Bordeaux’s Dry Whites Star in 2013

Though the vintage was the weakest for red Bordeaux since 1997, it produced lively Sauvignon Blancs

Excerpted from the March 31, 2016, issue

Whew. That is basically the feeling among the Bordelais as the red wines from the 2013 vintage are now finally headed to retail shelves in the United States. There’s a sense of resignation and relief that the vintage—easily the region’s weakest since 1997—was a small crop that should result in quick absorption by the marketplace. Like the character Neo in The Matrix, Bordeaux’s winemakers twisted and turned in an effort to dodge everything that Mother Nature threw at them during a chaotic growing season.

“2013 was certainly the most difficult vintage I’ve known in Bordeaux,” says Stéphane Derenoncourt, the owner of his own Domaine de l’A in Castillon and an influential winemaking consultant to dozens of Bordeaux estates.

In the end, those vintners who were rigorous in their viticultural work throughout the season and uncompromising in their sorting at harvest—as well as positioned to benefit from a hefty dose of technology in the cellar—managed to coax a set of light-bodied, early-drinking reds into bottle. The dry whites, typically overshadowed by the reds, are generally excellent in 2013, and the sweet wines of Barsac and Sauternes are mostly superb, giving the region something to cheer about.

Overall, I have reviewed nearly 475 finished, bottled wines from Bordeaux’s 2013 vintage via blind tastings at Wine Spectator’s New York office and in Bordeaux. These reviews confirm my initial impressions based on the barrel tastings I conducted in the spring of 2014, when the vintage was first presented by winemakers and château owners, a period known as en primeur (see “Disaster Averted,” June 30, 2014). The total count of all wines in this report is 362 reds, 83 dry whites and 27 dessert wines.

Lovers of racy, detailed Sauvignon Blancs would be remiss if they neglected the vintage’s dry whites. The Château Doisy Daëne Bordeaux White 2013 (92, $35) is a prime example, a glistening white with lemon pulp and chamomile notes backed by a racy core of jicama, almond, tarragon and thyme.

“The dry white wines are excellent—minerally, fruity, balanced. Because they were picked before the second week of September,” says Doisy Daëne owner and winemaker Denis Dubourdieu.

The majority of 2013 whites were released earlier in 2015; for more in-depth coverage, see “2013 Bordeaux Whites,” in our April 30, 2015, issue. Of the 83 dry whites I have reviewed since then, more than one-third of them earn outstanding ratings. Included are some late-release bottlings that merit hunting down. Both the Château Smith-Haut-Lafitte Pessac-Léognan White 2013 (96, $106) and Château Pape Clément Pessac-Léognan White 2013 (95, $150) show how strong this vintage is for Sauvignon Blanc. The former is a rapier of citrus, verbena and quinine notes, while the latter delivers more flamboyant flavors of toast, shortbread and macadamia nut.

The Château Olivier Pessac-Léognan White 2013 (91, $32) is an excellent choice for relative value. There are other good values too, particularly outside the prominent Pessac appellation. The Baron Philippe de Rothschild Bordeaux White Mouton Cadet 2013 (86, $11) makes an ideal aperitif or light sipper with fresh oysters or goat cheese.

Senior editor James Molesworth is Wine Spectator’s lead taster on the wines of Bordeaux.

For the complete 2013 Bordeaux tasting report, including the red wines and sweet whites, read “Bordeaux Squeaks By” in our online magazine archives.