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Among our Wine Champions in 2020 you’ll find a raft of Bordeaux rouge that raised the roof, but as Sebastian Payne MW put it this year, ‘white Bordeaux surprised with its quality’. This, the dry wine from a name many know better for its sweet wine, offers food-friendly finesse and delightful hints of white peach and cassis leaf.
Product Code: BW6781
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The late and much missed Denis Dubourdieu, who died in the summer of 2016, did more than follow his winemaking father and grandfather’s footsteps. A professor of oenology since 1987, he has been described in the past as wine’s most famous scientist, and he advised some of the greatest properties in the world, including Cheval Blanc and Yquem. His skills were highly sought after.Denis and his wife Florence ran several Bordeaux properties : Château Doisy-Daëne, Clos Floridène, Château Reynon (purchased by his father-in-law Pierre in 1958 and where Florence and Denis moved upon their marriage in 1976), Château Cantegril and Château Haura. The management of these estates now falls to Florence and his eminently capable sons, Fabrice and Jean-Jacques. As well as their legendary sweet wines, they also produce an impressive range of dry reds and whites.The Dubourdieu family owns 135 hectares of vineyards in the Sauternes, Graves, and Cadillac-Cotes de Bordeaux regions. They use a traditional ploughing system, and are committed friends of the environment: they no longer use weed killer, they fertilise the vines with organic manure, and all bud removal, trellising and leaf removal is done by hand. Their carbon footprint is a conscious issue too: they own a forest equal to the size of their vineyards as a way of repaying their debt to the land.Although there are a few notable exceptions, much of the family’s vineyards are planted on the famous Barsac red sands, composed of red clay on a limestone subsoil. This slightly porous rock stores water throughout winter that can be dispensed to the vines during summer dry spells.Clos Floridène, named after both Florence and Denis, was established in 1982 to complement Florence’s family property at Reynon and Denis’ at Doisy-Daëne. Unusually in Graves, the soil is based on limestone, which allows them to make a distinctive, floral, cabernet-based red that ages well for up to a decade and a remarkable, mineral white deserving of ageing for two to ten years. Both are excellent value.Doisy-Daëne has been owned by the Dubourdieu family since 1924. Denis' father, Pierre Dubourdieu, was one of the most original and inventive winemakers in the region, constantly experimenting, and the first on his property to make a delicious and successful dry white, Doisy Daëne Sec.Denis clearly followed in his father's footsteps: he became a professor at Bordeaux University and was acknowledged as the leading Bordeaux expert in white wine in Bordeaux. Château Reynon, which was Denis and Florence Dubourdieu’s home property, is managed and harvested, parcel by parcel, with the same care as the family's famous Sauternes, Doisy-Daëne. The vineyard at Béguey, on a gravel and clay slope overlooking the Gironde in the Entre-Deux-Mers, is planted with half red and half white grapes. No herbicides are used here, and all of the grapes are handpicked. When they moved in the vineyard was not old but was badly planted so Denis began to replant 4 hectares a year from1988. Gradually they have also replaced the cabernet and will have 10% petit verdot (first used in 2008) with 90% merlot, because petit verdot succeeds, if well-pruned, on the land at the bottom of the slope where the other grapes do not. The vineyard is on a south-facing slope overlooking the Garonne. Merlot ripens early here, as early as in Pomerol in fact.Reynon’s red wine – a blend of 82% merlot with 13% cabernet sauvignon (a figure that is gradually decreasing) and 4% petit verdot – has ripe black-fruit aromas and fresh balance, and can age for three to eight years. The white wine, with grapefruit aroma and good length, ages equally well, and is a blend of 89% sauvignon with 11% semillon. Both wines are also aged in oak, a third of which is new, which gives a rounder texture. Château Cantegril in Barsac has been the home of The Society’s Exhibition Sauternes since 2001 (it is worth remembering that all Barsac can be Sauternes, but only Barsac can be Barsac) and this lusciously sweet wine is a blend of 64% semillon, 34% sauvignon blanc and 1% muscadelle, which is aged in 25% new oak and keeps beautifully for three to ten years. Cantegril is now also the home of Fabrice Dubourdieu, who got married in 2012. In 2013 his wife gave birth to their first child – a new generation to continue and further the family’s winemaking reputation for generations to come.
The Bordeaux region is most renowned for its red wines but there are a number of excellent dry white wines, some of them amongst the most prestigious white wines in France, and indeed the world. White wine represents little more than 10% of the output of the region, from vines grown on about 7,000 hectares. Unlike Bordeaux AC reds, whites under the simple Bordeaux appellation may come from very prestigious properties within a commune because the commune appellation rules sometimes apply only to red wine. Pavillon Blanc du Château Margaux and Ygrec, the dry white wines from the legendary producers Château Margaux and Château d’Yquem respectively, can only bear the appellation Bordeaux AC despite each estates’ renown and status as a 1er grand cru classé for red wines.As with reds under the basic Bordeaux appellations, the grapes that make white wine can come from anywhere in Bordeaux (and if made by a négociant company probably will). The principal grape varieties for Bordeaux AC whites are sauvignon blanc, semillon, sauvignon gris, ugni blanc and muscadelle with some smaller plantings of colombard and a little merlot blanc. At one time semillon was the most widely planted grape variety in Bordeaux, red or white, but since public taste moved decisively to red wines it has declined and now plays second fiddle to sauvignon blanc, which has enjoyed a renaissance in the wake of New Zealand’s success with the variety. Indeed, while most Bordeaux wines are a blend of complementary grape varieties, there are now a significant number of single-varietal sauvignons on the market. White grapes, particularly sauvignon blanc, are harvested earlier than reds, unless they are destined for sweet wines, and many are hand-picked because of the narrow width of the rows in many Bordeaux vineyards though machine harvesting is an option for some. Vineyard management, as with reds, is much improved in recent decades, with a much better understanding of vine care and canopy management leading to more reliably ripened and healthy fruit. Those that can afford to will sort the grapes at least once on arrival at the winery, partly because of the inherent problems of fungal attacks in Bordeaux.Winemaking techniques vary, with some producers having the resources to give the juice extended skin contact and the resulting wine some time in oak, though most cannot and do not. The bad old days of excessive use of sulphur are mostly gone and white wines are greatly improved, with better fruit characters across the board and terrific freshness and balance. The best wines are world class and many provide excellent value.Bordeaux whites have a very pale yellow colour when young which will deepen to straw yellow with age. Pessac-Léognan whites and those vinified in oak are generally richer in colour and flavour and favour more elaborate fish and white-meat dishes.
The Bordeaux dry whites of 2019 are excellent this year, with an almost exotic edge, but underscored with the hallmark freshness of the vintage, and good aromatic expression.
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