The British have always loved their bubbly. We’ve been entranced by Champagne since the 19th century and we’ve spread the love to encompass Prosecco. But we are missing out on a vast swathe of fantastic fizz. There’s a world of Mousseux out there begging to be discovered.
There’s no prospect of the British love affair with bubbly dimming. Sales are booming as we broaden our quest to discover quality fizz that fits the bill. Our first love may be Champagne but thanks to a growing demand for reasonably priced bubbly there is a wider choice of sparkling wines available today than ever before.
Traditionally France has always lead the way but in the past decade Cava (Spain) and more recently Prosecco (Italy) have made huge inroads to the market. Alarm bells sounded this year with a threatened Prosecco shortage caused by a poor harvest in 2014. This was followed by warnings of Prosecco price rises, partly down to the impending shortage, market manipulation and producers wishing to craft premium ‘top dollar’ Prosecco. It’s not surprising that Italian wine makers wish to up their game – in 2014 Prosecco sales outstripped those of Champagne for the first time. Only time will tell if Prosecco starts to become more expensive.
France has by no means been left behind. In the 2015 Champagne and Sparkling Wine Awards on Sept 2nd France was the most successful country with 19 more gold medals (46 in all) than second placed Italy. It remains a fabulous source of sparkling wine.
Beyond Champagne France’s equivalent to Prosecco are the Vins Mousseux. ‘Mousseux’ comes from ‘mousse’ and refers to the foam of bubbles that froths to the top of the glass. Vins Mousseux are made the length and breadth of France and flagship grapes from each different wine region give each sparkling wine its personality and character. Better known regions span from the Loire, Rhone, Savoie, Languedoc Roussillon and Gaillac.
If you enjoy sparkling wine, French Vins Mousseux have a wide variety of styles to suit every taste. Vins Mousseux tend to be fruitier and more lively than Cremants and Champagnes. They are typically drunk young so that you get all the benefits of the aromas and flavours whilst they are still vibrant. Cremants and Champagnes (made by the Method Champenoise) lose their fruitiness as the wine develops and take on flavours of brioche, toast, caramel and nuts. Vins Mousseux have a mousse of bubbles that last till the last sip from the glass but the bubbles tend to be bigger and more zippy than Cremants or Champagnes.
Mousseux – the origins of effervescence
Contrary to myth the French didn’t invent sparkling wine (though they certainly developed it into what we know today). Wine becomes effervescent when it undergoes secondary fermentation. It’s a phenomenon that has occurred since the beginning of wine making itself – the oldest known document mentioning it is an Egyptian papyrus dated 522 AD. However, it was often looked on as a fault and as something to be avoided.
Taming the bubble
As wine making improved down the ages people began to enjoy its natural ability to twinkle. But wine makers didn’t understand what made it occur. What they didn’t know was that the bubbles were created when the wine underwent a second fermentation, producing an excess of carbon dioxide which gave the wine a fizzy quality.
A grand collaboration between the British and French, driven by a thirst for sparkling wine . . .
Dom Perignon, the fabled French monk who the Champagne Dom Perignon is named for, wasn’t the first to laud the fizzing qualities of sparkling wine – it was being remarked on in 13th century France and its tongue tickling sensations were hailed as extraordinary. By the 17th century major developments were underway as producers sought to perfect the secondary fermentation. It was an Englishman who perfected the technique. Christopher Meret (born in Winchcombe, Gloucestershire) delivered a paper to the Royal Society in 1662 setting out a recipe for sparkling wine. He recommended adding sugar to a finished wine which would start off a secondary fermentation and produce the bubbles we love so well.
Different methods were developed as time went on. They boil down to two basic techniques:
Methode Charmat or Methode de la Cuve Close – used by most Vins Mousseux (and also by Prosecco, Asti etc!). Invented by Jean Eugene Charmat in 1907 (whose son was the creator of the sparkling wine Veuve de Vernay). The second fermentation takes place in a pressurized vat.
Methode Champenoise or Methode Traditionelle – used by Champagne and Cremant producers. With this method the second fermentation occurs in the bottle.
The first mention of ‘Sparkling Champagne’ was in English, not French, in 1676. Bottles strong enough to withstand the explosive powers of fizz were developed by the English using coal-fired glass, corks were reintroduced to the French by British bottlers . . . and corks with wire muselets (which translates as ‘muzzle’) were invented by the French in 1844.
