Friday, December 13, 2013

Unit 2 – Day 8: Bordeaux White Wines

In my previous review I introduced Bordeaux and provided some historical background, a summary of the climate and soils, an overview of the classification system, and a listing of the Bordeaux grape varietals. I then reviewed the 9 Bordeaux red wines that we tasted in Unit 2 Day 7 at the Intensive Sommelier Training at the International Culinary Center.

In this review I will provide some summary information of the important regions of the Left and Right Banks of Bordeaux. I will then discuss the white wines of Bordeaux, cover the learning objectives and then review 1 Sancerre, 5 Bordeaux dry white wines and 2 dessert wines.

The Left Bank of Bordeaux

The Left Bank is a peninsula located to the south-west of the Gironde estuary and the Garonne River and it consists of the soil that has eroded and washed down form the Pyrenees Mountains. The result is a soil that consists mostly of gravel and sand that retains heat and drains very well. Its proximity to the Atlantic Ocean causes the climate to be slightly cooler than the Merlot dominant Right Bank and lends itself to being more favorable to Cabernet Sauvignon. The following are the major regions of the Left Bank:

The Médoc AOC stretches nearly 50 miles along the Gironde estuary and is divided into two major areas: the Bas-Médoc (“Lower Médoc”) to the north and Haut-Médoc (“Upper Médoc”) to the south. Most of the wines labeled “Appellation Médoc Controlée” are made by château in the Bas-Médoc, the Haut-Médoc is a more important region.

The Haut-Médoc is a sub-region of the larger Médoc AOC and it stretches north to the city of Bordeaux and the Gironde for approximately 15 miles. The soil conditions are more favorable than the rest of Médoc so the wines labeled “Appellation Haut-Médoc Controlée” tend to be of higher quality. There are four important communes in the Haut-Médoc: Margaux, Pauillac, Saint-Estèphe and Saint-Julien. Two lesser communes include Listrac and Moulis.

Margaux is the southernmost of the four important Médoc AOCs and its wines are Cabernet Sauvignon based. The most important estate the Premier Cru estate, Château Margaux. In comparison to other Bordeaux AOCs, Margaux tend to be softer, more elegant with intense aromas so they are the most “New World” of Bordeaux.

Pauillac is probably the most important appellation in Bordeaux. It is located between Saint-Julien to the south and Saint-Estèphe to the north. Of the five recognized Premier Cru estates on the Left Bank three of them are located in Pauillac: Château Latour, Château Lafite, and Château Lafite-Rothschild.

Saint-Estèphe is the northernmost of the important communes of the Haut-Médoc, located just north of Pauillac. It is lesser known than the other appellations and has far fewer classified growth estates. Yet it also produces some of the most powerful, tannic and age-worth wines in Bordeaux.

Saint-Julien is located just south of Pauillac and is the smallest of the important communes of the Haut-Médoc and yet it is home to some of the most important classified growth estates in Bordeaux. Like other Left Bank regions, Cabernet Sauvignon is the dominate grape in the wines.

Unlike Médoc and Haut-Médoc, Graves has ideal terroir for producing top quality red and white wines. It is located just south of the city of Bordeaux and it is named for its gravely soil.

In the 1980s the northern portion of Graves was granted its own unique AOC designation, Pessac-Léognan, and this is generally considered to be the source for the best wines in the region. However, they also tend to be a bit softer as they employ more Merlot in their wines. It is also home to the only Premier Cru located outside of the Haut-Médoc, which is Château Haut-Brion.

The Right Bank of Bordeaux

The Right Bank is further inland located east and south of the Gironde estuary and the Dordogne River. The soils contain far more clay which holds on to moisture and provides more fertile conditions for grapevines. Most of the top regions are located in the eastern side just north of the Dordogne River.

Both quality red and white wines are produced but mostly form lesser-known AOC appellations such as Côtes de Blaye and Côtes de Bourg. Only red wines based on Merlot are produced in the eastern regions of Canon-Fronsac, Fronsac and Lalande-de-Pomerol.

The heart of the Right Bank is made up of two very important regions where some of the best Merlot in the world is produced: Pomerol and Saint-Emilion.

Pomerol is the smallest of the top-quality appellations in Bordeaux. Consequently with such limited production these have also become extremely expensive. The vast majority of the vineyards are planted to Merlot but there is also a small amount of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc that is used for blending. The wines from this region are considered to be softer and less tannin than those of the Right Bank with more lush fruit. Although it has never been classified, Château Pétrus is considered to be the top quality estate and recent vintages sell for as much as $1,700 (2011, pre-sale) and $4,000 (2010).

Saint-Émilion is the largest and one of the oldest top-quality wine-producing regions of Bordeaux as it produces are more high-end red wines than any other.  Saint-Émilion is made mostly of Merlot.

