Bordeaux Blanc: The "Other" Bordeaux is a Great White Wine for Now and Later

Sancerre?  Yawn.  Chardonnay?  Ho-hum.  Albarino?  So 2007.  Looking for a new summer white to pair with fish, grilled veggies, and salads?  Something fresh, different?  Something crisp enough to sip in the sun, solid enough to drink with dinner, and complex enough to enjoy on its own?  Look no farther than Bordeaux.

Yes.  Bordeaux.  Bordeaux’s red and dessert wines get so much press that many people don’t realize that the celebrated region produces dry whites as well.  These wines – which often go by the name Graves, Pessac-Léognan, or Entre-Deux-Mers rather than Bordeaux – occupy a small but longstanding space in Bordeaux’s portfolio.           

Long before critics and consumers oohed and ahhed over Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc or Hunter Valley Semillon, the Bordelais were blending the two varietals to great acclaim.  The same British kings and dukes who made St. Julien and Pauillac famous served Bordeaux blanc at court.  But one need not peer all the way back to Eleanor of Aquitaine to see Bordeaux’s terrain awash in white.  As recently as the early twentieth century, the grapes that compose white Bordeaux – mostly Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon – outnumbered Bordeaux’s red grape plantings by a sizeable margin.  Today, white varietals make up only 15% of Bordeaux’s annual harvest. 

What happened?  Opinions differ.  I tend to think that as wealth increased in the latter half of the 1900s, good Bordeaux rouge became less of an aristocratic luxury and more accessible to ordinary folk.  In combination with increasing regulations designed to certify quality in French wine production, this pushed winemaking resources away from inexpensive Bordeaux blanc – much of which was of dubious quality – toward the Cabernet- and Merlot-based wines that put Bordeaux on the map (and, to a lesser extent, toward the prized sweet white wines of Sauternes and Barsac).  However it happened, there’s no doubt that in the modern mind Bordeaux is now associated primarily with red wine and secondarily with dessert wine, while dry white wine jogs in as an afterthought, if that.