Think all Bordeaux is red? Think again. Peter Ranscombe picks whites, rosé and fizz for spring and summer days.
BORDEAUX has something of a dual identity.
At the top end, it crafts some of the most-expensive wines on the planet, which sell for hundreds of pounds per bottle.
Yet France’s best-known wine region is also a producer of high-volume, mid-week wines that form a cornerstone of restaurant wine lists and bottle shop shelves up and down the land.
That contrast was highlighted for me at two recent tastings in London – “Everyday Bordeaux”, more than 100 wines selected by experts including Mike Turner from Please Bring Me My Wine and David Kermode aka Mr Vinosaurus, and the Bordeaux Grands Crus Classés, which featured wines from 2014 to 2017.
The two events also highlighted the diversity of the area’s wines – while Bordeaux is synonymous with “claret”, its flagship red wine, it’s easy to forget that about 15% of its output is white or rosé.
Then there’s also crémant de Bordeaux, the region’s sparkling wine, which is made using the same traditional method as in Champagne, with the second bubble-adding fermentation taking place inside the bottle.
This selection of whites, rosé and sparklers is just the tip of the grape-juice iceberg – exploring the wines of Bordeaux is a vinous adventure that can last a lifetime.
Château Saint-Jean-des-Graves 2017 (£8.99, Waitrose)
Back in the mists of time, before there was New Zealand sauvignon blanc, there was white Bordeaux – usually made from a blend of sauvignon blanc, sémillon and muscadelle – and Graves was one of the best-known areas. This blend of sauvignon blanc and sémillon has fresh red and green apples on the nose and then lemons joining the apples on the palate to balance the characteristic acidity.
Château Le Coin Sauvignon Gris 2016 (£10.99, Laithwaite’s Wine)
While Graves may grab the headlines, it’s the Entre-Deux-Mers region – lying between Bordeaux’s two main rivers, the Dordogne and the Garonne – that’s the production powerhouse, producing much of the everyday Bordeaux Blanc we find in the UK. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t praise-worthy whites emerging from the Entre-Deux-Mers, like this sauvignon gris, a little-known variety that here has a tingle of lemon sherbet to accompany the apple on the nose and then a creamier and more rounded mouthfeel.
Château Le Grand Verdus Blanc 2016 (£11, L’Assemblage)
Balance is the order of the day with this blend of the three main varieties, which sits in the “Bordeaux Supérieur” category, meaning it comes from vines that produce fewer but more concentrated grapes and is bottled at its chateau. Lots of ripe apple flavours to temper the fresh acidity.
Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte Blanc 2015 (£128, Hedonism Wines)
As high-quality white Bordeaux ages, it starts to develop interesting nutty traits. This 2015 from the Pessac-Léognan area isn’t quite at that stage yet, but the step-up in quality is clear, with aromas of cream, butter and light smoke joining the lemon rind, with those savoury flavours matching the acidity. It was fascinating to compare the 2015 to the new 2017 vintage at the Grands Crus Classés tasting, which had the same concentrated fruit flavours but for me virtually none of the smoke from oak barrels or cream and butter from contact with the yeast left over from the fermentation.
Château Bel Air Perponcher Réserve 2017 (£9.50, The Wine Society)
My favourite rosé among those on show at the Everyday Bordeaux tasting came from those stalwarts at The Wine Society, who also had some very popular reds at the event too. What appealed to me most was the freshness on the nose, with strawberry and raspberry from the cabernet sauvignon and merlot used to make the wine.
Calvet Crémant Bordeaux Brut 2015 (£9.50, Amazon)
Fizz to finish and the wee bit of age on this sparkling wine really paid dividends. It’s like apple crumble in a glass – sweet cinnamon and cooked apple flavours. Don’t let the ripeness of the fruit confuse you though – it’s still dry and has crémant’s refreshing acidity.