An invisible revolution: the new dry whites of Bordeaux
We tend to think of the pace of change in Bordeaux as glacial. The reputation of properties, of course, rises and falls but that has never been a very rapid process. And it is not made any more rapid by the moderating influence of a system of classification which dates back, in the case of the Médoc, to 1855. Stability, it seems, is hard-wired.
The style of the wines produced also changes too. But, once again, watching that process unfold hardly makes for the most exciting of spectacles, even for the most seasoned of Bordeaux aficionados. That said, things have perhaps gotten a little more interesting in the last decade or so as the influence of international critics on the style of the wines being made seems slowly to have eroded. The effect is that, perhaps for the first time in a long time, wine-makers feel more confident in expressing themselves in the wines they are producing. Yet even that is something of a slow-burner.
But things in Bordeaux do change; and sometimes they can change quite quickly too – especially if one knows where to look.
This article is about one of those changes – a new revolution, of a kind, in Bordeaux and Bordeaux winemaking. You might well be forgiven for not having noticed it but over the last decade or so – and more rapidly still in the last three or four years – a number of highly distinctive, very interesting and, in their own way, radical new wines have started to emerge on the Bordeaux scene. They are typically produced by leading estates, typically in very small quantities. They have two things in common: they are all dry white wines and they both seek to express and succeed in expressing the terroirs on which they are grown.
This article pays tribute to them and to their creators by identifying a few notable examples of this new and exciting genre. But to talk of a single genre here is already quite problematic. For what is perhaps most interesting about these wines is their sheer diversity. They are grown on a great variety of rather different terroirs in the vineyards of a disperse array of appellations (though none of these wines are entitled to use the appellation of the parent vineyard in which they are grown and from which they have been plucked). They use a sometimes surprising range of varieties. Some are made from a blend of traditional varieties (Sauvignon Blanc, Sémillon and Sauvignon Gris), others are mono-varietal (of Sauvignon Blanc, Sémillon or, more radically still, Chardonnay). Some are vinified and aged in 100% new oak barrels, while others see no oak at all. Some seek verticality, lift, finesse and chiselled precision, others depth, richness and concentration. And despite their far-from-hallowed official status (as either simple Bordeaux blanc sec or, for the Chardonnay monocépage wines ‘Vin de Pays de l’Atlantique’ or simply Vin de Table) they span all Bordeaux price points.
My aim in what follows is to introduce you to a few of these wines. My selection is far from exhaustive, these are either wines and projects for wines that I was already familiar with or those that I was aware of and intrigued by. In each case I either visited the property or received samples of two recent vintages of the property’s choice. All of the wines were tasted in the last couple of months. For each wine I seek to provide both a sense of the project and the philosophy underpinning the project before turning to the tasting notes themselves.
‘Asphodèle’ de Château Climens
A new wine – the first blanc sec from the prestigious Château Climens in Barsac. The project was born out of the destruction of the frost of spring 2017. It is based on a clear and distinct vision: to create a wine that, in Berenice Lurtons’s terms, is “delicat mais charnu, vivant, pur, charmant et spiritual” (“delicate yet fleshy, lively, pure, charming and spiritual”). She has succeeded in each and every respect, as she has the habit of doing.
This is a comparatively rare varietal Sémillon and, as such, atypical of the blancs secs from Sauternes and Barsac. The parcels from which the wine comes are drawn entirely from the Climens vineyard – a pioneer of biodynamic winemaking in Bordeaux.
The 2018 is the first vintage. The grapes are harvested early and come from some of the younger parcels of the estate. They are picked to preserve and lock-in the natural, fresh crunch of the grapes. The consultant on this wine was Pascal Jolivet from Sancerre and Berenice has closely followed his method: picking on freshness, natural fermentation on the grapes’ own yeasts, élevage on the lees, with no wood.
The terroir is a combination of red clay and limestone and that gives an impressive sense of verticality and structure to the wine.
The wine is named, simply, ‘Asphodèle’ – a plant, a wild lily of the field, growing on limestone soil with a reputation for resisting fire. It is a symbol of the transcendence of adversity, a link between the earth and the sky, the material and the spiritual – and it captures the very essence and soul of this passionate wine.
Brane Cantenac blanc
Another very exciting and brand new project. The 2019 is the first white wine here and I tasted the Sémillon and Sauvignon from the barriques in which they were vinified and then on the day of the bottling itself. Perhaps unsurprisingly, this is much more like Pavillon Blanc than Aile d’Argent; but what is surprising is how close to Pavillon Blanc it is in quality.
For me, the best of the ‘new’ breed of white wines of the Médoc, though I have not (yet) tasted them all. From 3.2 hectares on a distinct clay-silica terroir, each variety is vinified in barrel, and aged for around eight months. Not yet released, but do look out for it.
