As we move into fall, it’s hard to say goodbye to the crisp, light-bodied whites in condensation-frosted glasses, or the sharp and grassy New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs, or the Sancerres with their notes of citrus and minerality, a perfect match for seafood. For such moments, there’s Bordeaux Blanc, or White Bordeaux, a wine-insider’s secret that bridges the seasons, because it’s most often a blend of Sauvignon Blanc (crispness, summer) and a grape called Sémillon, which has more richness and mouthfeel (coziness, fall).
Bordeaux, to most anyone, including wine people, is red, a high-end blend that can include Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot, and it tends to come at collector’s prices. Bordeaux Blanc, made from Sauvignon Blanc, Sémillon, and sometimes Muscadelle, is lesser-known because it makes up only 7 to 8 percent of the region’s output. However, savvy buyers, including many restaurant professionals, choose Bourdeaux Blanc because it’s usually available at a lower price than the reds from Bordeaux, allowing for a taste of a storied region at a good value. It’s also on the forward edge of a trend: Blends are the second-biggest category in red wine sales at the moment—a juggernaut that some would say has been inspired by the skill of the Bordelais in blending their reds—and industry professionals expect white blends to be next. White blends from the master blenders in Bordeaux, then, are ahead of the curve, and are newly sought-after.
But back to what to pour for dinner tonight. Due to the wide distribution of Bordeaux in general, White Bordeaux bottles should be easy to find at any reputable wine shop for under $20. They’re not all blends (nothing is ever simple with wine)—they might also be made from 100 percent Sauvignon Blanc or 100 percent Sémillon—but asking for a recommendation from the wine seller should secure a good match with your food and evening plans. As a rule of thumb, the bottles from the northern subregions of Bordeaux (including Pessac-Léognan and Graves) contain more Sémillon and are typically richer, pricier, and more age-worthy, and the ones from the southern subregion of Entre-deux-Mers, the largest wine-producing area in Bordeaux, contain more Sauvignon Blanc and are lighter, crisper, and more affordable. The label will often display the region and the percentages.
Your correspondents recently tried a $17 Bordeaux Blanc from Château Ducasse in Graves, a wine in the portfolio of renowned importer Kermit Lynch, which specializes in importing small family-owned wines made in a traditional manner. This particular wine is noteworthy because it has a high percentage of more-expensive Sémillon (60 percent) for a lower price. One of us served it with roasted vegetable tacos (yes, it was Tuesday); the other drank it solo before dinner. We both found the Château Ducasse to be bone-dry, with notes of hay, minerals, stainless steel, and grapefruit pith (classic Sauvignon Blanc flavors), but discerned some fruit, too, specifically pear (from the Sémillon). We judged the wine to be an excellent representation of a Bordeaux Blanc, and felt that the elegant fruit notes were drawn out by the crispy browned vegetables in the taco dinner—delicious!
There’s no need to track down specific bottles—even an average White Bordeaux is pretty good—but a few other finds for under $20 a bottle are Jean Marc Barthez Bordeaux Blanc from importer Mary Taylor; Clos de Lunes “Lune Blanche”; and Château Turcaud Entre-deux-Mers Blanc. Mary Taylor is another importer to know: She focuses on wines that typify the place they come from, and is known for sourcing very well-made wines for excellent prices. Her White Bordeaux, from Entre-deux-Mers, is aged all in stainless steel and has Sauvignon Blanc’s distinctive citrus and herbal flavor, with a touch of richness from its 5 percent of Sémillon. The Clos de Lunes “Lune Blanche” is an entry-level bottle from a storied maker, noteworthy because of the winery’s location in Sauternes, a subregion within Bordeaux that produces the famous dessert wine. At 70 percent Sémillon for under $20, it’s an amazing value, and it has some barrel aging, too. Lastly, the Château Turcaud, from a reputable estate in the heart of Entre-deux-Mers, is nearly 50/50 Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon, and one-third of the Sauvignon Blanc is actually a rare clonal mutation of the grape, a Sauvignon Gris, a cool bit of trivia to wine enthusiasts. At $15 or less, it’s also an excellent value.
We don’t drink this way ourselves at home, at least not on Taco Tuesday, but for people who want to know what a Bordeaux from one of the region’s standard-bearers would taste like, two bottles to seek out are Château Carbonnieux Blanc, from Pessac-Léognan in northern Bordeaux, and Château Smith Haut Lafitte Blanc, from the same region, both for around $40 to $45. Château Carbonnieux is one of the oldest vineyards in Bordeaux, and its legendary, layered white wine is the benchmark of quality for white blends from the region. From Château Smith Haut Lafitte, you’ll get a bottle of white from one of the finest red wine producers in Bordeaux, at a very good price, since the reds start at around $150 a bottle. Château Smith Haut Lafitte’s Bordeaux Blanc is mostly Sauvignon Blanc, but is aged in oak for 12 months “on the lees,” meaning the yeast used to start fermentation is left in the barrel. These techniques produce more creaminess and stone fruit and floral flavors; look for them to balance well with the notes of citrus in the wine.
We should also point out that it’s possible to find a good Bordeaux-style white that isn’t from Bordeaux at all. Many new-world winemakers grow Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon, blending them together in the Bordeaux manner, and these will be just as good with a fall menu or for outdoor drinks on a cool evening. DeLille Cellars in Washington State’s Columbia Valley started blending white Bordeaux-style wines 25 years ago—when an American doing that was still unheard of—and its Chaleur Blanc ($40) is still one of the loveliest white wines of this type from anywhere in the world. We also like the Voyager Estate Sauvignon Blanc–Semillon from Australia, or the L’Ecole 41 Semillon from Washington, both $18. These whites aren’t just for the transition from summer to fall—you can drink them all year long—but they’re particularly lovely right now.
Do you have a favorite Bordeaux Blanc? Share it with us in the comments!