There are so many great value wines right under our noses that we often miss them as we’re scouring the shelves for something new. Some inevitably are those ‘old’ wines that we just dismiss out of hand for various reasons. Take white Bordeaux for example, easy to dismiss, but what a mistake that might be. There are many lovely examples out there under $12 a bottle that perform exactly as one might hope a value white to perform. Crisp, fresh, easy to drink, modestly complex. These are terrific wines and they are poised for a renaissance, though not without obstacles that must be dealt with!
During a recent virtual tasting, of Vouvray though that is not terribly important, a participant raised an interesting point. While discussing the issues facing Vouvray, it was proposed that perhaps the new world’s preference for varietally labelled wines played some role in the continued struggles for widespread acceptance that some of the wines of Europe face. While that was discounted to a large degree for Vouvray for various reasons, I can’t say the same for white Bordeaux.
How else can you explain away the glaring disconnect between the values the best of these examples offer and their relatively lack of popularity in the US market?
If you want evidence that I’m not alone here you have to look no further than the labels of these wines themselves, many offering up Sauvignon, Cuvee Sauvignon, or in the case of the top wine today 100% Semillon right there on the label. Still, there is a bit of schizophrenia here, seeing as the varietal label continues to play a distant second fiddle to the moniker Bordeaux. All powerful, and deeply imbued with perceived cache, particularly in France, it is proving very difficult indeed for producers to make the full transition to simply varietally labelling these wines, which at this modest price point might prove to be a better long term strategy than continuing to march ahead under the Bordeaux banner.
But that’s for the Bordelaise to figure out. We just have to try the wines to see how much fun they are. Typically a blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon, which adds some waxy fruit notes and richness to the bright, crisp Sauvignon Blanc as it manifests itself in Bordeaux, one might also find a dollop of Muscadelle in a blend, or varietally bottled Sauvignon or Semillon all presented as White Bordeaux.
Historically aged, as most wines were, in wood, this new group of inexpensive white Bordeaux eschews wood ageing entirely, or ages just a part of the blend in neutral wood to add some softness to their finished wines. Chasing the newer style of Sauvignon Blanc, one that is fresh and fruit driven, Bordeaux has essentially revamped their white wines to better compete on the world market, but one thing that they have been unable to change is the simple way the wines are. They are crisp, and cool, decidedly less fruity that many new world interpretations of either Sauvignon Blanc of the admittedly rare Semillon. Herbaceous but rarely grassy, with subtle and at times delicate fruit flavors. I love the beauty and ease of these wines and find that they are particularly adaptable to pairing with food. I paired today’s top wine, the 2012 Chateau la Perriere ($11), with Hawaiian style ribs and greek salad for dinner and it worked perfectly!
So take a look at some of these wines, and if you can’t find my favorites, give a few a try on your own. They are certainly affordable and reflect one of the few opportunities for fabulous food whites, and subtle old world sippers at this price point. Sadly Bordeaux is overflowing with capacity, which of course keeps pricing down, but also creates a very competitive marketplace, forcing producers to continuously up their game. If you haven’t tried white Bordeaux recently I bet you’ll be very surprised by what you can buy for a modest sum! Wines to try and enjoy as summer barrels along towards its conclusion.
While perfect with my ribs white Bordeaux is fabulous with fish, I love it with mussels and clams in particular, but also with white meats and of course fresh veggies. They are perfect for the foods we’re eating right now. You have no reason not to try a few bottles. More experimentation for summer 2014. Wine is all about variety, and this summer has been a doozy! Don’t stop now. Try white Bordeaux!