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Unsung Heroes

He loves his claret, but when it comes to refreshing, good-value whites, STEVEN SPURRIER can’t get past Bordeaux’s other great style. Here, he recommends his top 20 from £5–£15, and considers the best-value region

Medium-priced dry white Bordeaux – either side of the £10 mark – is

unjustly ignored in favour of the red versions, and even more so if compared to Sauvignon and Semillon wines made elsewhere in France. I have always been a fan, for there is nothing better after a day tasting young tannic reds in the Médoc than to relax in a brasserie over a dozen Arcachon oysters and a glass or two of white Graves. While the classed growths of Pessac-Léognan enjoy reputations and prices to match premier cru Meursaults, the lesser appellations struggle for recognition. Perhaps it’s just as well for consumers, as prices stay reasonable, but not so good for producers. As a category, these wines

represent some of the best value among the world’s modern dry whites. Yet production in the Bordeaux region is steadily declining. Fifty years ago, the planting of white grapes in the Gironde exceeded those of red; the Entre-deux Mers AC – the extensive vineyards between the Garonne and the Dordogne rivers – is exclusively for dry white wine. Quality, however, was deplorable and much of it was shipped in bulk to Germany to be turned into the sparkling Sekt. Prices of AC Bordeaux Blanc were a quarter that of AC Bordeaux Rouge and inevitably (and for the Rand ‘It was a great tasting. There was enormous consistency, with hugely appetising wines at the bottom and predictably riper fruit if you want to spendmore. Bordeaux’s reputation for making dull Sauvignon Blanc is completely wrong’. For Bampfield ‘these were easy to taste, partly because of the crisp, fresh style and partly because the quality was

uniformly high. The AC Bordeaux were good, but the Graves were a revelation, where the unoaked wines had depth to match the freshness and the oaked wines had sufficient natural flavour to carry the oak effortlessly.’ He concluded: ‘This tasting demonstrated very clearly that Bordeaux is extremelywell

placed to compete with dry whites around the world in the £5-£15 price category.’ Another great advantage to these wines is that they are all, howeverfruity they may be, completely dry. The appellation rules allow a better) Semillon and the lesser Colombard and Ugni Blanc vines

were replaced by Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. By 2006, from a total of 126,534ha (hectares), white grapes represented just 14,226ha, or 11.2%, down from 15,483ha only six years previously.

During this period, plantings of Merlot increased by 3,963ha, while Cabernets Franc and Sauvignon declined by 2,441ha andSemillon by 731ha. Only Sauvignon Blanc showed an increase, of a paltry 42ha. While Bordeaux still represents almost 15% of the world-wide plantings of this very popular grape, it seems strange to me that production is still declining at this rate, particularly, as Sylvie Courselle of ChâteauThieuley notes, given the marketplace for dry whites ismuch less crowded than that for similarly priced reds. Such thoughts were confirmed by a blind tasting of 77 dry white Bordeaux from 2007 back to the 2003 at £5–£15, forwhich I was joined by Margaret Rand and Richard Bampfield MW. Our opinions were very positive. Formaximum of 4 grams per litre of residual sugar which, according to Bampfield ‘is a welcome relief in an age when many so-called dry wines retain a dollop of residual sugar “to help with the mouthfeel”; the quality here was such that they had sufficient fruit and flavour without artifice’. Dry white Bordeaux represents just 8% of total production in the Gironde, sweet whites representing a little over 3% where the Semillon grape dominates.

Bordeaux Blanc, mostly and often 100% Sauvignon, makes up more than two-thirds of the dry whites, followed by Entre-deux-Mers, southern Graves, Pessac-Léognan, Premières Côtes de Bordeaux, Graves de Vayres and a smattering of plantings in Bourg, Blaye and Côtes de Francs. Semillon, which ultimately differentiates white Bordeaux from other white wines, still occupies 55% of the vineyards, Sauvignon 35%, with Muscadelle,Ugni Blanc and Colombard the final 10%. However, Semillon is at morerisk than its continuing decline shows. Once the most-planted grape in the world, it is now rare outside the Gironde,

whose vineyards represent 95% of all Semillon in France. As the grape becomes less fashionable, fewer clones are propagatedin nurseries, which means

finding good quality vines toplant is increasingly difficult. This year, 17 producers,

mostly classed growths headed by d’Yquem in Sauternes and Olivier in

Pessac-Léognan, have clubbed together to grow their ownclones (see panel, p94); whether this can help lesser appellations is doubtful. Whatever the vineyard situation, the quality is there to be proud of. Jancis Robinson MW, outlining her favourite 2007s in the Financial Times, entitled her column ‘White is the new red’. Dry Bordeaux whites are interesting and delicious – and you don’t need a plate of Arcachon oysters to enjoy them.

