Jane Anson hunts down two Bordeaux white wine-focused châteaux offering value and excellent quality, including one in the red wine Médoc heartland...
As soon as I tasted it again I knew it had been worth the two-hour drive up to the wilds of the Médoc Bleu, so-called because you have bypassed the green of the pine forest and the red (grapes) of the vines that dominate so much of this peninsula.
Here in Jau-Dignac-et-Loirac you are right up by the windswept ocean mouth, amid lighthouses and fishermans’ cabins, just a mile from the port of Saint Vivien where oyster farmers have started plying their trade again after a 20-year gap. This is where the skies above the Médoc suddenly open up endlessly above you, and you feel the sting of the salty Atlantic breezes so integral to the global spread of these wines.
The first time that I drove to visit a winery because I liked the taste of the wine was after a bottle of Vergelen Estate in a Cape Town restaurant back in 1996. Then after moving to Bordeaux in 2003, I remember asking the sommelier for the address of the house wine served at Le Chapon Fin restaurant. It was called Chateau La Garrigue and led me eventually to an unprepossessing address somewhere to the east of Libourne and stocking up on its excellent Bordeaux (in the interests of this column, I tried to contact them again this week but have drawn a blank).
Between then and now I have done this countless times – either visited or called up estates because tasting the wine makes me want to find out more. It’s one of the great joys of this job.
Château Poitevin itself is hardly an off-the-beaten-track discovery. Its wines have won many awards, and its photogenic owners Guillaume and Natacha Poitevin are well-versed in media interviews. I was part of the jury of the 2012 Cru Bourgeois Cup when it got star billing for its 2009 vintage. But I hadn’t tasted their tiny 1500-bottle production white wine until earlier this summer during a day organised by their oenologist Antoine Medeville.
‘Poitevin Blanc is just €13 consumer price when bought direct from the château. I know; you’d make the drive too’
It was this wine that had got me driving up to to the northern Médoc; in theory a classic sauvignon blanc/semillon blend that saw its first vintage in 2012, but one that pushed at the limits of what those grapes usually achieve. In the summer I tasted it alongside a room full of winemakers who were murmuring appreciatively at its flinty, gunsmoke edge that is rare to find in the white wines of Bordeaux. I sought out the winemakers and was told that the vines were on a gravelly plateau right next to those for the white wine of Château Cos d’Estournel; another brilliant white that majors on lean, savoury, mouthwatering flavours, but that retails for several times the price. The Cos Blanc is somewhere around £70 retail, while Poitevin Blanc is just €13 consumer price when bought direct from the château. I know; you’d make the drive too.
This has, in fact, been a month for interesting white wine discoveries. The other one I also tasted first over a lunch, but this time at a friend’s house on the banks of the Dordogne river and only had to travel as far as their next door neighbour to find out more.
This might be the only pure white wine estate in Bordeaux that I know of (Sauternes and Barsac excepted of course, although I guess you could just about squeeze Clos des Lunes in here). And the person crazy enough to launch a white wine-only venture in the world’s most famous red wine district? You’ll be happy to hear it’s an English woman. A viticulture and oenology graduate from Plumpton, Dawn Jones-Cooper launched her Nobody’s Perfect range of whites from Château de Monfaucon in Grezillac with the 2013 vintage.
‘Nobody’s needs another red Bordeaux, surely?’ Jones-Cooper replies cheerfully when you ask about the strategy. ‘Initially I wanted to make purely sparkling wine, but decided while waiting for the sparkling to be ready that I would launch a few dry whites. And they have taken off’.
Today this entirely biodynamic winery is producing 3,000 bottles (when the weather plays ball) across seven cuvées – three 100% varietals wines of muscadelle, sauvignon blanc and semillon, three 100% varietal Prestige Cuvées of semillion, sauvignon blanc and chardonnay aged in oak, and one blended wine. The first crémant should join them in 2017. And the refreshing attitude towards the creation of a new Bordeaux white doesn’t end there – the aim is to also keep alcohols low, at somewhere between 10° and 12°abv, again depending on vintage (‘things got a little bit higher in 2015’) as a result, she says, of consumer demand. I hope the strategy of ‘niche within a niche’ isn’t going too far for commercial success, but this is certainly an estate worth following over the coming years.
Wines to try
Chateau Poitevin Blanc AOC Boreaux Blanc 2015
Careful work with the lees – and no doubt the choice of Diam cork for the closure – keeps this on just the right side of reduction, emphasising a flinty, smoky minerality and giving the whole thing a sense of energy and grip. Just a brilliant wine. Sappy grilled apricots with a seam of rich lemon, all pulled up sharply on the finish with the menace of gunsmoke. This manages to combine the rare feat of stretching out in your mouth both upwards and forwards, with a salinity that ensures a mouthwatering encore. 90% sauvignon blanc, 10% semillon, 12.2%abv. 94 points.
Château de Monfaucon Nobody’s Perfect Cuvée Prestige Sauvignon Blanc 2015
Good depth of flavour to this biodynamically-farmed wine, with a silky mouthfeel and a sweetness that speaks of apricots with a toasted biscuit edge. Jones-Cooper assures that it is entirely dry, but ascribes the richness instead to specific picking method she uses called maximum potency harvesting (or MPH) that can increase the perception of roundness in the grape without sacrificing control over alcohol levels. One to research, but certainly the effect seems to be a stone-fruit emphasis to this sauvignon blanc, with attractive aromatics. 13%abv. 89