Discover the Duc
Popular in France, and exclusive to Bordeaux-Undiscovered in the UK, Duc de Berieu Brut and Duc de Berieu Demi Sec are made by along established negociant, with several prestigious chateaux to their name, who specialize in the production of sparkling wines.
Both these Vins Mousseux are made with Ugni Blanc, which is the French name for Trebbiano. The name Ugni Blanc holds the key to this grape, it’s derived from the old French name ‘Unia’ which comes from the Latin ‘Eugenia, meaning ‘noble’ and the grape is an unsung hero when it comes to sparkling wines.
Having taken both these wines to various shows up and down the country they have been favourably received especially when they are directly compared with Processco. The consensus of opinion is that they are clean and fresher than their Italian rival. So why not try yourself? At £6.99 a bottle you have nothing to lose!
Are you missing out on superb Bordeaux? Second Wines from the great and the good amongst the Grand Cru Classe are highly sought after but many quality vineyards in Bordeaux produce them. They are a wonderful source of lovely wines that are much more affordable than the Grand Vins heralded as the first label . . .
Bordeaux is the only wine region in the world that legally defines a chateau’s second label, enshrining a guarantee of quality in French law. Second Wines have really come into their own over the past few decades with more and more chateaux adopting the practice. But this is by no means a 21st century phenomenon, the practice of making a Second Wine is an ancient one. Records show that the owners of Premier Cru Chateau Haut Brion produced a Second Wine dating back to at least the 1700s.
Second Wines were born as chateaux expanded and improved their estates centuries ago – and this process continues today. Primarily instigated by the prestigious Grand Cru Classe, most Second Wines came into existence in the 1870s – 1930s as separate brands to the Grand Vins (flagship wines). As their popularity grew within the markets they have been rebranded and reborn from the 1960s onwards as chateaux owners realised their potential . . . and wine enthusiasts discovered their appeal.
Second Wines are neither ‘factory seconds’ or clearance goods. Far from it.
The main attraction of a Second Wine is that you are getting a highly crafted vintage that mirrors the more expensive Grand Vin. Second Wines share the same expertise that goes into the making of the Grand Vin and often share its history. However they don’t share the same price. Second Wines from top chateaux are usually priced less than a fifth of the Grand Vin (with some exceptions that command more).
Being wealthy, the Grand Cru Classes, were the first to embark on the strategy of producing Second Wines. The process may have roots embedded in the distant past but what has changed is the clout that certain Second Wines have within the market. Today there are more than 700 Second Wines.
Evolution over time has seen chateaux develop and rebrand Second Wines that come from both second estates and second labels:
1850s – Carruades created by Chateau Lafite Rothschild. Rebranded as Moulin de Carruades in the late 1960s and then again as Carruades de Lafite in 1980s.
1874 – Second Wine created by Chateau Pichon Lalande, rebranded as La Reserve de la Comtesse in 1973.
1902 – Second estate Clos du Marquis used as a Second Wine by Chateau Leoville Las Cases until 2007 which saw Le Petit Leon created as a premium Second Wine.
1908 – Pavillon Rouge created by Chateau Margaux, reintroduced 1978.
1927 – Carruades de Mouton created by Chateau Mouton Rothschild. Renamed Mouton Cadet in 1930 which developed into a brand in its own right. 1993 saw Le Petit Mouton, created as a premium Second Wine.
1963 – Les Forts de Latour, created by Chateau Latour
What’s the difference between second estates and second labels?
1. Second Estates
Most Second Wines do not have the word ‘chateau’ in their label but in a few instances you will see some Second Wines that do. These are typically second estates that have been added to the principal chateau’s portfolio in times past. These second estates’ title, terroir and reputations have specific qualities to entitle them to produce wines in their own right rather than suffer the fate of having their lands swallowed up by their new owners.
Second estates are added to chateaux either through inheritance or by acquisition. The practice of buying up your neighbours is not a new one in Bordeaux. Successful chateaux often seek to expand by acquiring rivals that sit on coveted top quality land. These prime vineyards are sometimes absorbed into the buyer’s estate to enhance the Grand Vin or to increase its production. This happened to Chateau La Tour du Pin in 2012 when it was merged into the vineyards of Premier Cru Chateau Cheval Blanc. (Sadly La Tour du Pin no longer exists, which is a shame as it was a lovely wine – however we do have some rare vintages available, 2006 and 2007.)
