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A Workingman’s Guide to Bordeaux 2007 – A Whiter Shade of Pale

By guest blogger David Chaundy-Smart

Grand cru Bordeaux is suffering a dicey 2007 vintage. At a recent tasting of about 50 such wines put on by the Union de Grands Crus de Bordeaux in Toronto, I was impressed by the gameness of the chateaux who have to produce a declared vintage regardless of the quality. To be sure, there were some highlights, especially from the left bank, with Haut-Bages-Liberal, St-Julien and Pomerol coming off with a little more structure. This is because cool summer temperatures leading to unprecedented hang-times did not affect these Cabernet Sauvignon-based wines as much as Merlot-based wines of the Right Bank, since that grape provides its best in summers hot enough to bring it to ripeness in early autumn.

Although some left bank wines, such as Clos d’l’Oratoire were lovely, fresh wines with fruit on the nose mingling with the oak, they mainly lacked the complex tannins and structure that would give them the future that would justify the investment of an amount of money an increasing number of consumers find restrictive. A grand cru Bordeaux ordinarily must have at least 10 years of bottle aging to reach its prime and to have the subtle mixture of faded tannins and fruit come forward to deliver the flavors and aromas of the world’s best red wine experience. All of this just emphasizes the degree to which consumers should take advantage of whatever wine from the excellent 2005 vintage is still available on the shelves, using the rule that less prestigious wines from a good year in an important region are good investments.

There is another bright side to the story of 2007, however, and that is that it was a terrific year for Bordeaux’s white wine, which is unfamiliar, despite its relative affordability, racy flavors and aristocratic pedigree. The Graves region produces the most white Bordeaux and Pessac-Leognan produces the finest and priciest ones.

Chateaux Carbonnieux (65% Sauvignon Blanc, 34% Semillon, 1% Muscadelle) had a nose of grapefruit and pineapple, leading to flavors of deep peach and a finish with a complex acid structure.

Malarctic Lagraviere (80% Sauvignon Blanc, 20% Semillon) was pale gold tinted with green. Grapefruit and jasmine flower led to a minerally finish – described by one taster as redolent of crushed stone – and an astonishingly long finish of subtle acidity.

These wines will age for 10 years or more and are well worth their $50-100 price tags, but the good news is that some very good Graves is available for quite reasonable prices both from the outstanding 2005 vintage and from the perhaps even more outstanding 2007 white vintage.
It’s worth noting that although now all of the expensive, classified whites hail from Pessac-Leognan, that appellation was only separated from Graves in 1987. Although these wines are wonderful on their own, they are traditionally paired with seafood, pork, rabbit and mild young cow’s milk cheese, but I like them with lamb with white beans and tomato-based fish stew. One final advantage is that most white Bordeaux clocks in at 12-12.5% alcohol, whereas comparably rich Ontario and Aussie Chardonnay usually boasts 13.5% alcohol.

Chateau Grand Bordrieu Sensation Blanc 2005 (about $12 US, $16 Cdn)

This five-year-old 60% Sauvignon Blanc, 40% Semillon is a deal. It has flavors of citrus and lime, and trades the grassiness that is a fixture of New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs for a richness imparted by six months on the lees. A subtle hint of vanilla comes from a portion oaked in new American barrels.

Chateau Le Pavillon Boyrein Blanc 2007 (about $12 US, $16 Cdn)

A delightful nose of gingersnap apples and melon lingers for a long time. Refreshing acidity moderates the oak to deliver a finish with none of the smoked vanilla ice cream flavors of the ruder Sauvignon Blancs of the southwest United States.

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“A Workingman’s Guide to Bordeaux 2007 – A Whiter Shade of Pale”