Wine of the Week: Lions de Suduiraut Bordeaux Blanc Sec, 2021

Let’s talk about secs…

Say ‘Sauternes’ to most wine lovers, and chances are they’ll start drooling over the unctuous, amber-hued, intensely rich nectar that sets the benchmark for sweet wines around the world, reaching its apogee in the legendary cuvées of Château d’Yquem.

Set in a sleepy enclave at the southern end of Bordeaux’s vast expanse of vineyards, Sauternes occupies a small – but elite – niche in the world’s most famous wine region. But, if you thought its celebrated vins liquoreux were recherché, there is an even more unicorn wine made within its confines. Because, today, for Sauternes lovers, it’s time to talk about secs.

Bordeaux has long been dominated by the famous clarets of Latour, Lafite et al, with the aforementioned ‘stickies’ absorbing any residual interest. That is gradually changing, though, with a coterie of winemakers pushing hard for more recognition for the region’s dry – or sec – white wines, the under-the-radar status of which makes them relatively good value compared to their more vaunted red or sweet cousins.

The most renowned Bordeaux appellation for dry whites is Pessac-Léognan – home to Châteaux Haut-Brion and Smith Haut Lafitte (the latter having recently received HRH King Charles and Queen Camilla, no less, at its organic vineyard). Such wines are made with a large proportion of sauvignon blanc, but they are a world away from the lean, grassy New Zealand renderings that are ubiquitous in picnic hampers at the UK’s classical-music festivals in summer. Bordeaux’s warmer climate, allied to ageing of the wines in oak, lends its sauvignon a fuller and rounder profile than its new-world equivalent. That, along with the blending in of another grape variety – semillon – whose honeyed tones are what defines Sauternes’s signature sweet wines, further fills out its dry wines’ textured, creamy palate.

Château Suduiraut Winery

Christian Seely, managing director of the AXA Millésimes group whose wine portfolio includes Sauternes estate Château Suduiraut, is dumbfounded that most Pessac-Léognan producers don’t include more semillon in their blend. “For white wines, it’s Bordeaux’s USP,” he says. A cynical observer might suggest that it’s because most Bordeaux winemakers don’t care too much what happens away from their borders, and probably don’t even realise that other countries produce sauvignon blanc, let alone a wildly popular iteration of it from which they might need to differentiate themselves.

Château Suduiraut Winery

The British-born Seely, however, has a more cosmopolitan outlook than many of his Bordeaux counterparts (AXA’s wine portfolio stretches from Bordeaux to Burgundy, Hungary, Portugal and, now, even California) and is keen to harness semillon’s fuller, richer tones as he goes about upping the profile of Sauternes’s dry wines. To that end, Château Suduiraut recently announced the addition of not one, but two new secs to its range. It’s something of a statement of intent. Most Sauternes properties produce just one dry wine; Suduiraut now makes three.

Château Suduiraut Vielles Vignes Grand Blanc Sec
Lions de Suduiraut Bordeaux Blanc Sec

The lowest volume of the trio is a ‘pur semillon’, limited to a production of fewer than 1,000 bottles. It is, Seely freely admits, less a commercial proposition and more a declaration “that we believe in semillon”. The other newcomer – and real headline maker – is a new top-of-the-range dry white, sourced from the same plots of vines as the estate’s top sweet wine. But, since only the region’s sweet wines qualify for the appellation and are entitled to use its name on the label, Seely can’t call it a Sauternes. Instead, he has christened it Château Suduiraut Vielles Vignes Grand Blanc Sec, and has rather cleverly aped the label design of the estate’s more heralded sweet iteration in a bid to convey equal status. The wine will be available in bond later this year.

In the meantime, I can heartily recommend the final wine of the new dry triumvirate, the Lions de Suduiraut Bordeaux Blanc Sec, which has also been given a new identity. Previously known simply as Blanc Sec de Suduiraut, it’s a wine that manages to combine energy and steeliness with roundness and texture, its fresh, flinty apple tones marrying harmoniously with semillon’s signature honeyed notes.

“My ultimate aim,” says Seely, “is to produce the same volume of dry wine as we do sweet, and for Suduiraut to be equally recognised for both.” He’s already well on the way…

Lions de Suduiraut Bordeaux Blanc Sec, 2021

Lions de Suduiraut Bordeaux Blanc Sec, 2021

Lions de Suduiraut Bordeaux Blanc Sec, 2021

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