Bordeaux is a gargantuan wine region, its annual production of 5.5 million hectolitres accounting for over a quarter of France’s total. It is home to some of the most famous, prestigious and highly-valued wines in the world – but these wines account for less than 5% of the total.
What of the other 95%? A good deal of it is rather thin, weedy red wine that is made and sold cheaply. In between these two extremes, however, are winemakers struggling to make a living by making the best wine they can from their vines, in the face of prices that are pegged back by those lowest common denominator wines. The stratospheric, to merely high, prices of the top wines may feel geographically close, yet they are out of reach for these producers.
Could white wine be a brighter future for Bordeaux’s “squeezed middle”? It might at least be part of it. While a dampish, maritime climate like Bordeaux’s can struggle to ripen red grapes each year, it poses less of a problem for faster ripening white varieties.
So, Sauvignon Blanc, Sancerre and even white Burgundy fans, pin back thy lugs, as what follows could be of interest to you.
Bordeaux’s whites are predominantly based on Sauvignon Blanc, sometimes with a little of that under-rated but quality variety, Semillon too. The part of Bordeaux known as Entre-Deux-Mers (literally “between two seas” though the seas in question are actually the Garonne and Dordogne rivers) nowadays produces rather too much so-so red wine, which accounts for much of the everyday Bordeaux and Bordeaux Superieur that we see on supermarket shelves. But it is also still home to some white grapes, predominantly Sauvignon Blanc.
West of there, south of Bordeaux, the Graves area has long been famous for both its red and white wines. Since 1987, the northern part of Graves was sliced off to be known as Pessac-Léognan, which is now home to Bordeaux’s most prestigious dry white wines.
Calvet Réserve Sauvignon Blanc 2015 - £8.99 at Waitrose (down to £6.74 until 11 October)
This wine, along with Dourthe No 1 (£8.50 from The Wine Society), makes a great case for Bordeaux’s ability to make fresh, zippy and appealing – but not green or underripe – Sauvignon Blanc at a sensible price. Both these négociant winemakers will choose parcels of wine from across the region to contribute to their blend, in order to get the flavour profile they want. These light styles are perfect on their own or are made for lighter seafood dishes like mussels, oysters, simply served crab and delicate fish dishes. See also Marks & Spencer’s own Bordeaux Sauvignon Blanc 2015 (£8.50), sourced from Entre-Deux-Mers. It is understated enough not to fight with whatever’s on your plate, but delivers spritzy, lemon zest fruit and a nicely textured palate.
Laithwaite’s Sauvignon Blanc 2015 - £9.99 from Laithwaites
This wine is made from parcels of vines in the Entre-Deux-Mers and has the fresh, citrus flavour of the Calvet, but also a more delicate elderflower aroma and a touch of savoury, leesiness on the palate. This could stand up to more full flavoured dishes like roasted cod or possibly scallops.
Château Bouscaut Blanc 2009, Péssac-Léognan - £31 from The Wine Society
Here’s why the wines of Pessac-Léognan are so valued – they develop beautifully with age and deliver rich complexity combining lime acidity combined with toast and hay. This is a blend of 55% Sauvignon Blanc and 45% Semillon that has been fermented aged in oak barrels, contributing texture and an extra flavour dimension to the wine. As well as rich seafood dishes like shrimp and lobster, this would be knockout with Christmas dinner. This one is for you, white Burgundy lovers.