Château Goudichaud Graves de Vayres Blanc 2020

I have been seeking out affordable examples of whites from Bordeaux in recent months (I wonder if that should perhaps read in recent years, or maybe for my whole drinking life?), and have been bringing some of these wines out as my Weekend Wine choices. For the most part, this journey has taken me up the Médoc, especially to Listrac-Médoc with wines such as the 2020 Château Lestage La Mouette, and 2020 Château Fonréaud Le Cygne. These wines reflect a long history in this appellation, one dating back to at least the 19th century, of planting white varieties on its clay and limestone soils.

I want to look beyond Listrac-Médoc though, and explore other less familiar corners of Bordeaux, and this week that brings us to the little-known appellation of Graves de Vayres. I am willing to wager (I am not sure how much – let’s just say one bottle of Petrus) that outside of those subscribers who have delved into the very deepest and darkest corners of my Bordeaux vintage reports there are many otherwise fully committed followers of all-things-Bordeaux who have never even heard of Vayres, its gravelly soils and its wines. And yet, a century ago, it was all set to be Bordeaux’s ‘next big thing’.

Vayres, which is situated on the left bank of the Dordogne not far downstream from Libourne, as the river approaches its union with the Garonne, has long been of strategic importance. Two millennia ago a Roman road ran through here, guarded by a garrison under the command of Varius, and this is widely accepted as the origin of Vayres. Sandwiched between the two rivers, the land is strewn with alluvial gravels, soils which were irresistible to vignerons seeking to emulate the success they saw result from the planting of the gravel beds of the Médoc during the 18th and 19th centuries. Before long the region was carpeted in vines, each new vineyard a reflection of the aspirations of local vignerons who each hoped they had created the next challenger to Château Latour or Château Margaux.

Château Goudichaud Graves de Vayres Blanc 2020

By all accounts, including contemporaneous writings gleaned from several editions of Cocks et Féret, during the 19th century the wines were highly regarded. Having said that, it can be quite difficult to find a property or appellation that does not receive praise from the authors of this Bordeaux bible; the authors did not exactly dish out pointed critical opinion.

The Graves des Vayres region was on a roll, and viticulture was sufficiently established for its appellation to be defined and signed-off in 1937, an act which predates, for example, the creation of the Margaux appellation, the rules for which were not drawn up and made law until the 1950s. And yet, during the years that have passed since these glory days, Graves de Vayres seems to have slipped into a state of anonymity. Despite this there remain a number of noteworthy domaines in the appellation, one of which is Château Goudichaud. Acquired by the Glotin family during the 1930s, the estate boasts 130 hectares, of which 60 hectares are planted to vines both red and white (the entire appellation is only 700 hectares, so this is a rather large slice of it), the remainder committed mostly to forestry.

The Glotin family’s approach to making the white begins with an early-morning harvest, typically beginning at 5am. As the parcels are all closely approximated to the château and cellars within mere minutes the freshly picked grapes are delivered to the pneumatic press, within which they are refrigerated for a period of cold skin contact to aid the extraction of aromatics. After pressing the juice is then fermented at a cool temperature, typically 14ºC, the fermentation vessels including a percentage of new oak. The 2020 Graves de Vayres Blanc from Château Goudichaud is a blend of 85% Sauvignon Blanc, 10% Muscadelle and 5% Semillon, and it opens with a nose of peach and crushed orange, nuanced with peppery pine needle Sauvignon energy, along with a hint of wax. The palate possesses a rather pithy character, with candied lemon peel, the texture evident through the midpalate infused with crushed chalk, pine needle again, and waxy touches of apricot and lightly bitter orchard fruits. I see plenty of character here, with a bitterness I rather enjoy, although overall the composition perhaps lacks a little finesse or direction. This example of white Bordeaux from Graves de Vayres is a wine for easy, unfussy, short-term drinking. 88/100 (9/1/23)

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