France's White Wines of Bordeaux

The Bordeaux region of France produces some of the world’s finest white wines, in addition to the more commonly known red Bordeaux wines. The finest dry white wines of Bordeaux are unique to the Bordeaux region; nowhere else in the world can you find such wines. As with many fine wines, however, their production is small.

The Bordelais make dry white wine in many districts of the region, including a few wines from the predominantly red-wine Haut-Médoc area. But most of Bordeaux’s dry and semi-dry white wines come from the following three districts:

  • Pessac-Léognan (peh sack leh oh n’yahn)

  • Graves (grahv)

  • Entre-Deux-Mers (ahn treh douh mare)

The Pessac-Léognan district is the home of Bordeaux’s finest white wines. Most of these wines come from estates that also happen to make fine red wines. The Graves district makes good, dry white wines that are less expensive than those of Pessac-Léognan. This area also produces great dessert wines. Entre-Deux-Mers (ahn treh douh mare) is a large district that is known for its inexpensive dry, semi-dry, and sweet white wines, although it also grows reds.

Other white Bordeaux wines, mainly inexpensive versions, come from grapes grown throughout the Bordeaux region rather than in a specific district; these wines simply carry the region-wide appellation, Bordeaux Blanc.

Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon grape varieties

Sauvignon Blanc is the dominant grape variety (60 to 100 percent) in most of Bordeaux’s dry white wines, whereas Sémillon dominates the sweeter white wines. (A third permitted white grape variety, Muscadelle, plays a minor role in a few wines.) The very best dry white wines of Pessac-Léognan contain around 50 percent Sémillon (seh mee yohn).

Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon have a fine symbiotic relationship, for the following reasons:

  • The Sauvignon Blanc part of the wine offers immediate charm; it’s crisp, lively, herbaceous, light-bodied, and develops early.

  • The Sémillon part is slower to open; it’s fuller-bodied, viscous, and honeyed, with lower acidity than the high-acid Sauvignon; it enriches the wine, but needs several years to unfold.

Most of the better dry white Bordeaux, which are blends of both varieties, are crisp and lively when they’re young, but develop a honeyed, fuller-bodied richness with age. In good vintages, they can age a surprisingly long time — often for 30 or 40 years or more.

Drinking white Bordeaux

Dry white Bordeaux is a versatile wine. It typically goes well with chicken, turkey, veal, and delicate fish entrées. It also goes well with soft, mild cheeses; goat cheese is particularly fine with white Bordeaux.

Like most fine white wines, dry white Bordeaux is best when you serve it slightly cool, but not cold! The ideal serving temperature is in the 58°F to 62°F (14°C to 16°C) range.

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