It all started with a rainstorm. My buddy, a local sommelier, had just finished up work for the night at a restaurant and was in the process of closing everything down. Neither of us felt like braving the rainy weather yet, and we’d both worked up a thirst, so we pulled out a bottle of 2009 Pape Clement Blanc. After decanting it for 20 minutes, I took my first sip of that perfect white Bordeaux, watching the rain patter against the restaurant’s windows. That’s when it hit me: this wine is otherworldly. It was my first truly profound experience of white Bordeaux, and I was hooked; while other collectors were busy obsessing over the latest bold red blends, I was buying up crisp, straw-colored blanc by the case.
White Bordeaux is agonizingly underrated, and I’m here to tell you how unfair this is. If you’re looking for a wine that tastes like heaven and ages for decades, Bordeaux blanc is for you.
The Curious Case of the Overlooked Wine
White Bordeaux, as a category, is neglected because it lives in the shadow of its red kin. When collectors think of Bordeaux, they picture complex, finessed red blends, and they forget about white Bordeaux’s beautiful, textured minerality. About 90 percent of all Bordeaux vineyards are focused on red wine varietals, leaving white Bordeaux with just 10 percent of the remaining production. Since red wine in the region is so plentiful, and collectors have more labels to choose from, most collectors stick with these wines, rather than branching out into the rarer Bordeaux blanc.
In my experience, collectors also gravitate toward red wine because they have a conception of reds as somehow nobler and more interesting than whites, especially when it comes to pairing with food. But if you’ve ever had white Bordeaux with steak, you’ll know that these wines can hold their own in a pairing, and with their punchy acidity, they’re just as bold and versatile as any light red blend on the market.
Why Buy White Bordeaux? It’s a Great Investment
Like their red peers, you can find excellent white Bordeaux at any price point, but when you invest in the best wine producers from the region, you’ll get the best return on your investment. White Bordeaux will always demand a price, and will always hold its value based on scarcity alone. It wasn’t always so rare: in the late 1950s, about 50 percent of Bordeaux produced white wine. It fell out of favor after a major frost destroyed most of the vines used to make white wine. These vines were replanted with hardier red varietals, which changed the face of Bordeaux forever.
What this means for collectors is that white Bordeaux is usually rarer and more sought-after on the secondary market than its red peers. I’ve rarely seen a bottle of Haut-Brion Blanc go for much less than $1,000, which is almost twice as much as some of the producer’s red vintages. For instance, in 2012, most bottles of the estate’s classic red blend went for about $500 per bottle, on average, yet 2012 blanc sold for more than $1,000 per bottle. If you’re concerned about ageability, Robert Parker says the 2012 Haut-Brion Blanc will last as long as 50 years in a cellar, making it one of the longest-lived wines in the world. Most white Bordeaux will last a lifetime; that is, if you’re not tempted to drink them within the first few years.
A Wine for Every Occasion
Some collectors get the impression that it’s better to resell than to drink Bordeaux blanc because you can get such a good return on this wine; in other words, it’sbetter as an investment than a drinking wine. I want to dispel this myth once and for all: white Bordeaux is one of the most drinkable wines on the market. Of course it can be hard to justify opening a grand chateau wine from a producer like Haut-Brion, but if you go with vintages from regions like Entre-Deux-Mers, you’ll find plenty of everyday drinkers you’ll want to keep around all year. These wines are far richer than what you’ll find in other traditionally white wine regions like the Loire Valley, and like most white blends, they range from bone dry to supremely sweet, such as what you’ll find in Sauternes. This range of styles also means that, compared to red blends, white Bordeaux often pairs better with food, and its biting acidity stands up well to bolder flavors.
How to Pick a Perfect Bottle of White Bordeaux
I find that the hardest part of investing in white Bordeaux is getting the information you need from critics. Most critics focus on reviewing vintage quality for red blends, but they forget to talk about the quality of the Bordeaux blanc. Never assume that a good red wine year will also be a good white wine year; the two require completely different techniques and climates. Talk to Vinfolio’s wine specialists for tips on which recent vintages are worth your investment, and always be on the lookout for reviews on white Bordeaux from the top critics.
After you’ve narrowed your search down to a few superb vintages, find out which style you prefer. Producers like Haut-Brion tend to make big, opulent wines, while other producers have a style that’s more finessed and elegant. The producers I buy from most often include Pape Clement, Haut-Brion, Chateau Palmer, and small, classified growths from producers like Chateau Margaux. Don’t stick to just one style of white Bordeaux if you’re getting started; experiment with different producers until you find the wine that speaks to you.
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