Hubert de Boüard single varietal whites
Another fascinating recent project; 2016 is the first vintage. This is a new range of single-varietal wines made in Bordeaux – each label marked with the pruning shears given to Hubert de Boüard by his father for his seventh birthday.
The new vineyard is a short four kilometre drive from La Fleur de Boüard on the plateau of Artigues de Lussac.
Its relative height and the diversity of its exposures and soils have offered the opportunity to plant some surprising varieties for Bordeaux – such as Chardonnay, Grenache and Syrah, alongside the more conventional building blocks of the wines of the region (Sémillon, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot).
Each of the whites is a small-scale production: 3.45 hectares of Chardonnay on an sandy-clay terroir with crasse de fer; 1.5 hectares of Sémillon on an clay-limestone terroir and two hectares of more densely planted old-vine Sauvignon Blanc also on an clay-limestone terroir.
There is a lot of attention to detail in these wines. And, if it is not too much of a heresy to suggest it, this gives one the opportunity to conduct little blending experiments of one’s own.
After hours of fun, it turns out that there is quite a lot to be said for a blend of 80% Sauvignon and 20% Sémillon.
Le Blanc Sec de Lafaurie Peyraguey
A wine that has existed for a little longer, but for a property classified in 1855 this is still a very recent development. The first vintage was 2014 and the wine has certainly progressed since then, finding a lovely crisp, delineated, pure style that sets it apart from many of the Bordeaux blanc sec grown on Sauternes and Barsac terroirs.
La Croix de Labrie’s whites
Here we have two very different wines, made in a rather different style. Both are quite distinctive in the context of the wider tasting and certainly in the pantheon of Bordeaux dry whites more generally.
The property itself is on a steep upward trajectory, and it is exciting to see a property like this turn over a small part of its excellent terroir to the production of two very different white wines. Stella Solare, in a way, is the more ambitious project here. It has been commercialised only since 2016, though most of the vines were planted over half a century ago.
A wine that is predominantly old-vine Sémillon (c. 60%), with around a fifth Sauvignon Blanc and a fifth Sauvignon Gris on limestone, chalk and clay; fermentation in oak and acacia wood barrels, 50% of which are new.
This is a big, rich and powerful wine not reticent to show the influence of the wood (well, woods – it is the acacia that brings the singular dimension to this). Unique in profile – and a wine one can imagine dividing opinions, but undoubtedly a wine of great quality. Six barrels and only around 1,800 bottles per year.
Altogether different and despite being made from 100% Chardonnay, this is rather less radical. Camille de La Croix de Labrie might easily be dismissed as simply ‘cheap and cheerful’, but that would be a mistake.
For there is a lot of wine here for the money. Planted on chalk, limestone and sandy terroir, this is one of the fresher Chardonnay wines of the region, the used of oak much more moderate (only 20% matured in barrique). This may lack a little in complexity, but it is fine, fresh and focused and superb value for money.
‘Elena’ de la Grace Dieu des Prieurs’ (Arte Russe)
This is now one of the most interesting addresses in St-Emilion. An intriguing project – and not the only one being conceived and executed behind the impressive exterior of the fantastically restored, renovated and modernised new winemaking facility at Château Grace Dieu des Prieurs.
If the stratospherically classy, staggeringly interesting and, admittedly, somewhat expensive red has been the talk of St-Emilion in recent vintages, then it will not be long I suspect before attention starts to turn to Arte Russe’s new project – the blanc sec, made from 100% Chardonnay. This has now been christened ‘Elena’ after the wife of the owner, Andrei Filatov.
It is, or will be, I think, the top Chardonnay made in the region. Like the fascinating, intriguing and ultra-distinctive St-Emilion itself, the consultant oenologist for this wine is Louis Mitjavile – and he brings that touch of Mitjavile magic to this St-Emilion Chardonnay, vinified and matured in barrel in, of course, the Radoux blend casks made so famous at Tertre Roteboeuf and Roc de Cambes by his father. That brings something magical and singular to this wine, which really needs to be tasted to be appreciated. And that’s not going to be easy, at least for now.
But scarcity, attention to detail and exclusivity are certainly all a part of the mystique and appeal of this wine. The 2018, which I was lucky enough to taste, will not be released publicly and the glorious 2019 is to be bottled entirely in magnum and consigned to auction to raise money for charities supporting children with serious illnesses.
The gloriously indulgent packaging and the exquisite rareness of this wine combined with its undoubted quality will ensure, I suspect, some eye-watering prices. But if someone offers you a glass, please do yourself a favour and accept! This comes from a tiny vineyard (or parcels within a vineyard) of 0.8 hectares on sandy-clay soils particularly well-suited for this rare ‘Bordeaux’ variety (being significantly less prone to hydric stress).
