With the arrival of Summer, many wine drinkers turn to the cooler side of white. Bordeaux may be more famous for its reds, but we love introducing new wine drinkers to the lighter side of Bordeaux - The White Side - perfect for the warm weather and summer’s lighter meals. And, these wines are affordable and deliciously easy to drink. Simply put, if you love Sauvignon Blanc, you will adore the crisp whites of Bordeaux.
To start, one key thing to know about White Bordeaux begins with understanding a system called “AOC” or Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée. AOC is a classification used in France to ensure origin and quality of goods such as wine and cheese.
Over the centuries, each unique area of Bordeaux became known for producing a specific style of wine due to the influence of a subregion’s terroir and micro-climate on the grapevines. As some grape varieties fare better in some areas and not as well in others, the AOC system helps to classify the type and taste of wines being produced in a given region and ensures a level of quality and authenticity.
Bordeaux has five key AOC appellations for the production of white Bordeaux: Bordeaux, Entre-Deux-Mers, Graves, Pessac-Léognan and Cotes de Bordeaux. While each AOC produces its distinct style of white wine, all white Bordeaux is made from some combination of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon – the two key white grape varieties of the region. Below, we help you navigate the AOC of White Bordeaux for your next visit to the wine store.
Bordeaux AOC: Any white wine from the region of Bordeaux may use this AOC, so long as the vineyard conforms to the regulations. This will be the one most likely found in your local shop, as this AOC produces about 75% of all White Bordeaux wine. These wines are primarily made from Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon, but a small amount of Muscadelle is also used. They are pale yellow to light gold in color. They have light, zesty aromas of lemon, white fruits and fresh grass. These wines are wonderful easy drinking whites during warmer weather, and pair nicely with light cheeses, salads or fish. Chateau Chaubinet, Chateau Fonfroid, and Chateau Peyruchet are good examples.
Entre-Deux-Mers: The area which lies between the Garonne and Dordogne Rivers is called Entre-Deux-Mers. The literal English translation is “Between Two Seas”, but the original name is believed to be “Entre-Deux-Marées” or “Between Two Tides”. A mix of limestone and clay is the typical soil type where Sauvignon Blanc thrives. There’s also a small amount of Semillon, Muscadelle and Sauvignon Gris, a rare cousin of Sauvignon Blanc. This AOC was created originally in the 1930s, but was not very popular until the 1960s when the lively wines of Entre-Deux-Mers, with their elegant balance of crisp fruit and acidity, were discovered and quickly popularized. These refreshing and clean wines pair perfectly with shellfish, charcuterie or cold chicken. Chateau Bonnet and Chateau Sainte Marie are excellent choices.
Graves: The name of this AOC accurately describes the soil conditions found in the region. Can you guess? Gravel. For thousands of years, the Garonne River has washed gravel and stones down from the mountains and deposited them in Graves. This, naturally, gives the wines produced here a unique and distinctive mineral flavor. A slightly warmer climate allows for greater depth and concentration of body in these wines, and some of the best Graves whites can easily age for 5-10 years. Sauvignon and Semillon are both widely grown and used in varying combinations depending on the vineyard. The wines have aromas both floral and fruity, citrus and acacia flower. They are at once fresh, but with a round and plump quality, racy acidity and that unique gravelly, mineral flavor. They like to be paired with bolder fare, such as roast chicken, pork or paté. Chateau Les Clauzots, and Chateau Hauts Selves for example.
Pessac-Léognan: Originally part of the Graves AOC, Pessac was given it’s own AOC status in 1987 under the leadership of the late André Lurton. This was because of the unique terroir of this region, which produced the most distinguished wines of Graves. It lies on the left bank of the Garonne, immediately south of the city of Bordeaux. It is one of the warmest AOC’s of Bordeaux and the soils here have an especially deep layer of stony gravel, which can be more than ten feet deep in some parts. AOC rules require at least 25% Sauvignon Blanc must be blended with the usually predominant Semillon. The rich and complex structure of Pessac-Léognan wines are conducive to oak barrel aging and create long lived white wines which age beautifully. They have a rich aroma and flavors of citrus, white peach, spice, mineral and touches of honey. They pair with a wide range of foods, from seafood, to chicken, pork or veal. Chateau Carbonnieux is a well known and affordable producer of Pessac-Léognan whites.
Cotes de Bordeaux: Blaye, Bourg, Graves de Vayres, Sainte-Foy-Bordeaux, Saint Macaire. Each is a separate AOC of Cotes de Bordeaux, which beginning in 2009 is required to be labelled: “X, Cotes de Bordeaux” (for example, Blaye, Cotes de Bordeaux). Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon are still the primary components here, however this AOC also uses a little Ugni Blanc, Colombard and Sauvignon Gris. The wines are light, lively, crisp and zesty, and meant to be drunk young and fresh. Lemon and grapefruit citrus tones abound with balanced acids and light, white fruits. These are picnic, beach, patio or poolside sippers and pair with light dishes of seafood, goat cheese or crudités.
So there you have it! Whatever white wine your palette desires, Bordeaux has an AOC to fit the bill. From a pool side sipper like Cotes de Bordeaux to an elegant accompaniment to an alfresco dinner from Pessac-Leognan, Bordeaux should be a regular in your white wine repetoire. Discover your future favorites at your next trip to the wine store. Cheers!
This post was brought to you by Austin-based Bordeaux Wine Buff, Rob Moshein aka Austin Wine Guy and professional of 34 vintages.
Rob Moshein has been a Bordeaux Le Wine Buff from the beginning. He “cut his teeth” on some of the great 1st Growth Bordeaux of the 1960s and 70s. More on Rob at austinwineguy.com.