This region was not included in the 1855 Classification so a century later in 1955 they organized their own system with estates in the top classification labeling their wine “Appellation Saint-Émilion Grand Cru Contrôlée.” Unlike the 1855 classification which has for the most part become static, this list is updated every 10 years or so. Of these the top two estates are Château Ausone and Château Cheval Blanc which were labeled Premier Grand Cru Classé A.

But, this classification system has not been without its own litigious battles….

In 2006 there was a revision of the classifications which then resulted in appeals in the courts and the entire system became bogged down in legal battles.

In 2012 another classification was made with tasters and inspectors who would hopefully be more objective as they would not have any direct financial interest in the proceedings. This seven-person commission was outsourced by INAO (Institut National de l'origine Et de la Qualité previously known as the Institut National des Appellations d'Origine) and they had involvement in the St.-Emilion Wine Syndicate and Bordeaux wine trade. They were all wine professionals from Burgundy, the Rhône Valley, Champagne, the Loire Valley and Provence. There is no longer a fixed number of châteaus that can be classified, and the new rankings elevated Château Pavie and Château Angélus to Premier Classe A. Among new Premiers Grands Crus were Larcis Ducasse, Canon-la-Gaffelière and garagiste producers Valandraud and La Mondotte, while Château Magdelaine was omitted from the list as it will be merged with Château Bélair-Monange.

Just recently, in January 2013, Château La Tour du Pin Figeac, Château Croque-Michotte and Château Corbin-Michotte filed complaints with a Bordeaux administrative tribunal, claiming there were procedural errors in the selection process. Château La Tour du Pin Figeac, had previously challenged its demotion in the disputed 2006 classification without being reinstated in 2012, while Château Croque-Michotte was refused promotion from Grand cru to Grand cru classé and Château Corbin-Michotte had been demoted from Grand cru classé.

Needless to say, these legal battles will probably continue indefinitely.

Entre-Deux-Mers translates to “between the seas” although the region is actually between two rivers. It is a large appellation that dominates an island that is formed between the Dordogne and Garonne Rovers where they feed in the Gironde. The region produces a significant amount of Merlot that is used to produce Bordeaux AOC or Bordeaux Supérieur wines. Wines that are labeled “Appellation Entre-Deux-Mers Contrôlée” are dry white wines produced from Sauvignon Blanc and most are considered to be of average quality.

Bordeaux White Wines

Bordeaux White Wines are predominantly, and exclusively in the case of the sweet Sauternes, made from Sémillon, Sauvignon Blanc and Muscadelle. Typical blends are usually 80% Sémillon, 20% Sauvignon Blanc. As with the reds, white Bordeaux wines are usually blends, most commonly of Sémillon and a smaller proportion of Sauvignon Blanc. Other permitted grape varieties are Ugni Blanc, Colombard, Merlot Blanc, Ondec, and Mauzac.

In the late 1960s Sémillon was the most planted grape in Bordeaux. Since then it has been in constant decline although it still is the most common of Bordeaux’s white grapes. Sauvignon Blanc's popularity on the other hand has been rising, overtaking Ugni Blanc as the second most planted white Bordeaux grape in the late 1980s and now being grown in an area more than half the size of that of the lower yielding Sémillon.

Bordeaux Dessert Wines

On both sides of the Garonne River, south of Graves and the city of Bordeaux, is a collection of wineries that focus on producing botrytised dessert wines. Close proximity to the river and the cooler temperatures provide ideal conditions necessary for grapes to become infected with a favorable form of botrytis (a humidity-loving fruit fungus that causes grapes to shrivel and dehydrate, concentrating flavors) known as “Noble Rot.” The thin skin and rich character of the Sémillon grape lends itself to being the ideal for producing sweet wines made botrytis-infected grapes.

Noteworthy wines are produced in Barsac, Cadillac, Loupiac and Sante-Croiz-du-Mont. However the top wines come from Sauternes, but these wines are only made in the very best vintages and in some years none is made at all. 
Château d’Yquem
Several estates in Sauternes were included in the Classification of 1855 but only one received its own special status – Château d’Yquem which is designated Premier Grand Cru or “first great growth.”

Learning Objectives of Unit 2 - Day 8: Bordeaux White Wines

At the beginning of class lectures a list of learning objectives is provided to the students. By the end of the class, the students should have a certain degree of understanding from their own reading and the lectures and be able to provide the answers to list of questions. Learning Objectives for Unit 2 - Day 8 along with the answers are as follows.