Fermentation starts naturally on natural yeast in stainless steel, before the nascent wine is transferred to barrel. Malolactic fermentation is in barrel (in 100% new Radoux blend barrels, specifically selected for white wines) with a maturation of around 10-12 months.
The dry white of Château Lafleur
When one thinks of the Guinaudeau family, one thinks first and foremost of Château Lafleur – the jewel of Pomerol and simply one of the most exquisite wines in the world today. But, although much less well-known, they also produce some of the very best white wines of the region: the exceptional pair of Grand Village blanc and Les Champs Libres.
The Grand Villages vineyard is on clay-limestone soils near Fronsac. The vineyard has been in the family since 1650 and even in its early days was reputed for the quality of its white wines. It was replanted in the 1960s with red varietie and then replanted again in the 1990s with Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon. But it is only really since the turn of the century, under the guiding hand of Baptiste and Julie Guinaudeau, that the wine has become what it is today.
Famously (at least to those who know), the vineyard has been largely replanted with vine stock from Sauvignon Blanc of Sancerre – with its greater richness, complexity capacity to express the minerality of its terroir. They have also experimented with barrel ageing to add complexity. There are 2.3 hectares of vines in total, sustainable viniculture is practiced, with manual harvesting and double-sorting, low-pressure inert pressing, with vinification in a combination of inox (50%), new (20%) and one-usage (30%) barrels. Maturation is for eight months in barrel with five months gentle lees-stirring. Around 8,000-12,000 bottles are produced each year.
In 2013 Les Champs Libres was created from within the Grand Village vineyard. In 2012, impressed by the notable complexity of a couple of barrels from a single parcel, these were held aside and bottled separately. The result was 240 bottles and 120 magnums of ‘A Louima’, a wine that existed only in the 2012 vintage named after the parcel from which it came. Inspired by the success of this, in 2013 it was decided to make a blend from the best barrels from three Sauvignon parcels (including A Louima).
This became Les Champs Libres (at that stage 100% Sauvignon Blanc); a further parcel was added in 2014. This is a truly spectacular wine, unlike any other from the region and invariably at least as good in my view as any other Bordeaux blanc sec. The four parcels from which it comes amount to just 0.7 hectares of vines. Around 4,500 bottles are produced each year.
Le Petit Cheval Blanc
Another fascinating project with a very interesting history. This started, in a sense inadvertently, in 2006 with the purchase by Cheval Blanc’s owners, LVMH, of the neighbouring grand cru vineyard of La Tour du Fin (at one stage La Tour du Pin Figeac). The vineyard is, literally, across the street, with most of its eight hectares actually closer to the chateau of Cheval Blanc than the majority of its own extensive plantings. LVMH had its eyes on the prime Merlot plots closest to their own and bordering the road.
These, in due course, made their way into the grand vin from 2012. The remaining 6.5 hectares were deemed insufficiently dry for prime red but potentially ideal for Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon. A process of replanting was duly begun after an exhaustive survey of the soil and drainage. Initially, two small parcels of around half a hectare were top-grafted with Sauvignon Blanc onto the pre-existing root stock. The aim from the outset was to make a white wine of the quality of Cheval Blanc itself – the question being posed was, in effect, if Cheval Blanc had always been a white wine what would it have been like? The answer, ‘Le Petit Cheval’, was not initially intended for commercialisation. Indeed, though the first vintage was in 2009, it was only in 2014 that Cheval Blanc decided to release this first official vintage to the market.
The wine itself comes from what is, in effect, an unusual microclimate and terroir combination peculiarly well-suited to the production of classed growth quality Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon. The somewhat more moist and yet sandy soil is less subject to hydric stress, making it less well suited for red, but fully optimised for these classic Bordeaux white varieties.
Six different clones of Sauvignon and Sémillon have been used in an almost forensic process of matching varieties, clones and root stock to their terroir – with the entire Le Petit Cheval Blanc being essentially designed to optimise the expression its terroir from scratch (something now almost impossible in the red wines of Bordeaux where châteaux typically need to make do with the planting decisions of their predecessors and well as their choices for what might now be regarded as less optimal clone selections). The Sémillon was planted in 2016 on the highest and most water-retaining clay based terroirs and was first used in the 2018. Like Asphodèle, grapes are picked al dente for crunchy freshness.
Technically, the aim is to secure a gentle and yet immediate extraction of grape juice in a horizontal pneumatic press; fermentation is in new oak barrels (from Austria, Sancerre and Burgundy), with barrel-specific batonnage depending on the tastings of the technical team. Le Petit Cheval Blanc is also characterised by its unusually long barrel ageing (of 16-18 months). This contributes to the purity of the wine. Large oak vats (of around 1,500-3,000 litres) are used to moderate the oak influence. The blending (or ‘white wedding’ as they poetically put it) occurs in a single large stainless steel tank.
