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Iconic Dry White Bordeaux

On February 6th the Institute of Masters of Wine hosted a seminar entitled The Great Dry White Wines of Bordeaux at 67 Pall Mall in London with luminaries such as Christian Seely and Pierre-Olivier Clouet there to talk us through their wines.

It was a stellar line up with the seven wines to taste being:

  • Château Cheval Blanc Le Petit Cheval Blanc 2014 – 100% Sauvignon Blanc
  • Château Cheval Blanc Le Petit Cheval Blanc 2015 – 100% Sauvignon Blanc
  • Château Mouton Rothschild Aile d’Argent 2015 – 55% Sauvignon Blanc, 43% Sémillon, 2% Muscadelle
  • Opalie de Château Coutet 2016 – 50% Sauvignon Blanc, 50% Sémillon
  • Château Suduiraut S de Suduiraut 2016 – 56% Sémillon, 44% Sauvignon Blanc
  • Château Margaux Pavillon Blanc de Château Margaux 1996 – 100% Sauvignon Blanc
  • Château Margaux Pavillon Blanc de Château Margaux 2015 – 100% Sauvignon Blanc

Pierre-Olivier, technical manager at Château Cheval Blanc since 2008, kicked off proceedings and explained that they vinified their first vintage of Sauvignon Blanc in 2009 after grafting over some Merlot vines. 45 different plots are treated and vinified separately to allow for the complexity and diversity of the different terroirs of each site along with different clones and rootstocks. They are looking for complexity, freshness, depth, balance and ageing potential and consequently pick early to ensure freshness, acid and tension and to avoid the ‘cats pee’ aroma of the varietal. The wines are not intended to be overtly oaky but texture is encouraged by spending time on lees.

So what of the wines themselves? The two vintages were surprisingly different with the 2014 being tight with notable citrus acidity and some appealing spicy notes. Racy with grapefruit pith there were well-integrated phenolics on the finish from contact with the lees and the wine came in at a civilized 13% abv. By contrast the 2015 vintage was very different; riper, fatter and richer with the 14.5% alcohol showing slightly on the finish but very attractive with spicy notes again but more textured, ripe and layered than the slightly angular 2014.

The third wine we tried with Philippe Dhalluin (Managing Director of Mouton) was the Aile d’Argent 2015, a blend this time, which Mouton first made in 1991 for family consumption. He explained that the whites were harder and more expensive to make than the reds but the winemakers enjoy the challenge. For me, this was my least favourite of the seven wines. Whilst it had quite a deep colour, the nose was very tight and yet the palate quite fat and waxy with notes of honey and spice, with nuts and apricot on the textured finish. The Opalie de Château Coutet 2016, also from the Mouton stable, was more appealing with a subtle smoky aroma and tight citrus acid; elegant, light and long. Very classic with the 14.5% alcohol expertly integrated.

Christian Seely, Managing Director of AXA Millésimes then presented S de Suduiraut 2016 which had less obvious spice on the nose but an attractive balance of acidity and texture on the palate. A little light in the mid-palate perhaps for me, but a great length. The Sauternes region has some sales challenges at the moment so making dry white in this slightly beleaguered sweet white region makes a lot of sense to me.

We were talked through the last two wines of the tasting by Thibaut Pontallier, Global Ambassador for Château Margaux and son of the widely admired Paul Pontallier who sadly died aged just 59 in 2016. The white wines from Château Margaux were sensational…...the 1996 was extraordinarily complex; still fresh but very distinctive, deeply coloured with honey and wax, long and layered. The 2015 was also a total delight and my favourite of the whole flight with very pretty oak and a seamless, expertly crafted and balanced palate. Fresh, zippy, longer, layered and utterly, utterly delicious. Sadly utterly, utterly out of my price range! Thibaut said that when he was young he asked his father how you could tell if a wine was great to which Paul Pontallier replied ‘a good wine gives you pleasure but a great wine gives you emotion.’ Those wines were great wines indeed.