Bordeaux (Bor-do) refers to a wine region on the western coast of France. Today, over 90% of Bordeaux wines are red – Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. But this was not always the case.
The Bordeaux region was once home to white wines, Sauvignon Blanc and Sauternes – a sweet white wine. These sweet whites had a prestigious clientele. Also, in the 1700s, a Bordeaux rose, claret (klair-ette), was made popular by the English. It wasn’t until the mid-1800s that Bordeaux reds entered into its own.
But what is White Bordeaux?
White Bordeaux wines are made with Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon grapes. Muscadelle and a few other less-known varietals, such as Colombard and Ugni Blanc, are also used in some blends.
This limpid, pale yellow wine ranges in taste from energetic and fresh from places like Entre-Deux-Mers to creamy and lemon curd-like from places like Pessac-Leognan.
The area between Bordeaux’s two major rivers, the Garonne and Dordogne, is called Entre-Deux-Mers. This region is a French appellation that produces both white and red grapes. The name means, Between 2 Tides.
By law, the Entre-Deux-Mers designation is given only to dry white wines blended from three-grape — Sauvignon Blanc, Sémillon, and Muscadelle. Luckily, all three varietals flourish in the terroirs of the plateau and valley. The abundant clay and limestone are perfect for growing wine.
Wines from this area have a pale gold color and are light and fruity. Immensely sippable and affordable, the White Bordeaux from this region exhibit notes of grapefruit, lime, grass, basil, and stone fruits. It has higher acidity, pairing it well with fish, grilled food, and warmer summer temperatures.
Romans first planted the Pessac-Leognan, and Graves region with grapes roughly 2,000 years ago. Pessac-Leognan, Graves has Bordeaux’s hottest micro-climate with a harvest season well before the other regional appellations.
Pessac-Léognan is considered the cradle of dry white Bordeaux wine production. Named for the gravelly soil, the area is known for producing several styles of white wine.
White Bordeaux from this area, made predominantly of Semillon grapes, has a deeper, more opulent feel on the palette. To add to its complexity, many white Bordeaux wineries age their wines on lees, which matures white wine on top of spent yeast. This aging process gives the wine a distinct full-bodied taste with creamy or nutty flavors.
The Semillion grape grown in the clay and pine-tree-centric terroir imparts notes of baked apples, pears, figs, and crème brûlée. The grape blend also softens the citrus notes into carmelized grapefruit, orange zest, ginger, lemon butter, and chamomile.
White Bordeaux’s food-friendly approach results from the wine’s citrus notes — pairing with any food containing lime, lemon, or basil. Additionally, Bordeaux Blanc pairs well with cheeses, fatty and spicy foods, or butter and cream sauces. This open relationship with food is particularly true with the sweeter bottles.
Related: Food and Wine: Whites
Yes, Bordeaux Blanc translates into White Bordeaux. But white Bordeaux wine is also produced in other appellations. And there are differences.
The difference is usually evident in the wine’s cost, but a closer look at the label will indicate the varietal’s pedigree.
Because of the French AOC laws governing the planting and blending of wines, white Bordeaux may be Bordeaux Blanc, but not all Bordeaux Blanc is AOC White Bordeaux. For example, White Bordeaux wine is also produced in other appellations, and a white Bordeaux wine from the Medoc region must be labeled and sold as a generic Bordeaux Blanc.
The white wines of Bordeaux offer seductive aromas, almost foolproof pairings, and a brilliant affordable opportunity to taste the best of Bordeaux’s terroir and some of the oldest grape vines in the world. And unlike other white wine styles, thanks to the Sauvignon Blanc and Semillion grapes and the French wine-making process, the French region’s best whites are uniquely age-worthy.
What’s better than great wine and artisanal pizza?
The New York Times described Ridge Monte Bello as “America’s greatest Cabernet Sauvignon.”
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