The ‘oldest’ wine here – in the sense that this has been commercialised, in something very closely resembling its current form, since 2003 (originally, as Blanc de Valandraud No. 1).
The vines here were planted in 2000, in parcels contiguous with Château Valandraud itself in the commune of Saint Genes de Castillon, noted historically for the success of old-vine white varieties. The vineyard is of just two hectares on the south-western sloping clay-limestone slopes of St Emilion.
Typically this is 40-50% Sauvignon Gris; 30-40% Sauvignon Blanc; with the remaining 10-30% Sémillon. Maturation is of a relatively lengthy 10-12 months in 70-80% new oak (a combination of barriques of 225 to 500 litres, but with the sense of oak that is very moderated. The wine is classic, stylish, sleek and svelte yet with considerable underlying concentration and persistence. Only around 3,000 bottles are made.
Tasting notes for all the wines can be found on the following page
Colin Hay is Professor of Political Science at Sciences Po in Paris where he works on the political economy of Europe, La Place de Bordeaux and wine markets more generally.
‘Asphodèle’ de Château Climens: Tasting notes
Asphodèle 2018 (100% Sémillon; 13% alcohol). Tasted with Berenice Lurton at Chateau Climens and then again from bottle on two separate occasions with similar notes. The first vintage of this wine. Supremely bright, lively and lifted – and instantly engaging. White grapefruit and (Sémillon) lime. White flowers with a touch of pear skin. A lovely texture; just a hint of residual sugar, but ultra-fresh and, like the plant after which it is named, very vertical. A beautiful wine and an exceptional success in its debut vintage. Why? Because growing these grapes is hardly a new venture for Berenice Lurton and neither is the respect for the terroir and the wider environment that this wine captures and expresses so vividly. This has an energy and liveliness that speaks volumes for biodynamic wine-making. A phoenix, born from an idea hatched in the frost devastation of the preceding vintage.
Asphodèle 2019 (100% Sémillon; just 12% alcohol) – Tasted with Berenice Lurton at Chateau Climens and then again from bottle on two separate occasions with similar notes. Clear. Light and limpid in the glass, with silver and green highlights in the sunshine. Floral and intensely lifted. Like the 2018 only more so, this has a very vertical presentation on the nose. Verbena, nettles, mimosa, hay, marigold (which is in fact one of the biodynamic treatments used in the vineyard). Very pretty, with orchard scents of apple and peach blossom . Delicate, fresh and lively. But at the same time this is rich and powerful – a little more so than the 2018. A wine with considerable lift and energy, like all the best wines of this vintage. Bright, radiant and intense with a great focus and well-defined mid-palate layering and an almost chewy, slightly spicy finish. Very calcaire and quite crystalline, with the minerality and salinity giving adding grip, focus and definition – and helping to reveal the chiselled structural spine of this wine. Flint and matchbox, crushed seashells, shades of citrus and honeysuckle too. Exudes a sense of harmony and fluidity as this rolls over the palate. Really rather special.
Brane Cantenac blanc:Tasting notes
Brane Cantenac blanc 2019 (80% Sauvignon Blanc; 20% Sémillon; tiny yields of 14 hl/ha). Tasted first from barrique, then at the Chateau with Henri Lurton and Christophe Capdeville and then re-tasted in October 2020 from bottle. Let’s start with my most recent note. So fresh and lifted and aerial. Pure and fresh and beautifully fruit-fragrant but with almost Margaux florality too. Citrus and sherbet, with a lovely touch of fleur de sel. Lemon tart, lemon meringue pie. In October 2020, so close to how I remember it – which is very reassuring. You might think this 100% Sauvignon Blanc – it is most like, dare I even suggest it, Pavillon Blanc. But there is also a hidden depth and puissance in the mid-palate and the long quite broad finish that comes from the Sémillon. It is incredible to think that this is the first vintage (one hears so many stories about how difficult the first vintage of a new Bordeaux blanc sec proves to be). It really is super and shows excellent aging potential.
And here, for comparison, is my note from March 2020. Tasted at the château with Henri Lurton and Christophe Capdeville on the day of its bottling; also tasted from barrique, variety by variety, in October 2019. A new wine is born. Remarkably impressive even to someone who has not always been a huge fan of the whites of the Médoc. A study in citrus. Pure and nutty – walnuts and white flowers. Jasmine. A little hint of fresh ginger. Fennel seeds and a hint of mace. Rich and impressively puissant at first. But then a wave of juicy freshness recharges the palate, giving a wonderful sense of progression and evolution as the wine gathers itself anew and refocuses around an acidic mineral-charged core. Very long and racy on the mid-palate as the acidity engages and the sappy fruit starts to dance on the tongue. Lovely tension. Just 3,000 bottles or so. This, I guess, was number one! Not released en primeur. Look out for it.