By the end of class, students should be able to:

(1) Name three sub-regions of Bordeaux

Answer: Left Bank, Right Bank, Entre-Deux-Mers

(2) Describe the important white grapes of Bordeaux

Answer: Sauvignon Blanc, Sauvignon Gris, and Semillon

(3) Name the best sub-region of Graves

Answer: Pessac-Léognan

(4) Offer glasses of sweet wine from 2 AOCs in Bordeaux

Answer: Graves Supérieures, Barsac

(5) Name the only Premier Grand Cru of Sauternes

Answer: Château d’Yquem

(6) Discuss the viticultural key to the best sweet wines of Bordeaux

Answer: Botrytis “Noble Rot”

(7) Inform your guest of the AOC used when dry wines are made in Sauternes

Answer: Pessac-Léognan

(8) Name 2 Cru Classé estates of Graves for white wines

Answer: Château Carbonnieux, Léognan; Château Haut-Brion, Pessac

(9) Names 4 districts of Bordeaux that have developed a classification system

Answer:  Médoc (1855), Graves (1959), Sauternes (1855) and St Emilion (2012)

(10) Sub-region AOC of Graves which contains Graves estates

Answer: Entre-Deux-Mers

(11) Identify the classification and region for Château d’Yquem

Answer: Château d’Yquem is in Graves region and is designated Premier Grand Cru or “first great growth.”

(12) Identify classified estates of Sauternes besides Château d’Yquem

Answer: Fargues, Bommes, Preignac, and Barsac.

(13) Identify 2 AOCs within Graves for botrytis wines exclusively

Answer: Sauternes AOC and Barsac AOC

(14) Names the AOC which must be used for dry wine produced within Sauternes

Answer: Bordeaux AOC

(15) Identify 2 Cru Classé estates of Graves for white wines

Answer: Château Bouscaut, Château Haut-Bailly

(16) Describe the attributes of any wine we tasted today

Answer: See below:

The Wines

On the eighth day of Unit 2 we tasted the following white wines:

1. 2012 Domaine Daulny, Sancere

This first wine is obviously not from Bordeaux. We started with this wine to establish a basis for comparison since both the Loire and Bordeaux produce Sauvignon Blanc.

This is a clear white wine, brilliant, medium concentration with moderate viscosity. On the nose it is youthful with moderate+ aromas of grapefruit, lime, green apples, jalapeno, a touch of grass and a hint of chalk. On the palate this wine is dry with flavors of granny smith apples, grapefruit, and a distinctive salinity. It has medium+ acidity, medium alcohol, moderate complexity and a medium+ length finish. This wine sells for about $15 - $20.

2. 2012 Château Lestrille, Entre-Deux-Mers

This wine is 100% Sauvignon Blanc. This is a clear white wine, star bright, low concentration, and medium viscosity. On the nose it is clean, youthful with moderate intense aromas of pineapple, passion fruit, lemons blossoms, and dried herbs. On the palate it is dry with flavors of tangerines, peaches, and melon with medium to medium+ acidity, medium+ body with a full round mouth feel, medium+ alcohol and a medium length finish. This wine sells for about $12.

3. 2011 Clos Floridène, Graves & Pessac-Léognan

This wine is made ​​of 56% Sémillon, 43% Sauvignon and 1% Muscadelle. This is a clear white wine, yellow-gold with medium concentration, and medium viscosity. On the nose it is clean, with moderate intense aromas of dried peaches, cheese rind, and pistachios. On the palate it is dry with flavors of oxidized apples, lemon custard, green tea, celery, bread dough, fennel and river rocks with medium+ acidity, medium body, medium+ length finish. This wine sells for about $32.

4. 2007 Château de Fieuzal Blanc, Pessac-Léognan

Other than the fact that it is a white Bordeaux blend, I could not find any information as to what grapes went into this bottle. But these wines are typically made from Sémillon, Sauvignon Blanc, and a small amount of Muscadelle. This is a clear white wine, yellow-gold in color, medium concentration, medium concentration. On the nose it is clean, with moderate aromas of dried peaches, dried pineapple, a hint of tobacco or autumn leaves, pistachios, pencil shavings, graphite, and dried vanilla. On the palate it is dry with flavors of dried pineapples, lemon meringue, cooked oranges with medium+ acidity, medium body, medium+ alcohol and a medium+ length finish. This was my favorite dry wine in the line-up and it sells for about $52 - $60.

5. 2007 Château Carbonnieux Blanc, Pessac-Léognan

I could not find any information as to what grapes went into this bottle but these wines are typically made 2/3 Sauvignon Blanc and 1/3 from Sémillon. The wine is a white clear white wine, star-bright straw-yellow at the core, medium concentration, with medium viscosity. On the nose it is clean with subtle aromas of lemon, a scent of floral perfume, vanilla, honey and a hit of petrol. On the palate it has flavors of bruised apples, candied ginger, dried peaches, graham crackers and a nutty finish. It has medium+ acidity, medium body, medium+ alcohol, and a medium+ length finish. This wine sells for about $44.

