Bordeaux 2010: The Dry Wines

The 2010 vintage is a very successful one for Bordeaux's dry white wines. The cooler-than-average daytime temperatures and the fresh nights of August and September allowed for the build-up of aromatic precursor molecules and very good acidity levels, two factors that are always important in high-quality white wines. September of 2010 was cooler than 2009 but similar to 2005. But sunlight continued unabated, and both September and October 2010 were much sunnier than the same periods in 2009 and 2005.

The cooler temperatures also meant that extra care and work were necessary in the vineyards, such as green harvesting and de-leafing to allow for better exposure of the berries to sunlight. This work facilitated proper ripening of the sauvignon blanc grapes by bringing down the level of isobutyl methoxypyrazine, the molecule that gives a strong green bell pepper aroma to unripe sauvignon blanc and cabernet sauvignon. Still, some estates were worried about a drop in the total acidity levels of their sauvignon blanc and picked too soon, harvesting grapes of incomplete physiological ripeness.

Thanks to the weather conditions of 2010, most of the dry white wines of Bordeaux are lively and fresh; interestingly, though, some wines struck me as perplexingly soft. That latter characteristic is probably due to the sauvignon blanc, which in some cases seems to have lacked the vibrancy and lift of 2008 or 2007, while the sémillon was a resounding success. In any case, the 2010 dry whites will prove longer-lived than their 2009 siblings, and the best examples will improve effortlessly for 10 to 20 years. Less successful wines, besides being surprisingly soft, tend to lack complexity and come up a little short. So although the vintage is undoubtedly a very good one for the dry white wines of Bordeaux, as is the case with the reds, buyers will need to exercise care when choosing which to buy.

While Haut-Brion Blanc and La Mission Haut-Brion Blanc were the best wines I tasted this spring, followed closely by Pape-Clément, Smith Haut Lafitte and Domaine de Chevalier (no great surprise here!), the vintage has yielded a number of far less expensive wines that will prove to be excellent dinner companions. The best news is that several underachievers who have long been sources for competent, well-made but unexciting wines have come up with some of their best wines in years.

Also recommended: Château Bouscaut Pessac-Léognan Blanc (84-87), Château Côte Montpezat Bordeaux Blanc (85-87), Château Ferrande Graves Blanc (85-87), Château de France Pessac-Léognan Blanc (84-86), Château Haut Bertinerie Bordeaux Blanc (85-87), Château Hostens-Picant Sainte-Foy Bordeaux Blanc (85-87), Château Girolate Bordeaux Blanc (85-88), Château de Malromé Cuvée Adèle de Toulouse Lautrec Bordeaux Blanc (85-87), Château Penin Bordeaux Blanc (85-88), Château Rahoul Graves Blanc (84-86), Château Reignac Bordeaux Blanc (84-87), Château La Tour Carnet Bordeaux Blanc (85-87).

Other wines tasted: Alix du Château Plaisance Bordeaux Blanc, Château Plaisance Bordeaux Blanc, Château Perenne Côtes de Bordeaux Blaye Blanc, Château Sainte-Marie Bordeaux Blanc.