On Monday April 20th the WING Group met to taste White Bordeaux, courtesy of Kathryn, aided by her lovely assistant Matt. This precise Theme, postponed from February, is one we haven’t covered before – I think.

We think of Bordeaux wine, usually, as red. That wine even has an (English) nickname: claret – and is probably the most discussed, written on and speculated over wine type of all. However there is a significant proportion of white wine from the area – including wines that are highly prized.

I say “significant” – in fact the proportion of white wine is about 11%. Of this 70% is dry and 30% sweet (so 7.8% of all Bordeaux is dry white and 3.2% of all Bordeaux is sweet white). You’ll find white all over Entre-Deux-Mers, between the Garonne and the Dordogne rivers, and some in Blaye but most of the good stuff is along the left bank of the Garonne, south of Bordeaux itself in Graves. This appellation includes smaller enclaves: Pessac-Léognan, Sauternes, Barsac and Cérons; and on the opposite side of the river the mainly sweet wine areas of: Loupiac, Sainte-Croix-du-Mont, Cadillac and Saint Macaire.

The white grapes in Bordeaux are Sémillon, Sauvignon Blanc and Muscadelle, plus a little Ugni Blanc, mainly in the North. 54% of white vineyard area is Sémillon, 36% Sauvignon and  7% Muscadelle. However Sauvignon yields are higher than Sémillon, so there may be similar amount or grape juice fermented. Muscadelle is mainly used as a minority grape in sweet wines.

Dry wines are of two main types – varietal, or near varietal, Sauvignon; and more-or-less equal blends of Sémillon and Sauvignon Blanc. Oak-aging is common in both styles and the wines have greater aging potential than similar styles from elsewhere.

The sweet wines are famously based on Botrytis affected Sémillon – which is typically around 80% of the blend with a little Sauvignon Blanc and Muscadelle. There is a classification system for Sauternes and Barsac – probably the most famous sweet wines of the world – headed by the stratospheric Château d’Yquem.

For this tutored tasting we tasted two Sauvignon dominated dry wines, two Sémillon/Sauvignon blends and two sweet wines – a Sauternes and a Barsac.

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Here are my notes:

Château Doisy-Daëne Sec, Bordeaux 2012
This is 100% Sauvignon Blanc, and the nose reflects that – with a hint of wood that yields herby notes (fennel, celery) in place of the more usual grass tones. Palate has a big acidity rounded by the wood – again – to give a warm, maybe even spicy tone. This is quite long with some power but the wood not quite resolved – yet?

Château La Garde Blanc, Pessac-Léognan 2011
This has a more pungent nose with a compost hint and some oily notes on the nose later. Palate has long citrus acidity and dry mineral finished – slightly more integrated than the previous wine – a better and older vintage? Also there is more richness, coming from – it turns out – 40% Sauvignon Gris, rather than any Semillon.

Drapeaux de Floridène, Graves 2011
This 50:50 blend is the second wine of the one that follows. It has fresh citrus and a slightly sea-spray nose with light woody hints. Palate has nice acidity long but not that deep, a quite pretty, light version of the style, and quite good value at £13.50.

Clos Floridène Blanc, Graves 2011
Although this has a touch less Semillon than the previous wine, that grape is more prominent on the nose. Restrained but complex with citrus, oily notes, and a pithy hint. The palate is slightly salty with mineral and lemon zest notes underpinning a quite creamy palate – rich but structured with a warm pithy finish. Satisfying, interesting and long – rather a different animal to the other dry wines, especially to it’s little sister.

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The Star of the Show?

Château Raymond-Lafon, Sauternes 2008
Butterscotch on the nose but attenuated with hints of peach and passion fruit and only a hint of Botrytis. Palate has a lifting and balanced citrus acidity, soft white fruit and beautifully counter-pointed honeycomb sweetness. Just lovely and very good value indeed at £22. An absolute star!

Château Doisy-Daëne, Barsac 2006
This is a second classified growth. Compared to the previous wine a bigger nose – more toffee and citrus. Very sweet palate with honey and butterscotch balanced by lemon acidity. The sweetness is a little un-integrated compared to the previous wine with a salt-toffee finish that surpasses the acidity. A very good Sauternes, but – for me – showing the problems that all but the best Sauternes show compared to (say) a comparably  priced noble Chenin sweetie. My palate often finds the sweetness too attacking, except with quite specific food – a reservation notably missing with the Raymond-Lafon!

A fabulous and fabulously interesting tasting, Kathryn (and your lovely assistant) – thank you so much.

Until next time…

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