With summer just beginning to wind down, I should probably start looking for something to greet the onset of autumn, but instead I’m going to grab on to a bottle that can make summer last. 

Now, granted, white Bordeaux may not be everyone’s first thought for a summer wine, but it certainly should be. It's great as a summer refresher, and with so many available styles of white Bordeaux, it's easy to find one for almost any other time, as well. I especially like it at those times when one is faced with a big platter of shellfish -- my favorite match for white Bordeaux!

You see, white Bordeaux, like red Bordeaux, isn’t really a single wine but rather a blend of up to three grapes that undergo a variety of winemaking techniques, each yielding a distinctly different and delicious version of Bordeaux Blanc!

The folks from EnjoyBordeaux.com are bringing you a fun way to learn about Bordeaux Blanc thanks to live chats with Le Wine Buff (a fun team of Bordeaux wine experts). This Thursday, August 19th they will have 2 Le Wine Buffs available to answer all your questions about Bordeaux Blanc and beyond!So Bordeaux Blanc isn’t a single wine, then? Not at all! Not only are there great differences among the grapes used (Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon are the two most common grapes that form the basis for all Bordeaux Blanc) but each region excels in producing a particular style of white Bordeaux.

Did you know that until fairly recently, certainly during the first half of the 20th century, more white Bordeaux was produced than red? It’s amazing, but true. Today that ratio stands on its head with only about 15% of Bordeaux being white. While quantities are down, quality is way up, ironically making Bordeaux Blanc one of the great unsung heroes of the wine world!

So, what goes into making white Bordeaux? As I mentioned, the basis for virtually every bottle of white Bordeaux is either Semillon or Sauvignon Blanc, yes, that Sauvignon Blanc that has been made so popular in places as diverse as New Zealand and Napa Valley. Why aren’t the wines made with 100% Sauvignon Blanc, you might ask -- well, besides tradition, there are a number of reasons why blending makes for better wines in Bordeaux.

The easiest way to illustrate the how and why of Bordeaux blending is to take a look at the individual elements that can make up a bottle of Bordeaux Blanc.

Sauvignon Blanc

I think almost everyone is familiar with Sauvignon Blanc. It’s grassy and frequently laced with tropical fruit flavors when grown in warmer climes, which Bordeaux is not. While the terroir of Bordeaux varies from area to area, it is simply not as warm as New Zealand or Napa, that’s for sure. With these cooler temperatures Sauvignon Blanc tends to be crisper, offering more peach and citrus than tropical fruit, and very zesty and expressive in its youth. The herbal elements can also be quite prominent and pungent, with accompanying acidity levels that can seem elevated to palates more used to soft, warm climate wines.

Semillon

Unlike Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon is a subtly-scented wine, lacking aromatic intensity in its youth, yet capable of developing alluring aromas of dried fruits, honeycomb, and pollen-rich flowers with bottle age. On the palate, Semillon is frequently noticeably low in acid, rich and almost oily in texture. What it does have, other than a severe susceptibility to the “noble rot” that allows for the remarkable dessert wines of Bordeaux, is a core of sweet, almost figgy fruit with nuanced accents of herbs and nuts. Sounds like an ideal blending wine, now doesn’t it?

The final grapes that are allowed in Bordeaux Blanc are Muscadelle and Ugni Blanc, though Ugni Blanc really doesn’t need to be covered here as it’s a grape that is generally grown for quantity over quality, producing a pleasant wine. In general it's a grape that has fallen out of favor with quality-minded producers of Bordeaux Blanc.

That leaves the unfortunately named Muscadelle. I say "unfortunately" because it shares a root with the Muscat family of grapes, and sometimes even a bit of aromatic similarity, though the grapes are in fact unrelated. Muscadelle can add zesty floral tones to the perfume of Bordeaux Blanc, and can contribute to the fruity character of the blend, but rarely makes up more than 10% of any wine.

So, it already sounds like blending Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon makes a lot of sense. You take two slightly imperfect wines and they marry perfectly, each making up for the shortcomings of the other while maintaining its own identity! A whole that truly is greater than the sum of its parts! So how do the Bordelaise -- the folks making these wines -- figure out how to blend these grapes?

That’s a good question, and one that is pretty much determined by where in Bordeaux the producer is located. For the most part Bordeaux Blanc is the product of the southern reaches of Bordeaux. There are three main regions to keep in mind when shopping for a bottle.

Entre-Deux-Mers 

This expansive region is not really between two seas; the name refers to the two rivers that roughly form the northern and southern limits of the region. This is the source of a tremendous quantity of value Bordeaux, and produces some of the best values in Bordeaux Blanc.  This is a relatively warm region in Bordeaux with rich soils that allow for perfectly ripe Sauvignon Blanc, so you can expect your Entre Deux Mers to be heavy on the fresh, crisp Sauv – perfect wines for summer picnics, shellfish, and light dishes like salads or even brunch. Since these wines are predominantly Sauvignon Blanc, they are generally made in a style that encourages early enjoyment.

Graves

The Graves was named for its distinctly gravelly soil. This soil, and the low lying areas that form the region, make the Graves a relatively cool region, yielding wines, Sauvignon Blanc in particular, that can be a little lean and firm. The solution? Add more Semillon of course! By upping the percentage of Semillon, the producers of the Graves can produce rich, balanced wines that benefit from some time in the cellar. In fact, because it is well known that Semillon blossoms with time, many of these wines are made in a style that demands some aging. The use of barrel aging is not uncommon here and gives the wines layers of flavors and an added richness, making them ideal for richer chicken and pork dishes and a perfect complement for dishes where cream plays an important role.

Pessac-Leognan 

This small region, carved out of the larger Graves region in 1987, contains all of Graves Grand Cru Classes. It’s a region that has the best of both the Entre Deux Mers and Graves. Poorer soils yet and a slightly warmer climate than most of Graves make this ideal country for the production of white wines. In fact, it’s not uncommon to find wines with relatively even ratios of Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc here. These are the stars of Bordeaux Blanc, and are sometimes a bit value-challenged. They are wines that drink well young and age well. In general these are the wines that have given Bordeaux Blanc such an amazing reputation; they're complex, rich, balanced wines that age well for decades in many cases.

Now you don’t have to know all of that to enjoy a bottle of Bordeaux Blanc, but it can help to make sure you end up with a bottle that you’re going enjoy. The truth is it’s pretty simple after all, since Bordeaux Blanc can be so layered, fresh and food friendly, it's sometimes hard to go wrong adding one to your table!