Hubert de Boüard single varietal whites: Tasting notes
Hubert De Boüard Le Chardonnay 2018 (100% Chardonnay). Clean, pure, quite precise but with depth and concentration and a little richness. Peaches, guava, pear, confit ginger and a little umami note. Nice balance; quite tart and vibrant acidity, giving a hint of structure. A suggestion of brown butter from the oak in the mid-palate; toasted brioche too. Good balance, if just a little lacking in personality and with a slightly tart and metallic finish. Not quite as accomplished as the 2019, tasted during en primeur during confinement.
Hubert De Boüard Le Sauvignon 2018 (100% Sauvignon Blanc). Comes with a green capsule (unlike the others which are yellow) and the wine is greener too, as you’d expect. If they are summer, this is spring. Quite Graves-y, actually. Fresh, quite lifted light and more floral than the Sémillon. A lovely saline minerality contributes to the decent length. Citrus much in evidence with little white flowers and a pleasant slight nuttiness too. Another well-made and nicely balanced wine for early drinking. Excellent value.
Hubert De Boüard Sémillon 2017 (100% Sémillon). Fascinating. It is extremely rare for me to taste a wine that is 100% Sémillon, other than from cask, pre-assemblage! And this is fresher and more delineated than one anticipates. There is a gentle precision to this on both the nose and, if to a slightly lesser extent, the palate that I really like. Lime (where the Sauvignon is lemon), kiwi fruit (interestingly), white grapefruit and a hint of tropical fruit too (guava perhaps, even persimmon) – with a slight leafiness and a touch of sea salt. One could almost imagine from the nose that this were a Sauternes or Barsac blanc sec (the only other 100% Sémillon wines I can think of are Asphodèle and Sigalas Rabaud’s La Semillante which this resembles just a little). Less fat and rich than one expects in the mouth with, once again, that interesting combination of kiwi fruit and something more tropical. This is very attractive and well made, even if it is a little lacking in terroir personality. Fine and easy and an excellent advert for the variety.
Le Blanc Sec de Lafaurie Peyraguey: Tasting notes
Blanc sec de Lafaurie Peyraguey 2018 (60% Sémillon and 40% Sauvignon Blanc). This is really lovely. Precise, fresh, focused. From 2016 onwards, this is a really top wine – each vintage more refined than the previous one I find (and with greater aging potential too). Dynamic and lively. Maybe a little less substance than the 2019 and shorter on the palate; less of a sense of structure. Saffron, walnuts and lime. Nice sappiness on the finish. Fifty shades of lime. Highly recommended.
Blanc sec de Lafaurie Peyraguey 2019 (60% Sémillon and 40% Sauvignon Blanc). Fresh and leafy – redcurrant leaves. Lovely acidity; almost shockingly fresh. Pure and lifted with just a tiny hint of residual sugar but much less than in a wine like Ygrec. Crystalline. Chewy chalky notes. Lemon pressé and lemon tart, grapefruit and nectarine. Good concentration, gathered together around a very linear core of acidity. Round, fresh. Top notch. Lovely saline minerality. Just two hectares yielding c. 5,000-6,000 bottles. Very little if any sensation of the oak. Lithe, lean, quite structured and focused. A wine that really makes you believe in the potential for a new appellation of the best of the dry whites of Sauternes and Barsac.
La Croix de Labrie’s whites: Tasting notes
Camille de Croix de Labrie 2019 (Vin de table; 100% Chardonnay; 13,5% alcohol). Lightly coloured, with a slight green hue. Hints of cinnamon, lemon and green papaya, with a touch of honey but don’t be mistaken by the honey note, for this is a crystalline and very dry wine with not even a slight hint of residual sugar – and all the better for that. Fresh and focused and with that clear limestone influence (that is indeed the terroir here – chalk, limestone and sand). Pure and lifted on the nose, with nice hints of the saline minerality that is to be found on the palate too. Almost a little Chablis-esque. Quince and crisp apple, with slight tropical fruit notes too (papaya, guava, becoming more pronounced with air) and a floral element too that I struggle to pin down (possibly white rose petals). Very pure, with nice poise and precision – and drive and energy too. Impressive stuff with decent length – finishing on crisp citrus notes and a lovely saline grip – preserved lemons. Simple but lovely and fresh and great value. But don’t keep it too long.
