If there’s one thing that people tend to assume about the wines of Bordeaux, it’s that they’re red. Fair enough: The region produces about 89 percent red wine.
The 8 percent or so of dry white wine (the other 3 percent is sweet) that trickles out of Bordeaux’s chateaus, though, is well worth investigating, especially if you’re a fan of crisp whites. There’s also plenty of it: Bordeaux produces a vast amount of wine, so even the small percentage that is dry and white amounts to about 64 million bottles per year.
Bordeaux whites are made primarily from Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon, both varieties on the citrusy end of the white grape spectrum, sometimes with a small amount of Muscadelle or, more rarely, Sauvignon Gris blended in. The greatest can age beautifully for decades (and are often quite expensive—witness Château Haut-Brion blanc, which runs about $1,100 a bottle), but even good, fairly affordable bottles can benefit from a year or two in a cellar. Expect to find citrus fruit characteristics, often with a light herbal or grassy character (Bordeaux Sauvignon Blanc is neither as tropical-fruited as California Sauvignon nor as green peppery as New Zealand versions), as well as floral and sometimes honey notes. Also, many wineries age their wines for a time in oak, which can add vanilla and spice nuances. Generally speaking, the wines from the less prestigious appellations, such as Bordeaux Blanc or Entre deux Mers, tend to be more directly fruity and simple; those from Graves and (particularly) Pessac-Leognan are more complex and have more potential for aging.