Alternatively second estate vineyards are exclusively used to produce a Second Wine. Chateau Moulin Riche, made by Chateau Leoville Poyferre, is an example of a successful Second Wine from a second esate. It was inherited by the owners of Leoville Poyferre in 1894 and was of sufficient status to stand alone from the Grand Vin. For many years it was effectively the chateau’s Second Wine but in 2009 it was granted independence in its own right thanks to its reputation. Leoville Poyferre then created an replacement Second Wine named Pavillon de Poyferre.
2. Second Labels
Second Wines also came about via methods of improvement. Chateaux have different plots of vines within their vineyards of varying age and grape variety. Each plot has its specific terroir and the batches of wines produced from these plots bear different characteristics. Chateaux develop consistent house styles by picking out the hallmark traits from these batches to create their preferred blend for the Grand Vin. However this presented a problem – what could they do with the quality wine that didn’t go into the blend? In the past this would have been sold off to the trade but as techniques improved and quality soared the chateaux realised this was a dreadful waste of a good product. The answer was to create a Second Label.
This process has been refined even further with a handful of Grand Cru Classe introducing Third and Fourth labels – Premier Cru Chateaux Latour produces Pauillac de Latour (3rd Wine) and Margaux produces Pavillon Blanc de Margaux (a white 3rd Wine) and Margaux de Margaux (4th Wine).
Nowadays most serious contenders on the Left Bank (the Medoc AOCs) produce a Second Wine. Second Wines are less common amongst Right Bank properties in Pomerol as their vineyards are much smaller.
Chateau Haut Manoir is the Second Wine of Chateau La Commanderie in Pomerol. It sits in the same pocket of land as top performing estates: Chateau Nenin is its nearest neighbour, Chateau La Conseillante sits to the east and Premier Cru Chateau Cheval Blanc is less than half a mile away. Haut Manoir lies on lies on lands owned by the Knight Hospitallers of Saint John and it’s parent, Chateau La Commanderie, takes its name from the 12th century Hospitaller Commandry that was once situated there.
Haut Manoir will easily be appreciated by lovers of wine from this famous appellation. At £16.99 Haut Manoir was very well received by visitors to the Oxford Wine Festival when I introduced it there.
Fine textured and full bodied. Deeply layered flavours of black cherry, blackcurrant and chocolate with spicy notes of ginger and liquorice. Undertones of caramel and an elegant balsamic bouquet of black pepper and fig. Plush and polished with velvety tannins.
Food and Wine Pairing:
Haut Manoir bears all the hallmarks of a good Pomerol and being fuller bodied, sensuous and deeply flavoured it is perfect with game, roast lamb, duck and beef. It’s particularly good with venison, pigeon and wild boar sausages as well as Chinese dishes with Hoisin sauce, braised steak, hearty casseroles, truffle and mushroom based pastas, liver or kidneys.
Some of the best value Bordeaux out there comes from the Cru Bourgeois – a family of superb wines that pass vigorous quality control checks to guarantee you a glass of something rather special . . .
The Cru Bourgeois are a great source of extremely good wine at a fraction of the price you would splash out on a Grand Cru Classe. Made to the same exacting standards as the Grand Cru Classe in many cases (and often at the same cost) the Cru Bourgeois have clear-cut pedigrees and a rigorous quality control system. Unlike the Grand Cru Classe, which were ranked back in 1855 and have not been reclassified since, the Cru Bourgeois are assessed on a yearly basis. This is the most dynamic ranking of wines in Bordeaux (even Saint Emilion can not match it, their Classification is updated around every 10 years or so).
You may ask why wines are classified at all. Simply put, Classification provides the consumer with an authentic product and a guarantee of its quality.
What are the Cru Bourgeois?
The Cru Bourgeois are a legacy that dates back to the Middle Ages. The ‘bourgeois’ refers to the wealthy middle class wine merchants and craftsmen of the ‘bourg’ of Bordeaux. By the 15th century the bourgeois of Bordeaux had begun to invest in fine vineyards, which became known as Cru Bourgeois (‘cru’ means ‘growth’ when referring to vineyards and denotes recognised quality). They played an important role in the development of the Medoc vineyards and by the early 1800s there were around 300 Crus Bourgeois estates.
