Oddly, as Bordeaux reds have found an endless river of yuan, Bordeaux's whites have disappeared from most wine lists. Bordeaux is not the greatest white-wine region in France: that's unquestionably Burgundy. For that very reason, and because millenials are bored by Bordeaux (can't say I blame them, as Bordeaux futures are, in the US, a fogey's purchase), Bordeaux whites can be great value.
I recently tasted a half-dozen whites from the greater Bordeaux region; in other words, wines that are not from any of the famous sub-appellations. It warmed my heart that the two cheapest wines -- both under $10 -- were my favorites.
These are not super-complex wines that will make you send a series of breathless tweets about (quoting a fellow critic from Maryland), "2010 Bordeaux is a great, great vintage -- not as great as 2005 or 2009 perhaps but great." (Grade inflation hits the word "great.") You'll note that I didn't cross the 90-point barrier on any of them, so no, I'm not going to say they're "great."
A good cheap Bordeaux white is a serviceable, drinkable, likable wine to have with dinner. Until I win the lottery, I need those more often than I need a "great, great wine." Maybe you do too.
Chateau Pierrail Bordeaux Sauvignon Blanc & Sauvignon Gris 2009 ($15)
Imported by Big Vintage Imports, Atlanta
It's rare to see Sauvignon Gris, believed to be a clonal mutation of Sauvignon Blanc, on a wine label, especially in France. A few vineyards in Chile are growing this grape, which is named because its skin turns pink. It is considered more elegant and possibly less aromatic than Sauvignon Blanc, but it ripens later, which is why it's less popular. But this estate devotes 30% of its 18 hectares of white wine grapes to Sauvignon Gris, which sets it apart from its neighbors. (The estate also has 52 hectares of red grapes, 85% of it Merlot.)
I wish I could say I can really taste the Gris in this, but I can't; it's green and grapefruity, with some weedy and herbal aromas and a hint of vanilla. It's like a New Zealand wine, albeit with the volume turned down. 13.5% alcohol. The winery is interesting; built in the 17th century, in 1832 it harbored one of the Bourbons who had come to stir an uprising. It was abandoned in 1870 and resurrected by current owner Jacques Demonchaux in 1970. Perhaps he liked it for the wooded 3-hectare lake in the middle of the property.
Axel des Vignes Bordeaux 2009 ($9)
Imported by Tri-Vin Imports, Mount Vernon, NY
A classic Bordeaux blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon, this is a great price for a simple lime-like food beverage. That may sound like a slam, but it's not: this wine does a job that people often want done. Just 12% alcohol, it won't blow you away but has a great chance of passing the empty-bottle test.
Imported by Tri-Vin Imports, Mount Vernon, NY
Look at that price. France has more wine than it knows what to do with, and this is made industrially by a big company, but still, how does this get here on a ship in a bottle for $6? The importer takes a cut, the distributor takes a cut, the retailer takes a cut -- I'll bet this wine leaves the winery at less than $1 per bottle. And yet, it was my favorite of these 6 wines, offering crisp lime fruit with a slightly funky tropical note that adds interest, and a hint of grassiness on the finish. It's a fine fish wine with good balance between intensity and restraint. 12.5% alcohol.
Eos du Chateau de Lugagnac Bordeaux Blanc 2008 ($15)
Imported by Beffa-Zucker, Richmond, CA
The mix of grapes is more interesting than the wine: 40% Sauvignon Blanc, 40% Sauvignon Gris, 15% Semillon and 5% Muscadelle. Perhaps it's the Semillon that gives it a grapefruit cream pie character, which is nice until a bitter finish spoils it. 14% alcohol.
Imported by Exclusive Imports, South Gate, CA
I'm not sure where these grapes come from
Favory Cremant de Bordeaux Brut NV ($16)
Importer: Compagnie Médocaine, Los Angeles
Even in Bordeaux, people make bubbly, which really doesn't make sense when you think about it. I think the world has come to an agreement that the best sparkling wines are made from Champagne grapes -- Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier bringing up the rear. Prosecco and Cava have their place, but they're not in the same league. So in France, the country of regional specialization, wouldn't you want your bubbly from places that grow Champagne/Burgundy grapes? There are plenty of marginal areas around Burgundy where Cremants are both cheap and decent. So why exactly would the Bordelaise want to plant Ugni Blanc and Colombard in their precious terroir to make bubbly? Seriously, look at the price of this wine. If it were $8, you could say, "It's a cheap bubbly for locals that somebody happened to export." But this isn't that cheap.
And it's not that good. The texture is in between Champagne and lemon soda. It's refreshing and simple, sure, but you can do way better than that for less money from Limoux or Bourgogne. There's a violet sachet note in the aroma that smells like an old person's boudoir. And the bubbles on the side of the glass are huge, not attractive at all.
It's not a terrible wine, but I can't think of a good reason to buy it. 12% alcohol.