Stella Solare de Croix de Labrie 2018 (60% Sémillon; 20% Sauvignon Blanc; 20% Sauvignon Gris; 13,5% alcohol). Coming from a one-hectare vineyard of 60-year old vines in Saint Christophe des Bardes on clay-limestone terroir. Fermentation in 225L barriques; aged in 50% new oak for around a year. An extraordinary and singular wine. Much more golden in the glass than I was expecting, with almost a hint of amber. Very distinct and very floral nose with passionfruit, passionflower and guava very prominent; lychees too with air and then lanolin (from the Sémillon I guess). Exotic (kiwi, lychees, almost a Gewurtz thing going on here), but light and aerial at the same time with that verticality that is the signature of the limestone (and crucial here to stop this becoming cloying). Very saline. There is quite a Sauternes-esque nose here and one anticipates residual sugar on the palate. And, yes, there is definitely that, but a wonderful succulence and yet freshness generating tension too. Quite big and plump in the mid-palate – very much showing off its 60% Sémillon. Maybe just lacking a touch of complexity. At this (early) stage, it’s a little monochrome, but fascinating and certainly very distinctive. Not everyone is going to love this and it would be very difficult to pick where this came from in a blind tasting; but there’s something to enjoy and admire about that. Only 1,600 bottles.
‘Elena’ de la Grace Dieu des Prieurs (Arte Russe): Tasting notes
‘Elena’ de La Grace Dieu des Prieurs 2018 (100% Chardonnay). The first vintage of this wine and, quite possibly, the first vintage of any St-Emilion Chardonnay; not publicly released. Tasted twice – at the château in June 2020 and then in November 2020 after bottling. White/green highlights in the glass. Nice and fresh yet plush and full. White flowers at first and then pears, peaches, hazelnut and, with air, almonds and frangipane. The oak is present – more noticeably on the nose than for the 2019. One picks up the slight clove notes of the Radoux blend barrels in which this was made. Tasted blind, you might guess this to be one of those micro-parcel Chardonnays from a high altitude sites in Barolo – big, bold, rich and powerful but with a chiselled sense of fresh acidity and a hint of the fine-grained oak in which it comes to life; and there is that saline minerality too. A hint of sweetness, but loads of freshness too. There is a touch of ginger to go with the fennel seeds. Green tea and verbena on the finish and a hint of smoke. Bigger and richer than any of the other St-Emilion Chardonnays and quite structured but super-fresh with a nice punch, bite and linearity too. An excellent forward thrust on the palate drives the wines along its spine. A wonderful debut.
‘Elena’ de La Grace Dieu des Prieurs 2019 (100% Chardonnay). This will be the first release, in magnums, and offered entirely at auction to raise money for charities supporting children with serious illnesses. A noble sentiment and a noble wine. Big, opulent, bold and very long. A strong sensation of almonds and orange blossom, poires belle Helene, fennel seeds, ginger – lots complexity, but at the same time a nice sense of integrity and harmony; spicy too. Tasted alongside the 2018 you’d be forgiven for inverting the vintages – as this is more integrated and harmonious despite its youth. The Radoux blend is less evident; noticeable in a way, but not in the way you expect – its influence seems more structural than anything else, adding to the body, spine and concentration of this rich, lively and very distinctive wine. A lovely ripple on the palate, indeed more of a sensation of a series of breakers washing onto a north Atlantic shoreline. More Chassagne than Puligny, but with a lovely complex minerality (if maybe less saline than the 2018). Singular, but in a good way. Spicy, lively and engaging. Needs a little time and opens nicely with aeration – at this stage a wine that would benefit a lot from a couple of hours in a decanter. Bigger and bolder than the 2018.
The dry white of Château Lafleur: Tasting notes
Grand Village 2013 (46% Sauvignon blanc; 54% Sémillon). A slight green hue and very un-evolved in colour through the clear glass bottle and in the glass itself. As that suggests, this is still exceptionally youthful. Searing freshness and the signature vertically of all of Château Lafleur’s wine-making – here the hourglass shape in the mouth from Grand Village’s clay-limestone soils. One notices the Sémillon here – which is in slight preponderance in the blend. With air, quite full and rich and impressively structured – almost architectural. Jasmin and citrus, a hint of white grapefruit pith and of freshly cut grass. Guava, dark green apple skin and white melon, but super fresh and with loads of structural acidity. Sappy, savoury and crystalline, with plenty of chalky-minerality in evidence too. Taut, focussed, linear and precise – with a lovely long eloquent and tapered floral finish. Such a good wine; and this just demonstrates how well these wines age. This would open a few eyes were it to be smuggled into a blind tasting of the super-star whites of the region! A real connoisseur’s wine. Very little on the label (other than the single name ‘Guinaudeau’) hints at how good this is – though the (light) colour of the wine itself is already suggestive.