Instigated by the Emperor Napoleon III, the 1855 Classification ranked the wines of the aristocracy. Many estates were left out and typically, the Cru Bourgeois were not included. However the Cru Bourgeois were too good not to be recognised in some way. They represented the better estates across the Medoc covering the appellations Medoc, Haut Medoc, Listrac Medoc, Moulis en Medoc, Pauillac, Saint Estephe, Margaux and Saint Julien.
1932 – The unofficial list
In 1932 the Bordeaux Chamber of Commerce and Chamber of Agriculture drew up an unofficial list of 444 Cru Bourgeois chateaux and this remained unchanged until 2003. Things needed to change; the 1932 list badly needed revising and regulating as it was outdated and the range in quality was quite diverse.
2003 – The year of change . . . and court action
The 2003 classification was the first big step forward but, as you can imagine, it caused an uproar with only 247 chateaux included out of the 490 that were submitted. What’s more the chateaux were divided into 3 tiers: Cru Bourgeois Exceptionnel, Cru Bourgeois Supérieur and Cru Bourgeois (with Cru Bourgeois Exceptionnel being the top wines). The idea was to assess the chateaux every 12 years but thanks to the ensuing fracas, bitter complaints and threats of legal action from unsuccessful chateaux owners the Cru Bourgeois was annulled in 2007. Thankfully, after much wrangling and mulling over the best way forward, a brand new system was introduced and 2010 saw the Cru Bourgeois reborn.
2010 – The year of rebirth
The new Cru Bourgeois quality control procedure is independent and uncompromising.
Vintage, not vineyard – The class of Cru Bourgeois is awarded to the vintage and not to the vineyard or to the chateau which means that each year a chateau can lose or gain Cru Bourgeois status depending on whether the wine of that vintage makes the grade or not.
Independent Judges – To ensure impartiality, an independent agency called Bureau Veritas, checks that all applicants are worthy, examining the state of their grounds, vineyards and wine making facilities.
Blind Tastings – Bureau Veritas is also in charge of supervising blind tastings of each vintage by a jury of trade professionals – who are not chateau owners.
The new system does not include tiers so the higher-ranking Cru Bourgeois Superieur and Cru Bourgeois Exceptionnel categories that were used in the 2003 ranking are defunct. However there are movements to reinstate these, so I will keep you posted!
Any chateau can apply for Cru Bourgeois status but only their Grand Vin can be submitted ie no second wines or special cuvées.
Five years down the line and these exacting standards are bearing fruit. The Cru Bourgeois are well respected. Benchmark wines are being recognised and consumers are benefitting from Cru Bourgeois’ stable prices, consistent quality, provenance and rich history along with an ongoing commitment to offering genuine value.
A consistent performer as a Cru Bourgeois and the 2011 vintage has also bagged a gold medal in the long established Concours des Grand Vins de France. Chantemerle is a petit chateau that belongs to the Cruchon family who have been wine makers for several generations in the northern Medoc. Under the direction of Frederic Cruchon, the Medoc’s traditions are respected and the vineyard managed meticulously.
Meltingly smooth Cru Bourgeois Medoc with splendidly rounded tannins. Deliciously deep flavours of cassis (blackcurrant liqueur), juicy prunes and ripe black cherry with expressive notes of vanilla, cinnamon, cocoa and cedar. A lovely floral hint of peonies. Powerful yet balanced. Aromatic, opulent and silky.
Food and Wine Pairing:
Being rich and full bodied, Chantemerle pairs very well with the rich flavours of duck and lamb. It’s good with a juicy rib eye steak or hearty beef casseroles, rabbit in mustard sauce, sausages and salamis, feathered game such as pheasant or grouse, kidney and liver.
It’s not often a wine steals the show, especially when it started life as an accident . . .
If Chateau La Fleur Morange isn’t on your radar yet it ought to be. Jancis Robinson’s article in the Financial Times, ‘One Mighty Smallholder,’ followed up with ‘La Fleur Morange, the Carpenter’s Wine‘ on her website, hit the press at the weekend, putting La Fleur Morange firmly in the spotlights. Bravo, Jancis! Celebrity is a new thing for La Fleur Morange, this is a tiny chateau and a newcomer to boot. However it deserves to be centre stage and rightfully take its place on the red carpet.
