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Chateau de Sours La Fleur d'Amelie Blanc 2011
One of the most important wine regions of the world both qualitatively and quantitatively, Bordeaux is a powerhouse producer of wines of all colors, sweetness levels, and price points. Separated from the Atlantic ocean by a coastal pine forest, the mostly flat region has a mild maritime climate marked by cool wet winters and a warm, damp growing season, though annual differences are enough to make vintage variation quite significant. Unpredictable weather at harvest time may negatively impact the ability of cornerstone variety Cabernet Sauvignon to ripen fully, while humid conditions can encourage the spread of rot and disease (although in the case of the region’s sweet white wines, “noble” rot known as botrytis is highly desirable). The Gironde estuary is a defining feature of Bordeaux, splitting the region into the Left Bank and the Right Bank. The vast Entre-Deux-Mers appellation lies in between.
The Left Bank, dominated by Cabernet Sauvignon, contains the Médoc, Graves, and Sauternes, as well as most of the region’s most famous chateaux. Here, Merlot is commonly planted as an insurance policy in case Cabernet fails to fully ripen in difficult years. Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, and Malbec may also be used in blends. This tends to be the trend of the more structured and age-worthy side of Bordeaux.
Merlot is the principal variety of the Right Bank, with Cabernet Franc as its primary sidekick, with the other three varieties available for blending. The key appellations here include St. Emilion and Pomerol, whose wines are often plush, supple, and more imminently ready for drinking.
Dry and sweet white wines are produced throughout the region from Sauvignon Blanc, Sémillon, and sometimes Muscadelle or Sauvignon Gris. Some of the finest dry whites can be found in the the Graves sub-appellation of Pessac-Léognan, while Sauternes is undisputedly the gold standard for sweet wines. Small amounts of rosé and sparkling wine are made in Bordeaux as well.
Sometimes light and crisp, other times rich and creamy, Bordeaux white blends typically consist of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon. Often, a small amount of Muscadelle or Sauvignon Gris is included for added interest. This blend was popularized in the Bordeaux region of France (where it also comprises outstanding sweet wines like Sauternes and Barsac), but is often mimicked throughout the New World, particularly in California, Washington, and Australia.
In the Glass
Sémillon provides the background to this blend, with a relatively full body and an oily texture. Sauvignon Blanc adds acidity and lots of bright fruit flavor, particularly white grapefruit, lime, and freshly cut grass. Used in smaller proportions, Muscadelle can contribute fresh floral notes, while Sauvignon Gris is less aromatic but offers ripe, juicy fruit on the palate. These wines run the gamut from unoaked, refreshing, and easy to drink to serious, complex, and barrel-aged. The latter style, usually with a higher percentage of Sémillon, can develop aromas of ginger, chamomile, and dried orange peel. The dessert wines produced by these blends, often with the help of noble rot, can have lush stone fruit and honey character.
Crisp, dry Bordeaux white blends are the perfect accompaniment for raw or lightly cooked seafood, especially shellfish. A more structured, Sémillon-based bottling can stand up to richer fish, chicken, or pork dishes in white sauces. These blends also work well with a variety of vegetables and fresh herbs, like asparagus, peas, basil, and tarragon. Sweet dessert wines are traditionally enjoyed with strong blue cheeses, foie gras, or fruit-based desserts.
Sauternes and Barsac are usually reserved for dessert, but smart sommeliers know that they can be served at any time—before, during, or after the meal. Try these sweet wines as an aperitif with jamón ibérico or oysters with a spicy mignonette, or during dinner alongside hearty Alsatian sausage, poached lobster in beurre blanc sauce, or even fried chicken.