01/13/09 – learning to respect the Sauvignon Blanc of Bordeaux

By Jesse on January 12, 2010

Here’s a classic wine joke: when does a Bordeaux not get any respect? When it’s a white Bordeaux! Hah! (Ok, I’ll admit, it’s not very funny. But that’s because there’s nothing funny about wine.)

The classic red wines of France’s Bordeaux region are among the most expensive and sought-after bottles in the world — and, to this day, are considered by many to be the standard for sturdy, age-worthy wines. The white wines of Bordeaux, while they certainly aren’t laughed at, simply don’t have the same prestige as their red cousins… nor do they have the “cool” factor of white wines from, say, the Rhone Valley (or Spain, or Austria, etc). Typically made from blends of Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon, white Bordeaux can be delicious, refreshing wines. So why the lack of respect?

One problem is likely the whole blending thing, which doesn’t really allow the Sauv Blanc to fully enjoy the spotlight. Unlike the reds, which are made by blending together grapes that share a lot of flavor characteristics (Cab, Merlot, Cab Franc, etc), the white Bordeaux can best be described as efforts to reconcile the opposing natures of their two main varietals: the Sauvignon Blanc contributes racy, herbal acidity, while the Sémillon adds honeyed textural elements. In the Loire Valley, where Sauvignon Blanc is not blended, the great bottles of Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé are pure expressions of the grape, and the region gets a lot of love as a result. In Bordeaux, it’s like, “hmm, am I tasting the Sauv Blanc or the Sémillion? I can’t decide… let’s just order more Pouilly-Fumé.”

This week, we’ll be tasting a lineup of Sauvignon Blancs, with a special emphasis on those from Bordeaux. Stop by your friendly neighborhood wine store and ask if they’ve got any white Bordeaux in which Sauvignon Blanc makes up a majority of the blend, or even 50 percent. (The only 100% Sauvignon Blanc in Bordeaux is the Pavillon Blanc from Chateau Margeaux, which I’m willing to bet none of us can afford.) This is definitely a theme worthy of a trip to the wine shop, as your local grocery store is likely to be rather sparse in their selection of white Bordeaux. Oh yeah… if anyone happens to find themselves in a sweet mood and wants to bring a bottle of Sauternes, the classic Bordeaux dessert wine made from Sauv Blanc and Sémillon, I’m not going to object.

If your local wine merchant doesn’t have any appropriate options, you can feel free to bring a bottle of 100% Sauvignon Blanc from one of its other popular regions (the aforementioned Loire Valley, California, New Zealand, etc), which we’ll use for comparison purposes. Or, as always, you can opt to bring ten American dollars instead of a bottle.

We’ll be meeting at Emily’s place in Manhattan Beach. The RSVP system functions like this: if you want in, you click on this link and tell me so (don’t forget your full name, e-mail address, and a cute message conveying to me your intentions). If you’re denied entry due to a meeting exceeding capacity, don’t worry — you’ll be at the top of the list the next week.

This should be a good one! Looking forward to seeing you all on Wednesday at 9pm.