La Fleur Morange’s rise to fame is a Cinderella story. It starts with Jean Francois Julien, the wine’s creator, in the village of Saint Pey d’Armens in Saint Emilion. Jean Francois’ fell into wine making by accident trying to save his land from development. His answer to the problem was to turn it into a vineyard. His prospects did not look good; for starters he wasn’t a wine maker. He was a cabinet maker who learnt how to make wine by reading from a book. It wasn’t any old book, it was a book by
Emile Peynaud, the revolutionary French oenologist and researcher, and it inspired Jean Francois. The odds were stacked against him but in typical fashion he hunkered down and persevered . . . and something magical happened:
His vines turned out to be a rareity (they are 100+ years old).
His soil turned out to be gold dust (it is unique in Saint Emilion and happens to be the same iron rich clay that produces Chateau Petrus in Pomerol – one of the best wines in the world).
He built his own little winery from scratch (his pioneering new techniques and innovations that he applied to his chai have been subsequently adopted by elite chateaux throughout Bordeaux).
He discovered that he had a new gift – he turned out to be a tremendously talented wine maker.
It’s one thing to make a great wine but it’s another to gain recognition for it. As a newcomer, a trailblazer and a garagiste (a ‘garage wine maker’ – a nick name for small scale entrepreneurial wine makers in Bordeaux) Jean Francois was considered to be small fry by his peers. He had an uphill battle on his hands to get
his wine the acceptance it deserved. Once again, something magical happened to enhance La Fleur Morange’s debut on the world stage. The rave reviews and awards started pouring in, and so did the sales:
Those who tasted his wines believed in them and sent samples left and right to the world’s best critics. Robert Parker, the American wine critic and world authority on wine, scored his 2000 vintage 93 out of 100. Jean Francois sold his entire crop in 20 minutes. More high scores were to follow for the next vintages – the 2010 got 96+. This made waves in the wine world; La Fleur Morange was beating the big boys with scores on a par to the First Growths and Grand Cru Classes.
Jancis Robinson was introduced to La Fleur Morange in anextensive blind tasting of right bank 2005s in 2008 and thought that this mystery wine was either First Growth Ausone or Pavie, two of the four estates now in therarefied rank two notches above Grand Cru.
In 2012 La Fleur Morange won its Oscar – it was awarded the rank of Grand Cru Classe. An amazing achievement, and practically unprecedented.
La Fleur Morange, once the critics choice, has now stepped out into the limelight. It’s a wine that, although dazzling, holds no bars. Sumptuous, opulent and multi dimensional, it’s approachable on every level – as its its maker. Jean Francois is unchanged by success, he remains a dedicated and hard working friend. Production is still tiny, the vineyard still small. Jean Francois has added to his repertoire with a Second Wine, Mathilde. Named after his little daughter, Mathilde is no understudy but a pure Merlot. It’s priced around £19 a bottle. La Fleur Morange averages from £30 – £40 depending on the vintage.
It’s a remarkable story, and one I’ve told many times before. I’ve backed Jean Francois from the beginning and I’ll give La Fleur Morange as many encores as I can. Jean Francois and his wine deserve a standing ovation for pure guts and brilliance.
If you’d like to try Jean Francois’ wines I have put together a specially priced case (with a discount of nearly £40) of Mathilde featuring the 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2010 vintages – some of my favourite years. The 2009 (92 points) and 2010 (93 points) vintages come from stellar years for Bordeaux and are deeply flavoured velvety wines. The 2008 (92 points) and the 2007 (87 points) have both been dubbed ‘hedonistic’ by Parker.
They key to Bordeaux’s successful white wines is in the blend. Carefully crafted combinations of grapes can take these white wines up to another level and here’s what to look out for when hunting through what’s on offer . . .
There’s a certain amount of winemaking wizardry that goes into Bordeaux’s white wines. Chateaux here have been perfecting their techniques for centuries and the art of blending is the critical component that lifts these wines above the rest. High flying top white Bordeaux, both Dry and Sweet, rub shoulders with white Burgundies and take their place amongst the world’s most sought after wines.
