Bordeaux, home to some of the world’s most prized red wines, has a lighter side – gold. Long held as a dessert wine, today golden Bordeaux embraces its savory side. Imagine a meal of raw oysters, lobster ravioli, and crème brulee all served with golden Bordeaux wines. This is an ultimate dining experience.
Twenty miles south from Bordeaux City lies Sauternes and Barsac, two regions that traverse both sides of the Garrone River. It is here the misty river fog provides ideal conditions for a necrotrophic fungus called Botrytis cinerea to thrive on the grapes, the same gray rot found on strawberries or other fruits. In these regions, Botrytis cinerea, aka noble rot, is imperative to the production process.
Comprised of airborne spores that enmesh with the grapes in their flowering stage, the fungus lies dormant within the grape until the grape begins to ripen and its sugar level increases. At this point botrytis wakes up, forming a crust on the skin of the grapes in the fall when the cool, humid, foggy mornings give way to warm, dry afternoons. The grapes are then given an extended hang time, allowing them to over-ripen with the effects of the noble rot, resulting in decreased acidity and increased sugar levels, while the grapes becoming shriveled, concentrated, raisin-like clusters on the vine.
The effects are not uniform, taking months of meticulous hand-selecting individual grapes by highly skilled workers, picking each grape once it is perfectly concentrated, well after the rest of the Bordeaux grapes have been harvested, proving to be pain-staking and costly. This can require harvesters to pass through any given row up to seven times over the course of weeks until all the grapes are harvested.
Due to decreased water and increased concentration, botrytis impacts yield, taking up to four effected vines to produce one bottle of wine, contrasted with the average yield per healthy vine producing ten bottles of wine.
Residual sugar, grape sugar that remains after alcohol conversion, makes wine sweet. Golden Bordeaux has two categories of sweetness: Moelleux, or mellow, indicating a lighter colored wine, more fruit forward with a smooth mouth-feel; Liquoreux, deeper gold, intense fruit, and secondary flavors of candied fruit, nuts, and honey. As Bordeaux sweet wines age liquoreux evolves, adding depth of texture, concentration, and rich expression.
Three grapes comprise golden Bordeaux: Semillon (80% of plantings), Sauvignon Blanc (15% of plantings), and Muscadelle (5% of planting). Semillon provides the backbone, is highly susceptible to Botrytis cinerea, bringing its deep golden color, elegance, weighty texture and high viscosity to the wine. Sauvignon Blanc ripens earlier therefore effected sooner by botrytis, contributing high acidity and vibrant aromas. Muscadelle adds additional layers of aromas and floral notes to the wine.
Golden Bordeaux demonstrate great balance, making them versatile food wines. Classic pairings include foie gras, Roquefort and Stilton cheeses, and desserts such as crème brulee, salted caramel pudding, and macarons.
Modern enjoyment of these wines has expanded to include fried chicken, curries, Vietnamese, Thai, Ethiopian, and Chinese, Korean BBQ, lobster rolls, truffle macaroni and cheese, crab cakes, pasta carbonara, potato chips, sardines, roasted duck, and salmon canapes. My favorite – chicken and waffles!
Due to their slight oxidation, the wines will for up to a week after opening when stored in the refrigerator. Keep in mind serving temperature is important. A serving temperature range of 44° –55° F is ideal, the sweeter the wines served close to 44°, the older wines served closer to 55°.
Here are eight golden Bordeaux to get you started. Each is 375ml and widely available.
2016 Château Manos Cadillac ($12.99): citrus, tropical fruit, honey, fresh, elegant
2014 Château du Cros Loupiac ($12): complex, herbal, spicy, golden raisin
2016 Château Loupiac-Gaudiet ($17): ripe orchard fruit, spice, white truffles, low acidity
2011 Château Dauphine Rondillon Loupiac ($28): honey, candied plums, caramel, refreshing
2015 Château la Rame Sainte Croix du Mont ($22): honey, lanolin, tropical fruit, elegant
2015 Château Filhot Sauternes ($25): apricot, orange blossom, marzipan, clean, finesse
2016 Château Lapinesse Bordeaux Sauternes ($20): citrus, lemon grass, ginger, balanced
2006 Castelnau de Suduiraut Sauternes ($90): honey, caramel, ginger, elegant, rich, balanced