Wednesday, May 16, 2007

In Praise of White Bordeaux

Eric Asimov, in a recent post, surveys the early critical reaction to 2006 Bordeaux ("somewhat mixed" but "pretty good") and the by now well rehearsed reasons why the vintage's claret will not be a great buy for the American consumer. Asimov reserves his greatest enthusiasm, however, for the promising reports about vintage's dry white Bordeaux, which he calls "sort of an anachronistic wine" but one that "really ought to get more respect." 2006 was, by all accounts, an outstanding vintage for the region's dry whites, and Neal Martin, among others, has called the whites from Pessac "fabulous."

Dry white Bordeaux, blended from Semillon and Sauvignon blanc, is too often a neglected wine, overshadowed by the world class sweet white and dry red wines from its own region, as well as more popular dry whites, like Chardonnay, worldwide. Yet if you have never tasted a dry white Bordeaux, I can almost guarantee you have never had anything quite like it. The best examples of dry white Bordeaux combine the crisp acidity and tropical fruits of Sauvignon blanc with the richness and unique, waxy texture of Semillon. It is a wine that is weighty and, with some age, carries complex non-fruit notes while not sacrificing freshness. It pairs excellently with fish and seafood dishes of all kinds, and provides a great alternate pairing with foie gras, for those not wanting a sweet wine.

Asimov lists Haut-Brion, Laville Haut-Brion, and Domaine de Chevalier as his top tier of dry white Bordeaux, and to that list I'm almost tempted to add "Y", the dry white wine from the fabled Chateau d'Yquem. "Y" is somewhat of a rarity, as it has been produced in only 23 vintages since 1959 and carries a unique fascination as being the product of the same estate that produces the world's most famous, and most expensive, dessert wine. While "Y" may not quite reach the heights of Haut-Brion blanc or Laville Haut-Brion, the 2000 "Y", which I tasted last year, was everything one wants in a dry white Bordeaux -- graceful and uncannily poised, with crisp, even slightly exotic, fruit flavors balanced by a richness of texture and a roundness of body. A wine of class and understated beauty, with a touch of that special Yquem magic.

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