Vieux Château Gaubert, Graves

2006 (16+/20);

‘Pale lemon yellow. Floral and

fresh nose. A touch of white

honey on the palate; good acidity

and length. 2008–9.’ £11.50; EdP

Château Lamothe-Vincent,

Heritage, Bordeaux 2007

(16+/20) ;

‘Lemon yellow. Quite rich nose

with Semillon overtones. Full

and quite fleshy on the palate;

good vineyard character, ripe

but dry finish. 2008–9.’

£9; Osb

Château Beaumont, Les

Perrières, Premières Côtes de

Blaye 2006 (16/20)

‘Medium lemon yellow. Good

Sauvignon–Sémillon fruit

nose with oak blended in.

Fruity and fleshy palate, oak

adds interest; good dry finish.

2008–9.’ £7.95; L&S

Château de Rochmorin,

Pessac-Léognan 2006 (16.5/20)


‘Pale lemon yellow. Discreet

yet fine floral nose. Broader

flavours on the palate; good

fruit, personality and

minerally length. 2008–10.’

£9.99, Msn

Château l’Avocat, Graves 2006

(17/20) ★★★★

‘Very pale yellow. White

flowers and minerals on the

nose. Nice lift of florality on

the palate; an elegant Graves

from a good origin. 2008–10.’

£12.50; J&B

Berry Bros & Rudd, Extra

Ordinary White, Graves 2006

(16.5/20) ★★★★

‘Pale lemon yellow. Fresh

white flowers and a nice

touch of oak on the nose. Oak

adds complexity and weight

to the palate, remaining fresh

and balanced. 2008–9.’

£11; BBR

Château de Sours, Bordeaux

2005 (16.5/20) ★★★★

‘Pale yellow. Lifted, floral fruit

nose. Good follow-through of

minerality and elegance on

the palate; an elegant wine.

2008–10.’ £8.52; PrC

Château l’Avocat, Graves 2005

(17pts/20) ★★★★

‘Lemon yellow. Attractive

white flower nose. Good

expression of harmonious

Graves fruit; a lovely wine and

still young. 2008–10.’

£12.87; J&B


‘It was a great tasting. There was

enormous consistency. Bordeaux’s

reputation for making dull Sauvignon

Blanc is completely wrong’

Margaret Rand

‘The Graves were a revelation, where

the unoaked wines had depth to

match the freshness and the oaked

wines had sufficient natural flavour

to carry the oak effortlessly’

Richard Bampfield MW

Laithwaite, Le Chai au Quai,

Bordeaux 2007 (16/20) ★★★

‘Fullish yellow. Ripe fruit nose.

Quite fleshy and broad on the

palate, with complexity and

balancing acidity. 2008–9.’

£7.99; Lai

Avery’s, Sauvignon Blanc,

Bordeaux 2007 (15.5/20) ★★★

‘Lemon yellow. Floral and

quite ripe fruit nose. Fuller

style than most with good

length and nice balancing

acidity. 2008–9.’ £5.99; Ave

Château Lamothe-Vincent

Bordeaux 2007 (15/20) ★★★

‘Pale yellow. Sauvignondominated

characterful nose.

Clear fruit and some florality

on the palate. 2008–9.’

£6; Osb

Château des Antonins,

Bordeaux 2007 (16/20) ★★★

‘Silvery pale. Crisp Sauvignon

nose. Lively, crisp fruit palate;

good, clean, pure flavours.’

2008. £7.49; Adn

Château Bonnet, Divinus,

Entre-deux-Mers 2007 (16/20)


‘Silvery pale. Fresh elegant

nose. Broadish fruit on the

palate, some complexity; good

length and origin. 2008–9.’

£9.99; Sai

Château Ferrande, Graves

2007 (16/20) ★★★

‘Lemony pale. Attractive floral

nose. Good fruit on the palate

and more definition of flavour

than most of this vintage.

2008–9.’ £11.50; Nic

Château des Graves, Graves

2006 (16/20) ★★★

‘Pale yellow. Elegant white

flowers nose. Mostly

Sauvignon on the palate, but

has Semillon roundness and a

harmonious minerally finish.

2008–9.’ £10.95; L&S

Château Bertinière, Premières

Côtes de Blaye 2007 (16pts/20)


‘Silvery pale. Crisp lightly floral

nose. Clean and crisp palate

with more weight than simple

AC Bordeaux and more

minerality. 2008–9.’

£7.50; BBS


For UK stockist details, see p109 of the main issue ‘Medium-priced dry white Bordeaux is unjustly ignored in favour of the red versions, and even more so if compared to Sauvignon and Semillion wines made elsewhere in France’

Steven Spurrier

‘Bordeaux is extremely well placed to compete with dry white wines around the world in the £5–£15 price category’

Richard Bampfield MW

Written by Steven Spurrier

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