Red wine is undoubtedly what most people think of when they hear the word Bordeaux. Indeed, Bordeaux can refer not only to a city in France and its surrounding wine region, but also a color – specifically which is pretty close to red. And that makes sense, as the best known Bordeaux wines (including the legendary First Growths of 1855) are almost all red in hue. But while the silky, smooth Merlot-based red wines of the Left Bank and tannic, structured Cabernet red blends of the Right Bank do constitute 90% of Bordeaux’s total production, the region also makes some terrific dry white wines. Let’s take a closer look at Bordeaux’s dry whites – fruity, refreshing and perfect for summertime!
The History of Bordeaux Dry Whites
It might surprise you to learn that just a few decades ago, Bordeaux actually produced more white wine than red. What happened, you ask? Frost. In 1956, the Bordeaux region was hit by a devastating episode of frost, which destroyed most of the vineyards. When it came time to replant them, the châteaux decided to replace the destroyed white vines with red grape varieties, because the latter tended to bud later and were thus less sensitive to frost. The tannins in red wines also lent them a longer shelf-life, meaning that they could be sold over an extended period of time. Today, roughly 9% of Bordeaux wines are dry white wines.
The Grape Varieties of Bordeaux Dry Whites
The majority of Bordeaux dry white wines today are made from a blend of Sémillon and Sauvignon Blanc. These two white grapes varieties account for roughly 90% of the total white plantings, with another 5% dedicated to Muscadelle and 5% to a variety of lesser-used varieties, including Sauvignon Gris, Colombard, Chardonnay, Folle Blanche and Ugni Blanc.
In order for a dry white wine from Bordeaux to be classified in the AOC Bordeaux Blancs Secs appellation, it must contain a minimum of 25% Sauvignon Blanc in its blend. White wines from Bordeaux that do not meet these requirements are labelled Vin de France.
The best known AOC Bordeaux Blancs Secs white wines tend to blend around 70% Sauvignon Blanc and 30% Semillon. Sauvignon Blanc lends the wines its acidity, refreshing mouthfeel, minerality and signature aromas of grapefruit, lemon, honeysuckle and gooseberry. Meanwhile, Sémillon adds its full-bodied and round texture, along with ripe apricot aromas and honeyed touches. These two grapes are a match made in heaven, perfectly complementary in this classic blend.
Where in Bordeaux are Dry White Wines Produced
Dry white wines can be produced all over Bordeaux and classified as AOC Bordeaux Blanc or Vin de France, depending on a series of conditions. Arguably the best known among them come from the appellations of Pessac-Léognan and Graves. Dry white wines from Pessac-Léognan tend to be aged in new French oak and are usually quite rich and oaky, with a fantastic aging potential. This style is exemplified by producers like the legendary First Growth Chateau Haut Brion, which produces two dry white wines.
Entre-deux-Mers is the AOC appellation with the largest white wine production in Bordeaux and is also exclusively dedicated to white wines. Here, the style is very different than in Pessac, with fruitier wines that are meant to be enjoyed in their youth.
Many of the Medoc Classified Growths also produce dry white wines, some of the most famous of which include Pavillon Blanc by Chateau Margaux and Aile d’Argent by Chateau Mouton Rothschild. In Saint-Emilion, white wine production is less popular, yet some chateaux (like Chateau Cheval Blanc) make a blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon.
And finally, in the Sauternes and Barsac appellations (best known for their sticky sweet wines), several chateaux have begun to also produce dry white wines in order to meet market demand. The best known include Y d’Yquem by Chateau d’Yquem, S de Suduiraut by Chateau Suduiraut and G de Guiraud by Chateau Guiraud.
The Signature Aromas and Food Pairing with Bordeaux Dry White Wines
Now that we know about their history, grape varieties and appellations of origin, it’s time to take a look at the best part: the signature aromas of Bordeaux dry whites and how best to enjoy these wines.
Most Bordeaux dry white wines are light and deliciously refreshing, exuding fruity aromas of citrus (lemon, lime, grapefruit), fresh flowers (jasmine, honeysuckle, orange blossom) green fruit (gooseberries, fresh pear) and a touch of minerality (wet concrete, limestone). These wines are absolute must have’s during the warmer seasons, pairing beautifully with classic summer dishes. Try them with freshly shucked oysters, summer salads with avocado and lime, garlic shrimp, grilled white fish or your favorite sushi.
Bordeaux white wines from Pessac-Léognan deserve their own category, since winemaking practices like malolactic fermentation, lees stirring and extended oak aging make them quite different in style from the rest. While still quite vibrant and refreshing, these wines tend to be fuller-bodied and richer on the palate. They offer aromas of baked fruit (apple pie, stewed pears), honeyed fruit, crème brûlée, caramelized ginger, orange marmalade and lemon curd. These bigger, bolder whites will pair with richer dishes, like lobster tail dunked in lemon-butter, baked cod in a cream sauce, crabcakes, grilled chicken or pork loin with mushrooms.
And there you have it: everything you need to know about Bordeaux dry white wines. This summer, try some of these refreshing and fruity gems, from can’t-miss producers like Domaine de Chevalier, Chateau Guiraud and Chateau Lynch Bages!
This is a guest post by Millésima, a key wine merchant of Bordeaux dedicated to private individuals. They propose one of the most comprehensive selections of fines wines from everywhere in the world guaranteeing the quality and the authenticity of each bottle sold.