Bordeaux 2019 Primeurs: Pessac-Léognan, White
In my second Pessac-Léognan report for the 2019 Bordeaux vintage we come to the principal white wines of Bordeaux. While there are white vines dotted all over the region, not just in the Entre-Deux-Mers but also up on the Médoc, and on the right bank, none of these regions have any real sense of renown. Today it is only Graves, and more specifically its Pessac-Léognan enclave, which have any cachet in Bordeaux for their dry white wines.
Long term subscribers probably already understand my feelings about the whites of Bordeaux. While I acknowledge they can be delicious and indeed desirable, they are hampered by the combination of grape variety, Sauvignon Blanc being dominant, and terroir, many of the vineyards planted to white featuring lightly gravelly or even silty soils. This variety and terroir are fine in isolation (no-one would accuse me of being a Sauvignon-Blanc-basher, and lighter silty or gravelly soils have their place in wine), but I find that putting these two together is not often a recipe for producing world-beating whites. To aspire to true greatness I believe Sauvignon Blanc is helped greatly by limestone terroir; as evidence I offer up the wines of the late Didier Dagueneau, Alphonse Mellot Senior and Junior, and François Cotat, just three examples of top-notch Sauvignon Blanc, although I could of course write a much longer list.
With the Bordeaux model made clear, I am always intrigued by those vignerons in the region who think outside the box. Looking away from Pessac-Léognan for a moment, one that springs to mind is Frédéric Soual and his wife Hélène at Château du Retout, who eschew the usual Bordeaux varieties for an encépagement of Savagnin, Gros Manseng, Mondeuse Blanche and Sauvignon Gris. The wines are brilliant. Did they provide the inspiration for Nicolas Glumineau’s recent project at Château Pichon-Lalande, I wonder? Although not yet widely publicised, Nicolas planted some white varieties in his vineyard earlier this year, opting not for Sauvignon Blanc or even Semillon, but for Chardonnay and Savagnin.