White wine production is a tradition in Bordeaux and these whites are made by chateaux in every price bracket, meaning you can pick up a high quality white at a sensible price.
Big or small, ALL Bordeaux chateaux blend. The Bordelaise have long understood that to rely on a single grape variety spells disaster. If your one crop of Sauvignon Blanc is decimated by the weather you either go bust or what wine is produced is poor. So, over several hundred years, Bordeaux has learnt to pair up grapes that complement each other; bringing out the best characteristics of each grape, creating a consistent house style for each chateau, capturing the essence of terroir and enhancing the final wine. The results are dazzling: delicious wines that shimmer with flavour.
You may not believe it but once upon a time Bordeaux produced more white wine than red!
Bordeaux produces Dry, Sweet (Liqoroux) and Semi Sweet (Moelleux) white wines and the permitted grape varieties that are allowed in the blends are set in stone; being carefully regulated by the INAO (the governing body of Bordeaux’s AOCs). Not every permitted grape is used in the white blends as chateaux can pick and choose between them. Grapes that are stellar players are selected for their quality, properties and performance in the vineyard. Each chateaux favours their own combination of grapes and blending has evolved into a fine art. Science plays a part too and some in cases blending has moved into the lab.
There are 9 permitted white grape varieties in Bordeaux white wines, the principal ones are Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon and Muscadelle. These are the keystones of various styles that suit a whole range of wine lovers.
The other 6 grapes are used in smaller percentages (usually below 15%). They are Sauvignon Gris (which is becoming more popular for use in blends nowadays), the more rarely used Ugni Blanc, Colombard, Merlot Blanc . . . and Ondenc and Mauzac (which are no longer used, although some plantings may be hiding in the rural backwaters). These seldom used grapes are known as ‘accessory grapes’ and hail from Bordeaux’s past. Once widely grown they succumbed to the phylloxera epidemic (1875 – 1892) which destroyed Bordeaux’s vineyards. They were seldom replaced and now represent distant echoes from Bordeaux’s past.
The Main Players
Adds rich plush texture, depth, body and longevity to the blend.
Semillion is the primary grape in the blends of Bordeaux’s finest Sweet white wines. It is also used extensively in Dry white blends and is the most planted white grape across Bordeaux. Percentages of Semillion used can vary in the blends, with the highest amounts being used in the AOCs that produce sweet white wines.
Semillon is famous for being susceptible to Noble Rot which shrivels the grapes, concentrating the juices and sugars to create bright Sweet wines of extraordinary quality, complexity and density with the capacity to age for decades. Semillion is native to Bordeaux and has been grown there for over four centuries. Although it’s thought to have originated in Sauternes there is a theory that it actually comes from red wine producing Saint Emilion. The grape was known as Semillon de Saint Emillion in 1736 and ‘Semillion’ could be a corruption of the town’s name.
Characteristics – flavours and fragrance of lemon, acacia flower, fig, sweet hay, peach and green apple. When used in Sweet wines Semillon’s flavour profile deepens to complex flavours of hazelnut or almond, tropical and candied fruits. It is known for giving a rounded, beeswax tone to the wine.
AOCs – Semillon is grown across all the white wine producing regions of Bordeaux but it is king in Sauternes and Barsac, where it can account for 90% of the blend. One of the famous Sauternes First Growths, Chateau Climens, is 100% Semillon. However these AOCs are increasingly showing a shift to Dry white production and notably First Growth Chateau Sigalas Rabaud began to produce an unusual Dry white 100% Semillon in 2013 named ‘La Semillante’.
Adds juicy acidity, freshness and its unique flavour profile to the blend.
Sauvignon Blanc is the backbone of Bordeaux’s white blends, being found in almost all of them. It dominates the blends of Bordeaux’s Dry whites. Sauvignon Blanc’s birthplace is south west France with both Bordeaux and the Loire laying claim to its point of origin. Bordeaux’s claim is that the grape was mentioned in texts as early as 1710 in AOC Margaux. Sauvignon Blanc takes its name from ‘sauvage’ (‘wild’) and ‘blanc’ (‘white’) meaning ‘Wild White.’ Although it’s a white grape DNA analysis shows that it’s the parent of the famous red grape Cabernet Sauvignon. Sauvignon Blanc is Semillon’s perfect partner and you’ll often see blends of 50/50 but percentages used can vary widely with as much as 95% and as little as 10%.
