While many are familiar with the bold esteem that accompany many red Bordeaux wines it would be doing the region a disservice to not discuss the multitude, yet lesser produced white varietals that are produced with equally impressive finesse and founded traditions.
Bordeaux is one of France’s, and most renowned, wine regions. Located on the southwestern borders of the country it’s wine-producing region backs just inland of the Atlantic ocean. The region is split into many wine regions across the hundreds of acres of vineyard land that calls the Bordeaux region home. On the left bank, wine regions of Medoc in the north, Graves produce mainly Cabernet Sauvignon-based wines, and on the right bank, and Saint-Emilion and Pomerol produce mainly Merlot-based wines. It is also home to where the prestigious, Château Petrus is produced and can often go at auctions for thousands of dollars for a single bottle. The south includes the regions of Entre-Deux-Mers which spans between the Dordogne and Garonne rivers, and the wine regions of Sauternes.
In white wine producing areas of Bordeaux, the main grapes selected for cultivation include Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, Muscadelle and a few lesser known varietals such as Ugni Blanc, and Colombard. One such wine is the white wine of Château Carbonnieux located in the region of Pessac Leognan a few minutes south of the city of Bordeaux. The Sauvignon Blanc produced in Bordeaux is quite unlike any others in the world. For those of you familiar with New World expressions, it does not have the tropical fruit qualities that California offers, nor does it have quite the grassy pungence that New Zealand contains. White wines produced here, retain a fruity yet herbaceous, creamy yet structured quality that makes them a classic by any standard. Part of what makes these white Bordeaux wines so unique is the blending that is customary across the region. Wine makers structure and “build” these wines post harvest to best convey the essence of that vintage, adding more of this, less of that, to create wines that are both balanced and expressive. When looking at white wine labels from Bordeaux, it’s important to understand how these wines are classified to ensure quality matches your expectations. Bordeaux may be labeled as Bordeaux, Bordeaux Supérieur, or Crus Classés wines and, with all of the French on the labels, I find it’s easiest to remember imagining them as concentric circles that get smaller and smaller with “Bordeaux” as the largest circle as it is the more general indication and often less pricey, and Crus Classés productions as the smallest circle of the three. Crus Classés wines have been established and recognized for offering superior wines than their broader classified counterparts.
Château Carbonnieux has roots linking back to the 12th century. The land was cultivated by Benedictine monks who laid the foundation for the winemaking success it came to know in the 1700’s and in the many years leading to its existence today. That is to say that this winery, and many others in France didn’t have their share of hardships, from the disease-ridden years from the Phylloxera (grape louse) epidemic, French revolution, and world wars which affected many of the regions of France. Nevertheless the Château Carbonnieux vineyard endured until the Perrin family purchased the winery after World War II. The family, which still owns the vineyard today, has ensured that good name — which has been linked with high-quality red and white productions — continues for many years to come.
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The 2015 Château Carbonnieux Blanc Pessac-Leognan (retail $35-45) is made from 80% Sauvignon Blanc grapes and 20% Semillon grapes, which are added to add complexity and richness to the otherwise lean Sauvignon Blanc grape.
Pale lemon in color, the wine has aromas of ripe apple, ginger, pear and baking spice with slightly herbaceous thyme and chives. As you taste this wine, the flavors of apple continue through, along with flavors of white peach, grapefruit, and lemon zest. This wine is dry with high acidity, and medium body and complexity. The addition of Semillon grapes to this wine helps round out the “edges” of the Sauvignon Blanc and creates great additional complexity and body.
With white Bordeaux wines such as these, look to complement the herbaceous qualities of your favorite dishes. Pair them with dishes including lots of fresh basil, like pesto, pea or asparagus risotto, or white fish with a simple beurre blanc to finish. The next time that you’re looking for a fresh Sauvignon Blanc for your cellar or meal du jour, I encourage you to pass on the New World productions, instead selecting the 2015 Château Carbonnieux Blanc Pessac-Leognan in an effort to get in touch with something a little more classic.