“Bordeaux” and white wine probably isn’t your first thought, but the 2012 vintage may change that. While tasting in Bordeaux’s Pessac-Léognan region today, I discovered some whites that are serious and delicious—and provide better value than white Burgundy at the same quality level.
The wines are typical Bordeaux in that they’re blends, but unique in that the grape combination features Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon. The 2012 growing conditions—according to the detailed and unbiased 2012 vintage report by Denis Dubourdieu, Laurence Geny, and other members of the University of Bordeaux Institute of Vine and Wine Sciences—were ideal for producing complex, dry whites (just as they were for producing stellar Merlot). The resulting white wine offers richness, concentration, a refreshing touch of herbaceousness and ageability.
But even the great quality hasn’t convinced everyone these high-end whites are must-buys. Annette Alvarez-Peters, global wine buyer for Costco Wholesale, commented that they’re at “the wrong price point.” Others believe that if you’re looking to invest in futures for Bordeaux, these are indeed bargains—and Pessac-Léognan is the place to get them.
Yet why this appellation—Bordeaux’s oldest commercial wine region—isn’t being buzzed about more remains a mystery to many. It’s the only En Primeur region for dry white wines and currently one of the most adventurous. What I’ve discovered over the years is that its winemakers and owners here are willing to take risks for the sake of improving quality—and not just when it comes to whites.
Fabien Teitgen, winemaker at Château Smith Haut Lafitte, has been experimenting with Syrah and Grenache, for example, as climate change continues to affect grape maturation in Bordeaux. Look out for these bottlings next.
Top 10 Bordeaux En Primeur Pessac-Léognan and Graves Red Wines
96–98 Château Haut-Brion 2012 Pessac-Léognan. Barrel sample. A beautifully ripe wine that’s very dense in its character. The wine is generous and rich, while also structured. It already has delicious black plum fruit and velvet tannins. A wonderful, opulent wine that’s packed with full-throated Merlot. —R.V.
94–96 Château La Mission Haut-Brion 2012 Pessac-Léognan. Barrel sample. Ripe and concentrated, this shows all the opulence for which La Mission Haut-Brion is famed. It’s dark, intense, and packed with rich Merlot. —R.V.
93–95 Domaine de Chevalier 2012 Pessac-Léognan. Barrel sample. Firm, wood-aged character show strongly here. The wine is dense and very firm, with a dark feel of extraction, but the juicy fruitiness underneath shows enormous potential. —R.V.
93–95 Château Haut-Bailly 2012 Pessac-Léognan. Barrel sample. Dark in structure, with a sense of austerity and dark tannins, this is a wine that will need time to develop. There’s a hint of tobacco and ripe plum on the palate, and the aftertaste promises juiciness. —R.V.
92–94 Château de Fieuzal 2012 Pessac-Léognan. Barrel sample. Considerable wood-aging yields notes of vanilla and spice on this smooth, modern wine. There’s ample ripe fruit to add balance, but it’s going to be a generous wine, revealing a rich, full character. —R.V.
92–94 Château de France 2012 Pessac-Léognan. Barrel sample. This is a full-bodied wine that’s packed with dark, dry tannins. The palate expresses the juiciness of the vintage with plenty of black currant fruitiness. It promises a fine spiciness in the future. —R.V.
92–94 Château Haut-Brion 2012 Le Clarence de Haut-Brion (Pessac-Léognan). Barrel sample. This dark and rich wine is the second wine of Château Haut-Brion. Intensely ripe Merlot gives it a lush, but concentrated and spicy character. Opulent in texture, it’s full of flavor. —R.V.
92–94 Château Olivier 2012 Pessac-Léognan. Barrel sample. This is a rich wine with smooth tannins and velvet texture. The palate has remarkable density and a full mouthfeel that’s concentrated and firm. The fruit is ripe and juicy. —R.V.
92–94 Château Pape-Clément 2012 Pessac-Léognan. Barrel sample. A very dry and tannic wine, this is hard edged, showing distinct minerality and a dry, gravelly feel. It has herbal notes, followed by rich spice and dark, brooding fruits. A powerful wine with a sense of extraction. —R.V.
92–94 Château Smith Haut-Lafitte 2012 Pessac-Léognan. Barrel sample. Dark, extracted and dense, this is a hard-edged wine that initially lacks fruitiness. Only as the wine develops does it show its powerful density and hints of juiciness. —R.V.
Top 10 Bordeaux White Wine En Primeur (all appellations)
94–96 Château Haut-Brion 2012 Pessac-Léognan. Barrel sample. This is a ripe, wonderful wine that’s full of spice, pineapple and apricot with a green tang of herbaceous character. It’s simply beautiful, with great style and a deceptively simple use of wood. —R.V.
93–95 Domaine de Chevalier 2012 Pessac-Léognan. Barrel sample. Complex, rounded and full bodied, this wine is still reticent at the moment, hiding its rich fruit. As it develops, this will be impressive, with its mineral texture over apricot fruits and layers of spice and wood. —R.V.
93–95 Château La Louvière 2012 Pessac-Léognan. Barrel sample. With all its fruitiness and full, stylish character, this is a ripe wine with weight, richness, spice, lemon and tropical fruits. Opulent on the palate, it ends with an intensely fruity finish. —R.V.
92–94 Château de France 2012 Pessac-Léognan. Barrel sample. This very textured, steely wine is serious and complex. With significant richness, a mineral character and a fine depth of fruit, this is a wine meant for aging. —R.V.
92–94 Château La Mission Haut-Brion 2012 Pessac-Léognan. Barrel sample. This is a ripe and beautifully generous wine. It’s expressive with spice, tropical fruits and a rounded structure that shows off its deliciously full, fruity character. Very generous. —R.V.
92–94 Château Larrivet Haut-Brion 2012 Pessac-Léognan. Barrel sample. This is a big, rich, spicy wine, with a generous, warm character. The palate boasts significant weight with ripe pear and apricot flavors that finish with a touch of ginger and minerality. —R.V.
92–94 Château Malartic-Lagravière 2012 Pessac-Léognan. Barrel sample. Spice and green-plum flavors meld beautifully in this wine that’s already showing deliciously. It has a fine, mineral texture that makes it edgy and tight on the palate. Acidity cuts straight through the palate like a fine laser. —R.V.
92–94 Château Margaux 2012 Pavillon Blanc de Château Margaux (Bordeaux Blanc). Barrel sample. This wine is delicious—proof positive of the continuing improvement of white wines from Château Margaux. Lively and fresh, it’s accented with wood spice, apple and pear flavors. This vintage produced the smallest quantity of white wine ever made at Margaux. —R.V.
92–94 Château Olivier 2012 Pessac-Léognan. Barrel sample. Bright, rich and fruity with a tropical pineapple and peach feel, this wine shows signs of wood aging while keeping its pure, fruity character. Ripe and full. —R.V.
92–94 Château Smith Haut-Lafitte 2012 Pessac-Léognan. Barrel sample. Warm, ripe, fruity and opulent, this wine has remarkable weight. Very rounded and rich on the palate, it boasts ripe apricot and dried peach flavor and a touch of pepper that reveals its alcohol. —R.V.
Tomorrow, tune in for En Primeur, Day Four: Reports on Pauillac, Saint-Julien, Saint-Estèphe and Haut-Médoc.