30 March 2011

bordeaux blonde: château méric & château sainte marie

Admission: I almost never buy Bordeaux, red or white. Like Hong Kong in 1997, I'm content to leave it to the Chinese.

But this is just a sneaky way of saying, 'I haven't yet become interested enough to educate myself.' White Bordeaux, however, holds a great deal of mystery for me, because I encounter it relatively rarely, and because when I do, I seem to dig the results. Typically derived from Semillon and Sauvignon, with diminishing proportions of Colombard, Ugni Blanc, and Muscadelle, among other minor grapes, the wines constitute a persuasive middle ground in great French white winemaking. More stolid and less exotic than Alsace, less luminescent than Burgundy, lacking the bite of Sancerre or the amorphous delicacy of Chenin, with neither the spicy exuberance of southwestern whites, nor necessarily the honied voluptuousness of those of the Rhone, Bordeaux blancs, like their red counterparts, seem to prize grace and gentility over strong personality. Only, not being red, they are continually overlooked, understocked, and underpriced.

The other day I dropped by 10ème natural cave La Contre-Etiquette, and left with two bottles of scandalously inexpensive white Bordeaux, which I intitially planned to keep in stock until some appropriately low-key occasion arose, such as a bad dinner party, or a risotto. I am no good at saving things, however. Later that evening my newly-bleached friend E came over, and we wound up polishing off both bottles in a state of happy incredulity, barely able to believe that such profound wines could be found so cheaply.

I'd been informed at point of purchase that the first bottle we had, an un-oaked 2007 Château Méric* Graves by organic vigneron François Barron, was the last bottle in stock at La Contre-Etiquette, who, incidentally, are also Château Méric's only stockist in Paris.** This information cast a sort of elegiac air over what was otherwise a totally enthusiastic reaction on my part. The wine, which had cost me all of 8,5€, was staggeringly well-developed. Dried apricots, lanolin, light honey, kerosene - it was as understated and wry as one of those folk songs whose jaunty melodies mask amusingly dark subject matter.

Long-on-the-palate, short-on-the-table. So we cracked directly into bottle number two: a 2010 Château Sainte Marie Entre-Deux-Mers "Veilles Vignes." I won't say how much it cost, but it was cheap.

A blend of mainly Sauvignon, with about a quarter Semillon and a dash of Muscadelle, the Sainte Marie "Vielle Vignes" is sourced from 28-year-old organically-farmed vines in south-facing vineyards within the Entre-Deux-Mers appellation, named in reference to the two rivers that border it on either side, the Dordogne and the Gironde. The appellation itself - situated inland across the river from the more reputable Graves - is known more as a source for essentially blank, faceless whites for Paris convenience stores than for any semblance of quality.

Nevertheless it's a surprise to me that the Saint Marie "Vielle Vignes" Entre-Deux-Mers is seemingly priced according to this notoriety, rather than the evident skills and ambitions of its winemaker, Stephane Dupuch. E tasted the Château Sainte Marie "Vielle Vignes" and immediately pegged the flavor as shining fresh raspberry - to which I'd add only that on the palate the raspberry note transitions slightly into an entirely pleasurable sheepy flavor, and then hovers on the divide between the two for a while. It's a funny flavor component - sort of a breakfasty confiture / fromage-blanc thing - and after having detected it again the other day in a well-made Bergerac blanc, I'm increasingly convinced its a mark of great fresh southwestern Sauvignon.

* There appear to be two Château Mérics in Bordeaux. This one is based in Graves; I can't vouch for the one based in the Médoc. 

** So I'm told. I would be overjoyed if someone could provide counter-evidence.

La Contre Etiquette
31 rue Sainte Marthe
75010 PARIS
Metro: Belleville or Colonel Fabien
Tel: 01 42 01 08 51

Related Links:

Tasting some leathery old Margaux at Le Garde Robe, 75001
Running into Bordeaux vigneron Dominique Leandre-Chevalier at Quedubon, 75019

A nice 2010 write-up of a tasting at La Contre-Etiquette @ WineTerroirs

1 comment:

  1. I'm surprised no one from Hong Kong has written a menacing comment. (Hong Kongers, Masons, who's next?)

    Also: Sheepy? I guess that's right.