Characteristics – hall mark flavours of gooseberry, cut grass and hints of bell pepper accompanied by lime, apple and white peach.When used in Sweet wines Sauvignon Blanc plays a supporting role to Semillon, adding freshness and zest.
AOCs – Sauvignon Blanc is grown throughout all the white wine producing areas of Bordeaux. Highest densities tend to be within the Entre Deux Mers, Pessac Leognan and Graves. Well known estates also produce flag ship Dry whites on the Left Bank (notably Margaux, St Julien, Pauillac and Saint Estephe) and a rare few are made on the Right Bank in Saint Emilion.
Adds rich aromas, fruitiness and complexity to the blend.
Muscadelle is named after the Muscat grape thanks to its distinctive grapy, floral aromas. It’s very fragrant and bears the hallmarks of the typical musky notes of Muscat but it is actually no relation. DNA analysis shows that one of its parents is the ancient grape Gouais Blanc, the other parent is still a mystery. Muscadelle is thought to have originated in Bergerac, Bordeaux’s easterly neighbour.
Characteristics – Flavours and fragrance of sweet musk, grape and acacia flowers with notes of angelica and passion fruit. When used in Sweet wines Muscadelle’s aromas deepens to vanilla, raisin and honeysuckle.
AOCs – Muscadelle is grown in pockets throughout all the white wine producing areas of Bordeaux. Highest densities tend to be within the Entre Deux Mers, Graves, Sauternes and Barsac.
The Accessory Grapes – The Up and Coming:
Adds fruitiness, aromas, subtle richness and acidity to the blend.
Sauvignon Gris (also known as Sauvignon Rose) is a mutation of Sauvignon Blanc and has a dusky rose/apricot hue to its grapes. It contains higher sugar levels than Sauvignon Blanc and produces fuller bodied, rounder wines. It’s difficult to pin point when (or where) Sauvignon Gris originated but it’s included in the French book on grape varieties by Viala and Vermorel in 1901 -1910. It’s also been difficult to find as thanks to its low yields it has become quite rare. However, this is changing rapidly as Sauvignon Gris is currently undergoing a revival in Bordeaux with chateaux planting more hectares of the grape and using greater quantities of it (up to 30%) in their white wine blends.
Characteristics – Flavours and fragrance of red gooseberry, pink grapefruit, honeydew melon and mango with similar herbaceous notes to those of Sauvignon Blanc (hay, cut grass and herbs).
AOCS – Sauvignon Gris is still quite unusual in Bordeaux (it only accounts for 2% of the white grape varities of Bordeaux, 332 hectares). It’s gaining popularity and the highest amounts grown can be found in Pessac Leognan where the Grand Crus Classe Chateaux use it in their Dry white blends; notably Chateaux Smith Haut Lafitte, Haut Brion and Pape Clement. A few wine wine producing chateaux in the Medoc use it, Chateau Palmer in Margaux in particular. Sauvignon Gris is also used in Saint Emilion on the Right Bank and can be found in some pioneering chateaux across Graves and the Entre Deux Mers. Sauvignon Gris is also used in Sweet white blends in Sainte Foy.
The Accessory Grapes – Rare Remnants
Ugni Blanc (Trebbiano)
Adds acidity, body and smoothness to the blend.
Ugni Blanc is widely grown across France and is famous for its use in producing Cognac and Armagnac. It’s low in alcohol but high in acidity and has long been used in Bordeaux white wines for its refreshing juiciness and capcity for enhancing other white grapes in the blend. It’s thought that Ugni Blanc was brought to France from Tuscany, Italy in the 1300s when successive Popes resided at Avignon rather than in Rome. Ugni Blanc’s name comes from the old French Occitan ‘Unia’ which is derived from the Latin name ‘Eugenia’ (meaning ‘noble’ or ‘well born’) but it has lots of synonyms in Bordeaux – ‘Saint Emilion’ being one of them.
Characteristics – Ugni Blanc produces a light wine on its own but used together with other grapes it adds finesse to the blends. Flavours and fragrance of lemon, apricot and orange with notes of watermelon and quince.
AOCs – Most Ugni Blanc can be found in the Cotes de Blaye and Cots de Bourg.
Adds fresh acidity and aroma to the blend.
