Oaked Sauvignon Blanc, 2015
Apart from the ever-thorny issues of cork taint and the en primeur pricing of the latest vintage from Bordeaux, is there any subject guaranteed to raise the collective blood pressure of the world’s wine community as effectively as the combination of Sauvignon Blanc and oak? No other union of variety and vessel produces the same fiery-tempered response from the wine glitterati. “It’s a car crash”, was the conclusion of one Master of Wine, reported in The Drinks Business, after a tasting of 150 examples of oak-influenced Sauvignon Blanc in London in 2014. I don’t think his was an unusual or entirely unanticipated response.
There is a great incongruity in holding such a strong and immutable position, however, and this becomes apparent when we peer behind the scenes in Bordeaux. White Bordeaux, specifically the white wine of Pessac-Léognan, is the underdog style that the wine trade loves to love. Every year, influential London merchants chastise consumers for chasing the ever-more expensive red wines and overlooking the delicious dry whites of the region. Appellation-defining classics from the Haut-Brion stable are also pricy of course, but wines from the likes of Domaine de Chevalier and Château Smith-Haut-Lafitte offer plenty of drinking pleasure at what is still, for Bordeaux at least, a fair price. These wines are, of course, all examples of oak-fermented Sauvignon Blanc (in a blend, admittedly).
Margaux & Lafleur
Indeed, looking beyond Pessac-Léognan for a moment, show me a wine merchant who would turn up his or her nose at a glass of Pavillon Blanc from Château Margaux (pictured above) which is 100% Sauvignon Blanc (the few Semillon vines they have are picked and fermented separately, and the wine sold off), and I will show you a wine merchant in the wrong job. And which merchant who knows the wines of Bordeaux wouldn’t be willing to have a go at a glass of Les Champs Libres, the 100% Sauvignon project undertaken by the Guinaudeau family of Château Lafleur? Both are not only exclusively Sauvignon Blanc, but they are oak-fermented and oak-aged too.