Tasting and talking about modern Bordeaux in respect of white wines with wine consultant Mathieu Huguet.
In terms of quantity, dry white wine production in Bordeaux may only be 9% of production but on my last recent visit, these (mostly) Sauvignon dominated blends made a much bigger percentile impact on my impression of Bordeaux.
The region as a whole is stepping up to increase biodiversity and sustainable methods of viticulture. This is evidenced in the thriving landscape where nature is returning to live in the hedgerows and woodlands that bisect the vines. But when it comes to white winemaking, every effort is taken to protect the primary fruit aromas and flavour profiles to deliver world-class quality and variety of wines that will doubtless play well with a diverse range of consumers.
There's a very broad range of styles that span the price to quality ratio. Blending and use of (or lack of) oak make for additional choices for those in an exploring mood.
In this interview with Bordeaux wine consultant, Mathieu Huguet, he provides insights into the general principles and objectives that are driving this wave of modernity in one of the world's most traditional wine-producing regions.
*Interspersed in the article is a limited selection of wines tasted during the visit demonstrating a broad range in value, winemaking, and style.
Château Bichon Cassignols Blanc, Graves 2017.
65% Semillon, 35% Sauvignon Blanc. (organic)
Citrus, hints of tropical with a soft silky texture. Aged in new oak giving it roundness and touch of complexity. Very attractive. Gastronomic wine.
Nick Breeze (NB): How do you perceive this idea of a modern Bordeaux in terms of today's market?
Mathieu Huguet (MH): I think Bordeaux is improving its quality day after day. If we talk about white wines, we pay a lot of attention to the balance in those white wines in terms of acidity and freshness. We also pay a lot of attention to the fruitiness of those wines.
That is why we plant more and more Sauvignon because Sauvignon is very intense, very aromatic and it gives this characteristic to the wine.
Le Blanc Bonhomme, Château Peybonhomme-Les-Tours.
50% Sauvignon Blanc, 50% Sémillon.
One of the top picks of the white wines with a 50-50 blend of the varieties, fine pure and ripe pineapple fruit combined with elegant dancing acidity. Biodynamic.
NB: In terms of viticulture, what are the modern techniques or practises that you think are more prevalent now and you see more and more people adopting?
MH: In Bordeaux, we prefer to harvest the Sauvignon early in order to preserve the aromatic precursors, and to obtain in the huge quantities that we need. After that we try to protect the must as much as possible from oxidation.
For example, we use a lot of carbon dioxide or nitrogen to preserve those early aromatics. During the fermentation, the yeasts are naturally creating some carbon dioxide so when it is there during the fermentation, the wine is okay as it is protected from oxidation.
Château Maison Neuve, Blanc sauvignon, 2018.
AOC Blaye Côtes de Bordeaux. White wine.
100% Sauvignon Blanc.
Super fresh citrus, a little touch of mineral character giving a refreshingly dry and long finish. Grown in Blaye on clay soil. 4% of white wines from Bordeaux are grown in Blaye.
NB: A single varietal Sauvignon is not typical in Bordeaux. Can you talk about the blend and style?
MH: In Bordeaux, we use a lot of Sauvignon but we prefer to balance it with a bit of Semillon or Muscadet. The point is that the Semillon is very interesting because it gives unctuousness to the wine in order to balance the acidity of the Sauvignon.
In this way, we know that when we age the Sauvignon in barrels, for example, we usually put the Sauvignon in 2 or 3-year-old barrels. We do not put it in new French oak barrels because Sauvignon is very sensitive to oxidation. Instead, we put the Semillon in new French oak barrels.
Chateau de Rouqette, 2018, Bordeaux.
100% Sauvignon Blanc.
Light tropical crowd-pleasing fruit-forward wine with bright lively acidity. Another good example of bursting primary fruit that is a result of protecting the must from any slight oxidation.
NB: Is there a push to produce more dry-white wine in Bordeaux?
MH: Currently we produce 9% of dry white wines in Bordeaux. Maybe that will increase a little bit but not by a huge amount.
Château la Freynelle 2018 Sauvignon-Sémillon-Muscadelle.
More fragrant fresh fruity and floral aroma, lively acidity on the palate. Pleasant long finish and good to go now.
NB: Can you talk about innovation in the science that has guided you to improve the quality?
MH: We did a lot of research on Bordeaux white wines and identified the chemical compounds which are responsible for the aromas like passion fruit and grapefruit. Because of this identification it was much more easy to protect and to understand correctly the Sauvignon and how to harvest it, to ferment it, how to age it in tanks or barrels.
Because of this research, we get a huge improvement in terms of white wines quality.
Cap Royal, Bordeaux, Sauvignon Blanc, 2018.
100% Sauvignon Blanc with Vegan back label.
Launching in the UK in Autumn of 2019 at Tesco. At ~£7 retail this looks to be a big hit for a younger crowd who are looking for fresh fruit, lively aromatics and a good simple wine for prime time fun. This shows how versatile white Bordeaux can be at lower price points.
Also has the pedigree of good parentage in being born under the eye of Chateau Pichon Baron Technical Director, Jean René Matignon.
NB: Can you talk a bit about the differences in white wines from subregions in Bordeaux?
MH: Of course there is a difference between the Sauvignon from the Graves region or the Entre-Deux-Mers region. It is mainly because of the soil and subsoil.
In the Entre-Deux-Mers, you have a lot of clay and limestone soil and we know this type of soil is very favourable for the Sauvignon because it gives freshness to the roots and we know that Sauvignon enjoys the freshness in the soil. As it enjoys this freshness, we will have more precursory aromas in the berries of the Sauvignon.
Château Mont-Pérat Bordeaux, 2016.
Sauvignon Blanc 80%, Semillon 20%, slight barrel ferment.
Pale yellow, tropical fruit aromas, creaminess, elegant singing acidity and clean easy finish that lures us into another glass. It’s hard not to like, as evidenced by our tasting party caught in the throws of ‘one-more-glass-syndrome’.
NB: Is organic production a trend you are seeing as people are trying to move away from chemicals?
MH: We are all concerned about the environment and nature, of course. So we try to use less and less chemicals and the main goal here in Bordeaux is towards organics. Not everybody will be organic but by 2020 or 2025 everybody will be certified to demonstrate that each viticulturist is looking after his parcels and is looking after the spraying, etcetera etcetera.
We are really trying to be less impacting on the environment.
In part 2 of this interview, we will be talking about how biodynamic viticulture is impacting the wines and why we should think less about moon cycles and more about Saturn cycles!
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