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Mouton Cadet Blanc (half-bottle) 1998
One of the most important wine regions of the world, 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, this relatively flat region has a mild maritime climate, marked by cool wet winters and warm summers. Annual weather differences create significant vintage variations, making Bordeaux an exciting region to follow.
The Gironde estuary, a defining feature of Bordeaux, separates most of the region into the Left Bank and the Right Bank. Farther inland, where the Gironde splits into the Garonne and Dordogne Rivers, the bucolic, rolling hills of the area in between, called Entre-Deux-Mers, is a source of great quality, approachable reds and whites.
The Left Bank, dominated by Cabernet Sauvignon, contains the Médoc, Graves, and Sauternes, as well as the region’s most famous chateaux. Merlot is important here as the perfect blending grape for Cabernet Sauvignon adding plush fruit and softening Cabernet's sometimes hefty tannins. Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Malbec may also be used in the Left Bank blends.
Merlot is the principal variety of the Right Bank; Cabernet Franc adds structure and complexity to Merlot, creating wines that are concentrated, supple, and more imminently ready for drinking, compared with their Left Bank counterparts. Key appellations of the Right Bank include St. Emilion and Pomerol.
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 intrigue. 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" called botrytis, can have lush stone fruit and honey characteristics.
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 astute 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, oysters with a spicy mignonette or during dinner alongside hearty Alsatian sausage, poached lobster in beurre blanc sauce or even fried chicken.