Grand Village 2017 (only 2,400 bottles or so due to the frost; vinified entirely en barrique due to the tiny volumes). Tasted with Omri Ram at Château Lafleur in October 2020. Gold with a slight hint of green. Grander on the nose than the 2018 and a touch more exotic. Nettles and redcurrant leaves, passionfruit. Limestone/chalky notes. This opens beautifully with a little air to reveal a gentle spiciness – saffron and an Atlantic whiff of iodine and sea spray. Full yet lithe and nicely balanced, with a lovely point of fresh acidity. Crunchy and lively, with that rippling fresh finish of the vintage, especially chez Guinaudeau (one finds it in the reds too). Lime, papaya and a hint of guava, with a wonderful signature salinity that one finds in all of these wines. There are essentially three varietals here – the massal selection Sancerre Sauvignon, the Bordeaux Sauvignon and the Sémillon.
Grand Village 2018 (50% vinified in barrel). Tasted with Omri Ram at Chateau Lafleur in October 2020. Purer, more precise, less obviously rich. Very marine/saline, with even a touch of smoky bacon – smoke and ocean, rather reminiscent of an Islay whisky (Caol Ila perhaps). Flinty, chalky. Very fresh fruit notes – grapefruit, lime, with a hint of nuttiness. Very long pure focussed finish – with that spine that is so characteristic of white wines from the Guinaudeau family. Bergamot and green tea. More firm and closed than the 2017, but at least as promising, with more substance and depth to it (even if it remains a little more restrained and held back at this stage). Limestone mouthfeel and structure, very mineral too – silex and a hint of iron. More saline still with air; very creamy and attractive. Just a little heavy on the finish.
Grand Village 2019 (74% Sauvignon Blanc; 26% Sémillon). Tasted at Château Lafleur with Omri Ram from the last sample taken from the barrique literally just before bottling in July 2020. Limpid, very clear and with a lovely semi-viscous sheen on swirling; flecks of silver in the light. Very Sauvignon Blanc on the nose – gooseberries, gooseberry flowers and gooseberry leaves – redcurrant leaves too. A touch of exoticism too – guava and ginger. Taut; lively; sprightly and with a lovely saline minerality. This, too, is very focussed on the palate with a pronounced sense of a centre and a spine – structural, a signature of the Guinaudeau’s wine-making as much in their whites as in their more famous reds. Impressively powerful, but stays so fresh. Great length too, elongated by the notes of fleur de sel that come from the minerality of this terroir. Super value. If you had to guess the price, you’d be wrong (perhaps by a multiple of two or three).
Les Champs Libres 2016 (100% Sauvignon Blanc, with 90% from Sancerre clones, the other 10% of great quality but unknown provenance). Tasted with Omri Ram at Château Lafleur in October 2020. Silver/gold. Saffron notes. Chablis-esque. Supremely svelte and unusually structured for a white. Silex notes. A really great and exceptionally exuberant and expressive wine. Rich and powerful but pulsing with natural energy; salty and metallic. Quite extreme, edgy and energetic. Knife sharpening on wetstone, flint, struck matches and Islay smokiness. Hazelnuts. Very floral – petals and saffron, but also mimosa, passionflower and more exotic fruit notes too – guava, passionfruit. Rich and spicy, with cinnamon and fennel too; the oak is slightly more noticeable than in 2017. Singular. Exotic. Vibrant. Original and engaging. A bottle of fireworks.
Les Champs Libres 2017 (vinified in 100% Burgundian barriques; 100% Sauvignon Blanc). Tasted with Omri Ram at Château Lafleur in October 2020. Fabulous and in seeming stylistic contrast to the effusive 2016, this is a study in classicism and poise and elegance. Gone are the fireworks, here we have focussed beauty and precision and elegance – yet cut from the same cloth and with the same precise, structured centre. A very beautiful nose, though there is much more to come. Quite closed and held back, but what is revealed is so beautifully integrated and harmonious and it draws you in. Pure, precise, focussed with that hour-glass elegance that comes from clay limestone soils. Meursault-esque in its poise and lithe precision. Crunchy fruit. More vertical and actually more structured and architectural than the 2016. Hazelnuts, again. Lovely iodine/salty finish. So lively and fresh.
