By Tom Marquardt and Patrick Darr
Bordeaux is steeped in history. For centuries wine has been made here by families who have passed down knowledge and inspiration. Today it is not uncommon to hear of third or fourth generations producing wine from the same vineyards as their ancestors.
While Medoc often gets the attention, there are other regions equally deserving of recognition. These include Graves, Pessac-Leognan, Sauternes and Barsac — regions located south of the city of Bordeaux and along the Garonne River. There are 16 Grand Crus Classes in Graves and 27 in Sauternes-Barsac. It is not without its stars — Chateau Haut-Brion is the only first growth in the Pessac-Leognan classification.
The Perromat family of Chateau de Cerons has been growing wine in Graves and Sauternes regions for nine generations. Marie-Helene Yung-Theron of Chateau de Portets is living in the house where she was born and she has fond memories of her grandfather in the vineyard. Three generations of the Perrin family are working together at Chateau Carbonnieux. The family stories here are endless, as we discovered after tasting a series of wines from these regions.
Each of these regions have a specialty. In Graves, the white wines are often blends of sauvignon blanc and semillon. We love a heavy dose of semillon because it rounds out the varietal sharpness of sauvignon blanc – the Chateau Ducasse ($15) has been a favorite of ours for years. Cabernet sauvignon is the largest variety of the red wines, which tend to be more mellow in tannin and acidity that the wines of the Medoc. Merlot plays a co-star role.
Graves is over-shadowed by the iconic wines of the Medoc but they represent better values.
Pessac-Leognan is actually a communal appellation of Graves and as such producers can label their wines as either. Eighty percent of the wines form its 10 villages are red.
Sauternes is probably the most unique region of the lot. Its sweet dessert wines are made from muscadelle, sauvignon and semillon grapes grown in ideal climates for botrytis – or “noble rot.” Autumn mists envelope the grapes and concentrate the nectar. Chateau Yquem is one of the most expensive and treasured sauternes.
Here is a sampling of some interesting wines from these regions:
Chateau de Cruzeau Pessac-Leognan White 2019 ($25). This stellar sauvignon blanc classic is a good representative of the Bordeaux style. Whole-grape pressing, lees stirring and oak-barrel fermentation and aging combine to make an expressive and surprisingly complex wine with citrus and peach notes. Anton Lurton, his son and granddaughter work together to make this a reliable estate.
Chateau Clos Haut-Peyraguey “Symphonie” Sauterne 2015 ($50). The semillon grapes for this delicious nectar come from vines in the First Grand Cru Classe. Bernard Magrez has been making great sauternes for 40 years and this one does not let us down. Deliciously sweet with apricot and peach notes with generous flavors of orange and almonds. Five percent of the blend is sauvignon blanc. This is a great dessert wine and a special gift for the holidays.
Chateau de Cerons Graves 2020 ($28). We love what the 55 percent semillon brings to this well-rounded, balanced wine. The balance of the blend is made of sauvignon blanc and 5 percent sauvignon gris to give it a broad profile with prevailing pink grapefruit notes, hints of citrus and honey flavors and a touch of mineral.
Chateau de Respide Classic Red Graves 2018 ($40). The blend for this medium-body Bordeaux is 60 percent merlot with the balance made from cabernet sauvignon grapes. Fresh red berry fruit with a hint of mocha.
Chateau Carbonnieux Pessac-Leognan 2019 ($39). This blend of sauvignon blanc (70 percent) and semillon has crisp acidity, intense floral aromas, pear and apple flavors and hints of lime zest and mineral. This is a tasty wine to drink now but it will mellow with a few years of aging.
Domaine de Larrivet Haut-Brion Pessac-Leognan 2018 ($35). Given the prestige of the name, it is not surprising that this blend of cabernet sauvignon, merlot and cabernet franc has quality written all over it. Flowery, violet aromas with generous, layered fruit of black cherries, black currants and blueberries. This is a great value for anyone who wants to start a cellar with modestly priced wines.
Josh Cellars wines from California are ubiquitous. Stroll through any retail space where wines are sold, and odds are a Josh wine product will be there to greet you.
Josh was founded by Joseph Carr in 2005 and followed the launch of the higher priced Joseph Carr wines several years earlier. Since then, Josh wines have experienced explosive growth rising to number three in sales volume for all table wine brands in the U.S. — eclipsed only by bulk wine brands Barefoot and Sutter Home.
While the regular Josh Cellars wines sport a California appellation, all three of their reserve wines feature more specific California growing regions. The first Josh reserve wine we tasted was the Josh Cellars Reserve Chardonnay North Coast 2021 ($19). We were impressed with the European approach to this grape.
The chardonnay didn’t present any obvious oak notes except for a touch of vanilla. The wine provided an elegant expression of pear and citrus with a hint of creaminess in a very appealing package.
Our favorite of the tasting was the Josh Cellars Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon Paso Robles 2020 ($22). Bright black cherry and cassis notes with a hint of mocha. Nice soft tannins provide palate cleansing in this very well priced wine.
Esporao Bico Amarelo Vinho Verde Portugal 2021 ($12). This is a fresh blend of loureiro from Quinta do Ameal and supplemented by alvarinho and avesso from a producer in Ponte de Lima. Bright acidity and vibrant pear and peach notes.
Chalk Hill Estate Bottled Chardonnay 2020 ($45). Juicy pear and apple notes cloaked in a velvety texture. Hint of cloves and minerality.
La Follette Los Primeros Chardonnay 021 ($25). This Sonoma County producer has a chardonnay and pinot noir that honor the early winegrowing pioneers who planted vines along the coast. We like the wines for their clean, sometimes austere quality that makes them great matches to food. The chardonnay has tropical fruit aromas and rich pear and melon flavors. The pinot noir (also $25) has generous earthy and cherry aromas with bright red cherry flavors.
La Follette Zenith Farms Chardonnay 2020 ($60). Ample pear and apple aromas with a hint of guava. Soft on the palate with pear and stone fruit flavors. This is just a terrific wine that begs for a second glass.