyards against the sometimes harsh weather of the Bay of Biscay, a site known to have some of the Atlantic’s fiercest weather.

The winters in Bordeaux have a low risk of frost; the springs are wet with occasional frost scares; summers are warm; and the autumns have been reliably for optimal grape ripening over the last 30 years. Along with the weather, the soils and geology is a great asset to Bordeaux’s wine-growing success, contributing to the diversity of characteristics in the wines. On Bordeaux’s Left Bank, which covers the areas of the greater Médoc, Graves, Pessac-Léognan, Barsac and Graves, the well drained soils consist of gravel, sand and some clay. Bordeaux’s Right Bank, which covers a wide range of appellations including most of the Bordeaux, Bordeaux Supérieur, Côte de Bordeaux, and Saint-Émilion-Pomerol-Fronsac, has soils composed of wet limestone, moist clay, and smaller amounts of sand and gravel. Above all, the Bordelaise have figured out of long periods of time what grape varieties to plant in the right soils.

unnamed-1Although best known for its red wines, Bordeaux has been making dry white wines for centuries. Interestingly enough, in the 1950s 60% of Bordeaux production was white wine. Today red wine dominates, accounting for 89% of the total production. In 2013, the total planting of vines dedicated to making dry white only represents 8% of the vineyard area.

There are two main styles of whites that Bordeaux produces. One is well structured, complex, highly aromatic whites that have the ability for eight or more years of aging, particularly the white wines of Graves and Pessac-Léognan. The other style is those whites that are fresh, fruity with lively acidity and made for immediate drinking.

unnamed-3At the core of the Bordeaux whites are the major grape varieties Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon, with a supporting role coming from the Muscadelle grape. Sauvignon Blanc generally leads the charge for the Bordeaux white wine blend. The first reference of Sauvignon Blanc in Bordeaux dates back to 1736, which suggests it’s an indigenous grape. Sauvignon Blanc is vibrant, fresh, and flavorful, with wonderful aromas of citrus, fresh cut grass and hay, along with hints of dry herbs. It can make powerful and complex wines, as well as wines that are early drinking and fresh.

The wonderful Sémillon grape brings beautiful color to the wine, and it also offers finesse and smoothness. Sémillon makes up 52% of all white variety plantings in Bordeaux, and the region’s producers use Sémillon to produce both dry white and sweet white wines. When young, a Sémillon wine’s aromas are subtle and restrained, with notes of peach, acacia, nuttiness, but with some age, this wine develops roundness, opulence, texture, and complexity with a bouquet of honey, wax, apricots, pear and mango. Sémillon makes a white with amazing aging potential.

Bordeaux dry whites are some of the greatest wines produced on earth, but for some unknown reason, they remain a hidden secret. As a Bordeaux authority, a Certified Wine Educator, and a big fan of these wines, I take it as my mission to spread the word about these incredible evocations of Bordeaux’s unusual, extraordinary terroir.

To continue to learn more about this fascinating wine region, check back for further installments.


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