'Aromatic. That's the key word for a dry white bordeaux." Correction, that's the key word for a modern, dry white bordeaux. Martin Bamford was describing the new-looking wines. He is chairman of IDV France, owners of Gilbey's Chateau Loudenne in the Haut-Medoc and the inexpensive bordeaux marque, La Cour Pavillon. To him, the wines should be dry and lively, with a lingering honeyed finished. "Not too fat."
Not so very long ago, Edmund Penning-Rowsell was writing in the 1976 edition of his Wines of Bordeaux: "To me nearly all white Graves seems to smell of sulphur, used to keep the wine stable and pale. Though perhaps more the fault of the winemakers than of the wines, this takes much of the fresh, flowery, even honeyish aroma out of them and deadens the flavor too." And Graves are, or should be, the best of the dry white Bordeaux.
Since the mid-seventies, producers have been in no little ferment on the subject of changing the style of their wines. Those who have modernized regard it as a sensible response to the changing tastes of consumers, especially in export markets. Anthony Barton, a Bordeaux negociant, while noting that there are diehard traditinalists, said, "Personally, I think it's a pity to go on making a wine nobody wants."
Prices of dry bordeaux whites have been on the low side. Coupled with the development of brand name wines, this has made them attractive to the trade. Are they attractive to the consumer? Exports to the United States have risen steadily in the past three years. However, with lower than average crops in '80 and '81, price rises must be expected.
Bamford remains optimistic: "In 1982, unquestionably the dry white wines in France which show value without equal are those of Bordeaux. An enlarged choice of style and origin should provide new opportunities for growth where a real balance is sought between quality and prices. Today's wines have both fruit and a refreshing lightness."
I'm not as certain. In fact, after recent tastings of Bordeaux whites, some of which are indistinguishable from those of the Loire, or Provence, or even Italy, I'm nervous. Is there to be a homogenous international white wine? I thought it was the French whose wines had the regional characteristics that are envied by the younger, formative Californians.
Here are some of the wines that were tasted and thought to be well made, for their particular style and price:
'80 Chateau Reynon, Bordeaux Sec, slightly grassy, crisp.
'79 Chateu Rahoul, Graves, typical earthy nose, medium bodied with some complexity. Good value.
'79 Chateau Smith Haut-Lafitte, expected Graves Style, With the smooth flavors of semillon.
'79 Entre-deux-Huitres, off-dry, light, for seafood.
'80 Le Jug, $6 for 1.5 liter: soft, off-dry, predominantly muscadelle, I am advised.
'79 Verdillac, $4.50: light and easy, but quickly fading finish.
'80 Chateau Les Tourelles, Graves, $5.50: light, clean, some fruitiness at the end. A successful transition to the new style.
My biggest disappointment was the '80 Ch. Carbonnieux, Graves, from $12 to $14, which has been praised for its change of style. It was certainly fresh and lively, but it had been stripped of its distinction. It was more reminiscent of a Loire sauvignon blanc than an aristocratic Graves