When I visited Bordeaux a few years ago I have to say I was so anxious to visit Margaux and St. Emilion that I completely neglected Entre Deux Mers and Graves, best known for their whites. Yet, what did we drink most nights with our fresh Bassin d’Arcachon oysters? White Bordeaux! Recently at my local, Gainesville ABC Fine Wines and Spirits I sampled three significantly different styles and blends of White Bordeaux. I loved them all, but for very different reasons, and all are under $15 per bottle at your local ABC.
Though we think of Sauvignon Blanc, when we think of White Bordeaux, it’s a comparative newcomer to the region, only nudging Ugni Blanc (Trebbiano in Italy) after the scourge of phylloxera ravaged Bordeaux early in the 20th Century. It turns out that Sauvignon Blanc grafts quite well to louse-resistant American rootstock and people like its flavor profile. The other two major grapes are still in use in Bordeaux: Sémillon and Muscadelle. The Sauvignon Blanc gives bright acidity, while the Sémillon has a rounder character with more notes of straw and less grass, while the Muscadelle (not related to Muscat) gives a fruity and floral character. Not every White Bordeaux uses all three, but some of the best representations do. Sémillon and Muscadelle make up the base for sweet Bordeaux wines like Sauternes, Loupiac or Cadillac, since they have a riper character.
The tasting began with the 2011 Alliance White Bordeaux from Sichel. This one has the most Sauvignon Blanc in the blend making it a New World-style White Bordeaux, and also giving it that classic gooseberry nose. Think gooseberries crushed on slate, since there is also a strong minerality to this wine, maybe more mineral than fruit. On the palate I get more of the ripe citrus, with a tart acid finish, but only a hint of grapefruit (this ain’t no Kiwi Sauvy). There is also more fresh-cut grass than a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc might have, and since the Sémillon and Muscadelle are minor players, it is the least floral of the three we sampled. Green apple skins and citrus pith come across more on the finish than sweet fruit, but it makes the wine brisk and refreshing. Of course we can pair it with chevre (the classic Sauvy pairing) but any seafood would work for me as well, and this would be my first pick with the local oysters.
The second wine, the 2011 Chateau Rauzan Despagne Blanc has the perfect three-way blend with about 33% of each of the three grapes. Here I get lime blossoms and green peppers on the nose, leading into gooseberry and white pepper. I’m left with scents of herbs and evergreen with a palate of lemon and granny smith apples. This wine has a chalky minerality on the finish rather than slate. Sourced from the alluvial soils of Entre Deux Mers (literally “between two seas”) it has more limestone and river rock. My first choice of cheese would be the Tommes de Pyrenées aux Poivre, which tastes almost like a havarti with green peppercorns. The seafood I might pair would include more creamy whitefish dishes, since this wine has such a nice mineral acidity to cut through any cream sauce in a pleasant way. This wine was the favorite of most of the samplers at the tasting, and I think it’s because of its equal balance of flavors. That is what makes the perfect blend, balance, and enhancing the strengths of each grape type while mitigating their weaknesses.
The third was the Chateau Trebiac Graves 2010, and that extra year of age changed the dynamic considerably. This was the softest and the roundest of the three, and no doubt part of that is its classical blend of 80% Sémillon and 20% Sauvignon Blanc (no Muscadelle here). With age, the fruit acids have mellowed into lemon rather than grapefruit flavors. The Sémillon gives a slight yellow flower floral character on the nose (therefore more floral than the Alliance, but less floral than the Despagne). I get more fresh cut hay, rather than fresh cut grass, and more lemon rather than lime on the finish. Chardonnay lovers seemed to like this one the best of the three, though it was certainly not a Cali butterball Chard. This one I would pair with Compté, a French Gruyere-like cheese, and maybe roast chicken with lemon and herbs, rather than seafood. There is a classic Old Bordeaux quality to this Graves wine, which is one of the Bordeaux regions that produce equally good reds as well as whites.
All three were delicious White Bordeaux, but they were certainly not the same wines. This makes the pairings different, but that’s part of the excitement. Pick up a couple and see for yourself, and maybe pair with all three cheeses and see if I’m right. All of these cheeses are available in Gainesville at The Wine and Cheese Gallery, on North Main Street but many can be found at your local gourmet grocer. I can tell you that the next time I visit Bordeaux I’ll make sure to visit more of the White Bordeaux areas, and then pick up some of those amazing oysters. Cheers!