What better way to celebrate the coming spring than with some whites wines from France — putting our favorite French white to the test. Up until a few years ago, Linda and I knew nothing about French wine, red or white. Then we took a wine tasting class in NY, a night out planned by Linda while we were still dating, and we discovered the amazing world of Sancerre. Sancerre is a region in France in the Loire Valley known for its white wine, drawing on the strength of the Sauvignon Blanc grape. If you’re ever in the mood for a white wine and you see Sancerre on the menu, go for it. It’s nearly impossible to go wrong with it. It possesses this great balance between passion fruit and mineral (chalk is commonly mentioned) qualities.
But there are many other French whites out there, so we’re also gonna explore a few of the other regions this month: Burgundy, Bordeaux, and Alsace.
Here’s a little background on these 4 different regions (from left to right): Bordeaux, Loire Valley, Burgundy, and Alsace.
White wine from Bordeaux is a blend of the Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillion grapes. Sauvignon Blanc brings a crisp, herbal taste while Sémillion possesses a softer, honey & fig nature. This combination is often overlooked by wine drinkers, partly due to Bordeaux’s considerable association with red wine. Nearly 85-90% of wine produced in Bordeaux is red. Also most American consumers prefer Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand, California, or South Africa. Those wines are aged in steel barrels, meaning they stay sharp and lip-smacking. Conversely, white Bordeaux spends some time in oak to mellow. Since we generally prefer Sauvignon Blancs to Chardonnay, I’m looking forward to trying this wine out.
As previously mentioned, the Loire Valley possesses the jewel of Sancerre but also a fun neighbor, Pouilly-Fume. Like white Bordeaux, Sancerre starts with the Sauvignon Blanc grape, but leaves the oak fermentation out (generally) resulting in the wine retaining its delicious fresh quality. It’s seriously our no-brainer wine selection at restaurants and would qualify as our “house white” if we could afford to stock it up.
Burgundy says adieu to Sauvignon Blanc and embraces Chardonnay with a solid bear hug. But make no mistake; it’s quite different from its “New World” counterparts in California and Australia. New World Chardonnay tends to be chubby, buttery, and tropical, while white Burgundy stays lean, clean, and apple-tasting machine. The difference comes from different growing environments and use/length of oak fermentation. This restraint makes white Burgundy a great food partner on lighter dishes: fish, chicken, and pasta. There are subtleties within the Burgundy region, but they all share a high price tag in common.
If the name Alsace sounds familiar, you might be channeling high school European history since the region has passed between French and German hands four times since 1871. Due to its varied past, this region in northern France has a unique profile; Mark Oldman says Alsatian wines look German (names like Trimbach), talk American (labeled by varietal not region), and act French (layers of complex flavor). The major grapes from Alsace consist of Riesling, Pinot Gris, Gewürztraminer, and Pinot Blanc.
Now that we got the background, here are the competitors for this tasting…place your bets.
Chateau Ballan-Larquette Bordeaux Blanc ’09: $14.99 retail; 91 points Wilfred Wong.
Andre Vatan Sancerre ’08: $19.99 retail; no score from WW.
Louis Jadot Macon-Villages ’09: $13.99 retail; 90 points from WWong.
Hugel Gentil ’08: $11.99 retail; 87 points from WWong.