Hugh Johnson's Column

Hugh Johnson People & Places Articles
  • Friday 29 June 2007

Sauvignon and Semillon – Bordeaux’s white wedding

Sauvignon and Semillon – Bordeaux’s white wedding

The sales figures tell one story, and my friends’ preferences another. I say my friends’ because my own are probably too well known already. Sauvignon Blanc has a loud voice but not a musical one. Singing piano or mezzo forte, as it does on the Loire, it can be more than agreeable. With all the stops out, Marlborough style, it is about as musical as the Last Night of the Proms.

And yet the solution is so easily at hand. The world’s grandest manifestation of Sauvignon has been doing it for a century. Has nobody noticed? To two measures of Sauvignon Blanc add one of Semillon. Vary the recipe to taste. If your grapes are impeccable, ferment in a barrel; if not, contrive a sniff of oak. France’s one true rival to top white Burgundy is Graves. It lost its way, some time in history, in a muddle about residual sugar and too much sulphur, but don’t blame the sins of the fathers on the children. If I have a racing prediction about white wine trends it is this. The evidence is growing: white Graves is coming back, and some of the brightest of the New World are joining in.

I tasted the authentic flavour in Hawke’s Bay at Te Mata. Its Sauvignon/Semillon blend bears the rather confusing name of Cape Crest: Cape suggests South Africa: the Cape in question is here in Cape Kidnapper. Two hundred miles south on South Island, at Pegasus Bay in Waipara, I tasted it again. At least two leading Kiwis have seen the light.

In Bordeaux, of course, it never went away, neither at the highest level in Haut-Brion and its sister Laville Haut-Brion, at Domaine de Chevalier, Fieuzal and Malartic-Lagravière, nor in the businesslike output of Denis Dubourdieu at Clos Floridène and elsewhere. Peter Vinding-Diers memorably tried to rekindle the flame at Château Rahoul under Len Evans and Brian Croser, and then at Château de Landiras. Now I see Malartic-Lagravière is scoring highly again. I last wrote about it in Decanter a good 10 years ago. And to prove that Bordeaux’s powerful trade has not lost faith in one of its fundamental flavours, Dourthe No 1 sets an excellent example. It is more than a straw in the wind that Haut-Brion itself – or rather the estate of Clarence Dillon which owns Haut-Brion, La Misson Haut Brion and their precious siblings – has just launched Clarendelle Blanc, a classic white Graves for modern times.

Reason, alas, is no guide to public taste. When I see in Decanter that two-thirds of the fabulous Mosel Riesling 2005s it recommends are not available in the UK I almost despair. Don’t waste money, then, betting on my prediction for the heavenly marriage of Sauvignon and Semillon. Just buy a few bottles.

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