Les Champs Libres 2019 (95% Sauvignon Blanc; 5% Sémillon). Tasted at Château Lafleur with Omri Ram in July 2020 just before bottling. This is often 100% Sauvignon Blanc, from parcels now famously replanted with Sancerre clones. Here there is just a little Sémillon – a variety that really enjoyed the vintage conditions. I should now know how good this wine is going to be; but it still shocks and surprises me every time I taste it just how good it actually is. The only other Bordeaux dry white that come close to this in quality cost at least five times the price. This is vinified in new oak barrels, but there is no direct sensation of oak at all. Silver highlights and a slight glistening of green in the glass. Limpid and quite viscous for a Bordeaux blanc. Chalky. Intensely floral – orange blossom, mimosa, verbena, little white flowers whose names (always) escape me, blood oranges too. This is analytically rich, but it doesn’t feel rich in the mouth because there is sappy freshness everywhere. The effect is two-fold: first, it cuts the sensation of richness that would otherwise come with a wine with so much amplitude; and, second, it gives energy, lift and, above all, a forward focus and thrust to the wine on the palate – instead of sensing breadth (which is certainly there in abundance) one senses drive and progression. Like all of the Guinaudeau’s wines, this is very structural – and I adore that. This is very umami – saffron, dried petals, little hints of iodine and fresh pink grapefruit. Radiant and energetic. There is never very much of this wine. You’re really doing yourself a favour if you can find some.
Le Petit Cheval Blanc: Tasting notes
Le Petit Cheval Blanc 2016 (100% Sauvignon Blanc; 14% alcohol). Tasted in the garden of the château itself with Pierre Olivier Clouet and Arnaud de Laforcade and then again from bottle with similar notes (just as well, as they were rather hastily scribbled the first time). A beautifully crystalline, pure and lifted wine. Flint, matchbox, crushed pebbles and a great assortment of floral notes on the nose – honeysuckle, acacia and lilacs – also but with a very attractive hint of quinine and blanched almonds. More herbal elements too – wild thyme but also green and black china tea. This is crunchy, sappy and with loads of juicy freshness but also a wonderful intensity and concentration in the silky mid-palate. Very lifted; really excellent. Around 9,600 bottles and 120 magnums.
Le Petit Cheval Blanc 2018 (80% Sauvignon Blanc; 20% Sémillon; 14,5% alcohol). Tasted from a bottle supplied by the château. Wonderfully rich and powerful, but with all the disguise and poise of Cheval Blanc itself – in a way a white that only Cheval Blanc could make. Singular and unique and reliably now my favourite white of the entire region with the Sémillon bringing a little more depth to the mid-palate. So subtly beautiful and so wonderfully vibrant, fresh and lifted. This is a wine that seems to defy gravity in that it is breathlessly light and elegant and delicate and fresh and slender on its feet; yet it is also a wine that has extraordinary gravitas, complexity, richness and power – with remarkable purity and length. Close your eyes and the mouthfeel is reminiscent of the velour of the grand vin’s sublime cashmere tannins which here enrobe the pure citrus fruits. On the nose, which needs a little air, white flowers – acacia, honeysuckle and even a hint of saffron. On the palate, peach skin (with something of their texture too), pears and all varieties of lemon – pressed, preserved, fresh, bergamot, even a little tarte au citron. Wonderful saline minerality which is like a spine – once one tunes in on it, it is there from the attack all the way to that vanishing point tapered finish. Remarkable. Around 24,000 bottles and 600 magnums.
Valandraud Blanc: Tasting notes
Valandraud blanc 2017 (40% Sauvignon Gris, 30% Sauvignon Blanc and 30% Sémillon; 70% new oak; 13% alcohol). Very pure and lifted; very chalky on the nose, you can sense the presence of chalk, a hint of almond skin or, in fact, freshly grated almonds and grated lemon zest too, white grapefruit – very citrus. Sumac, mandarin rind, orange blossom and a flintly, struck match note too. Searingly fresh and very precise and bright. Superb length, with very good depth and concentration in the mid palate; great focus – and a concentrated intensity; very delineated. A lovely long etiolated slender, sleek and stylish finish. Really one of the very best of these wines. Truly excellent. Elegant, refined and yet bright, energetic and racy. A perfect accompaniment to shellfish. Difficult to exaggerate how good this is.
Valandraud blanc 2018 (50% Sauvignon Gris, 40% Sauvignon Blanc and 10% Sémillon). Very mineral-intense on the nose, flinty too, with that slight hint of struck match, a little plume of smoke too and those fresh, new season white almonds that one finds on the 2017 too. Vertical with that recognisable note of St-Emilion chalk. Bright and chirpy on the nose; instantly appealing. But, even given this, the crisp bight and searing vertical freshness and acidity comes almost as a shock on the palate; as is the underlying depth, concentration and intensity of this wine. Wow. Beautifully focussed and defined – very chiselled and with a very interesting slow and evolution on the palate as one encounters the contours of this very fine wine. Lime, white grapefruit, beeswax, with a pinch of saline minerality and very floral too – mimosa and honeysuckle, with a hint of verbena and lime zest on the sappy finish. Really excellent. There is a quality in this – the chalky notes and the flinty minerality – that reminds me of Dauvissat’s Chablis La Forest.