6. 2010 Château Mouton-Rothschild Aile d’Argent, Medoc Blanc

This wine is produced by Château Mouton-Rothschild and it comes form 4 ha of vines planted in the 1980s that consists of about 55% Sémillon, 40% Sauvignon Blanc, and the rest is Muscadelle. It is aged for about 9 months in 50% new oak.  The wine is a white clear white wine, star-bright gold at the core to yellow at the rim with medium viscosity. On the nose it is clean with moderate intense aromas of bruised apples, autumn leaves, dried peach and a hint of petrol. On the palate it has flavors of oxidized apples, dried pears, pistachios, and a hint of marshmallows and popcorn. It is dry with medium body, medium+ alcohol, and a medium+ length finish. This wine sells for about $70.

7. 2005 Château Ramond Lafon, Sauternes

Chateau Raymond Lafon was founded in 1850 by Raymond Lafon, who left his mark on the estate that still bears his name. The estate passed to Louis Pontallier, a nephew of Lafon’s, who was the grandfather of Paul Pontallier, the director of Chateau Margaux. Pontallier sold the chateau and vineyards in 1952 to the Bourdier family who 20 years later sold the property to the current owners, Pierre Meslier who previously served as the managing director of Chateau d’Yquem.

This small Bordeaux wine property of Raymond Lafon is located next door to the vineyards of Chateau d’Yquem and very close to Chateau Suduiraut. Raymond Lafon Sauternes are produced in the exact fashion suing the same blends as at Chateau d’Yquem. The same blends are used at both properties as well. The yields are similar as well at close to 8 hectoliers per hectare from a 18 hectare (45 acres) Sauternes estate that  is planted to 80% Semillon and 20% Sauvignon Blanc with vines that average 35 years of age. They are planted to 6,666 plants per hectare, which is the same density that you see at Chateau de Fargues.  During harvest, each grape in the vineyard is individually picked, in 3 to 10 successive pickings.  After fermentation the wine spends 3 years in 100% new French oak barrels.  Chateau Raymond Lafon has an annual production that averages 20,000 bottles of Sauternes.[1]

This wine is clear, gold at the core with minor rim variation and high viscosity. On the nose it is clean with aromas of candied apricots, quince, sweet corn, honey, and saffron. On the palate it is sweet and luscious with high alcohol and the silky-oily texture and flavor of canned peach syrup. Yet it has medium+ acidity so it ends with a prolonged clean finish with lingering notes of caramel and wet wool. This wine sells for about $25 for a 375 ml bottle. Given the intensity of the labor that goes into harvest and production I don’t see how they are making any money off of this wine.

8. 2001 Château Guiraud, Sauternes

This first growth wine is produced from a 85 ha (210 acres) of Sauternes appellation vines. Only Semillon (65%) and Sauvignon (35%) are planted with a density of plantation is 6,660 vine per ha and the average age of the vines is 35-40 years. The average yield is 12hl/ha and the maximum yield allowed by the appellation is 25hl/ha. They harvest each grape individually by hand picking only the botrytised berries in 2 to 7 successive waves through the vineyard. The grapes are required to achieve at least 40 Brix in order to achieve the minimum requirement of 20° potential alcohol. The fermentation takes place in new oak barrels over a period of three weeks to two months. Different batches are fermented until they reach their own equilibrium which depends upon their selection. Chapitalization (adding sugar), cryoextraction, fortification and any other techniques used to enrich the wine are absolutely prohibited. The wine is then aged in barrels for 24 months. The annual production for the first growth is about 100,000 bottles. During poor vintages (such as 1991 and 1993) no classified growth is produced.[2]

This wine is clear, amber at the core to gold at the rim with minor variation and high viscosity. On the nose it is clean with aromas of candied apricots, quince, sweet corn, honey, and saffron. On the palate it is sweet and luscious with high alcohol with notes of golden raisins, marmalade, crystalized honey, and graham crackers. It has medium+ acidity, medium+ body, high alcohol and a very long sweet tangy finish. This wine sells for about $45-$50.

Château Guiraud wine track record is quite impressive, with 92+ vintages and ratings of 97 points in 2005 which was designated #4 on Wine Spectator’s 2008 Top 100 list. The 2003 made the Top 100 list as well. For far less than $75 per bottle Château Guiraud is definitely an outstanding Premier Cru that is accessible to wine lovers.


While the Sauternes were very nice and the Bordeaux white wines were interesting, I preferred the clean, fresh fruit and herbal character of the Sancerre from the Loire. The Bordeaux white wines are produced or aged in oak in a manner similar a California Chardonnay and I find that the Sauvignon Blanc loses too much of its crisp refreshing edge that I enjoy.


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