There are certain wine producing areas that are synonymous with red wine: Bordeaux, Rhône, Rioja. It is easy to forget that white wine is produced in these regions not least because they tend to get overshadowed by the well-known reds. Yet there has been a gradual shift over the last decade and the quality and availability of the whites has increased as a result.
Sweet wines made from Sémillon and Sauvignon Blanc have always dominated the white wine scene in Bordeaux but dry white wines have been made alongside them for a long time. For many years these were of little consequence and were mostly made to use up surplus grapes as well as to increase a producers portfolio. A change in attitude towards dry whites has occurred though and several of the top chateaux have been investing time, money and land to developing a high quality white wine that can create its own identity within Bordeaux. The area and the grape varieties on offer have not always been the easiest to create success from and so the extra effort needed to turn them into something interesting, complex and of high quality has not been seen as worthwhile. However, with sweet wines costing so much to produce and demand shifting to dryer styles, some attention has moved towards these wines.
2017 Chateau de Valandraud Blanc £77 per bottle
Valandraud began as a vin de garage in the early 1990’s in St-Emilion making small quantities of rich and intense Merlot heavy Clarets. With expansion came the addition of dry white wines made from varying blends of Sémillon, Sauvignon Blanc and Sauvignon Gris. The amount used of each depends on the vintage which makes this an ever changing offering. A fair amount of new oak is used most years but the wines still manage to be fresh and lively on the palate.
2017 Blanc de Lynch-Bages £63 per bottle
First made in 1990 Blanc de Lynch-Bages was always viewed as a rare Medoc white wine. It may still be the case that not many dry white wines are produced in the Medoc in comparison to other parts of Bordeaux, particularly Sauternes and Barsac, but there are an increasing number of producers looking to experiment with this style.
Made from a blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Sémillon and a small amount of Muscadelle, the 2017 vintage is partly barrel aged although this isn’t very apparent in the finish. Floral and fragrant with lots of citrus fruit to keep it fresh. It has a lot to offer but is less in keeping with some of the more traditional vintages.
2013 Domaine de Chevalier Blanc Pessac Leognan Grand Cru Classe £75 per bottle
Domaine de Chevalier is a chateaux of steady and consistent quality. And their dry white wine does not escape this treatment with the general opinion being that they are designed to age well and usually do. Made from a blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon they are fresh and lively when young but then settle into a fuller, more elegant style over time.
2013 is a vintage that provided more freshness upfront than some others but, with a few years behind it, this will have gone down a notch to reveal a creamier, softer layer of fruit.
The Rhône does boast several famous white wines but we would still argue it is a predominantly red wine area. For most people Cornas, Côte Rôtie and Chateauneuf du Pape take precedent over Condrieu, Hermitage, and Chateauneuf du Pape Blanc. Like the reds the whites offer a style that is fairly unique to this region and the quality has improved over the last 15 years making it well worth a look.
2015 Domaine Grand Veneur La Fontaine Chateauneuf du Pape £48 per bottle
Domaine de Grand Veneur is the main property of Vignobles Alain Jaume. The white is usually made from 100% Roussanne and is a good example of a classic Chateauneuf du Pape Blanc with lots of stone fruit, citrus peel and a touch of spice. The wines are consistent throughout the vintages and the balance of depth and acidity is always well executed.
2016 E. Guigal La Doriane Condrieu £74 per bottle
Guigal is one of the best known and highly regarded producers in the Rhône and their Condrieu benefits from the same quality of production as their famous reds. The 2016 vintage of La Doriane has a good dose of oak making it full and rich with a smokey base to the fruit. But the balance is good and makes this a complex and elegant wine that should be drinking perfectly now.
2014 M. Chapoutier Ermitage de L’Oree Blanc Hermitage £135 per bottle
The white wines in Hermitage have benefited from producers discovering that with a bit more care and attention these wines can be far more interesting than they previously thought. Chapoutier has certainly gained a good following for his Ermitage de l’Oree, a wine made from 100% Marsanne that seems to offer endless layers of flavour. 2014 offers great depth and minerality that will be starting to open up. These wines are made to age and can last a decade at least.
White Rioja is fairly widespread these days and isn’t necessarily hard to come across. But it has a tendency to be a little simplistic and mostly offers fragrance rather than complexity. Which is at odds with well-made Reservas and Gran Reservas that strive to offer depth and endless layers of flavour that emerge over time. Refined and elegant white Riojas made with as much care and attention as the reds are far less common.
2008 Bodegas Palacio “Cosme Palacios” 1894 Blanco, Rioja £35 per bottle
When we stumbled across this wine we found something that was a world away from simplicity. 2008 was a good year for the region and, although white Rioja isn’t designed to last a long time, the depth and complexity of this vintage has allowed for it to age well. It has an endless array of flavours that come through gradually and a rich, buttery finish that makes it feel closer to Burgundy than Spain. However, the scent of almond groves and an underlying earthy minerality bring you back to its origins.