Colombard takes its name from the word ‘dove’ in the Saintongeais dialect spoken in it’s native Charente and northern Bordeaux. Whether this refers to the grape’s soft colouring or it’s because Colombard ripens when the pigeons migrate no one knows. Widely planted across France, Colombard’s parents are Gouais Blanc and Chenin Blanc. Similar to Ugni Blanc, Colombard is mostly used in the production of Armagnac and Cognac but it is also used in Bordeaux in small quantities for its vibrancy and for the aromatic qualities it gives to the white wine blends.
Characteristics – Flavours and fragrance of lemon, tangerine and apple with broom blossom and acacia flowers.
AOCs – The highest percentages of Colombard can be found in the Cotes de Blaye and to a lesser extent in the Cotes de Bourg. It also plays a supporting role in blends from the Entre Deux Mers.
Adds body and smoothness to the blend.
Merlot Blanc (sometimes known as White Merlot) is a cross between the red Merlot grape and white Folle Blanche. It’s difficult to discover data on this grape as it’s rare and plantings in Bordeaux have been in steep decline. In the 1950s Merlot Blanc covered 5277 hectares but now it is down to only 176 ha. Old vines are no longer being replanted in Bordeaux, the reason being that the grape produces wines that are fairly neutral and low in alcohol. It is more widely used nowadays in Pineau de Charentes (Liqueur). It’s said that Merlot Blanc was discovered in 1891 by Guinaudie who planted it in the vineyards of his Chateau de Geneau in Virsac (Cotes de Blaye). There are champions of the grape in Bordeaux blends today – Chateau Palmer in Margaux used 5% of Merlot Blanc in their rare white wine created in 2007 and Chateau Taillefer in Saint Emilion use it in their unusual white ‘Le Blanc du Vieux Chateau Taillefer’. Both these wines are testimonies to the chateaux’s history and heritage.
Characteristics – Merlot Blanc lacks strong fruit flavours and fragrances, producing light, neutral wine with a faint hint of golden raspberry.
AOCs – Small amounts of Merlot Blanc are grown in Graves, Entre Deux Mers, Cotes de Bourg and Haut Benauge.
The Accessory Grapes – Extinct but not forgotten
Adds suppleness and body to the blend.
Ondenc is now very rare in France and is only really found in Gaillac, south west France, where it’s thought to have originated. It’s thought to take its name from the town of Ondes on the River Garonne between Toulouse and Fronton. In the 19th century Ondenc flourished in Bordeaux but was practically wiped out in the phlloxera epidemic. The decline has continued and although a permitted grape variety in white Bordeaux blends Ondenc has been abandoned in Bordeaux. Close to extinction, Ondenc has a few champions in its native Gaillac where fine, lightly aromatic dry whites and concentrated sweet wines are produced from the grape (Domaine Plageoles). It’s also used in the production of Armagnac and Cognac.
Characteristics – Delicate flavours and fragrance of apricot, honey and quince with honeysuckle and rose.
AOCs – Only a few hectares of Ondenc exist in France and these are rapidly decling. Ondenc seems to have disappeared on the ground in Bordeaux but I suspect there may be one or two Bordealise Petits Chateaux out there with a pocket of old vines somewhere.
Adds aroma and substance to the blend.
Mauzac is rare in France, surviving mostly in Gaillac (mainly in sweet white production) and Limoux (where it is a traditional component of the sparkling wine Blanquette de Limoux). The old name for Mauzac in Bordeaux was ‘Moissac,’ after its supposed place of origin: the town of Moissac located where the Rivers Garonne and the Tarn meet in the Midi-Pyrenees. Little Mauzac is left in Bordeaux but it was once widely grown – one of its synonyms is ‘Blanc Laffitte’ in the Entre Deux Mers, perhaps First Growth Chateau Lafite had Mauzac plantings many years ago?
Characteristics – Distinctive hallmark flavour and fragrance of baked apple with more subtle quince, honey, lemon, gingerbread and yellow plums.
AOCs – A tiny percentage of Mauzac is grown in Sainte Foy and the Entre Deux Mers.
Bordeaux whites have a loyal fan base and command much affection. Their quality and craftsmanship sing out from the glass once you’ve tasted one. Little wonder they remain the most popular wines at tastings at the Shows and Events I take them to!
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