The sweet wines of Barsac and Sauternes are well-known. The dry whites, not so much. And that's a shame, because the dry whites from Bordeaux in general, and Barsac and Sauternes in particular, are much improved over the past decade. They're fresher and purer in style, as they are now more often vinified as true dry whites, rather than bottled simply from lots that didn't make the sweet wines. Bordeaux dry whites also provide a unique flavor profile from other whites (the uncommon Sémillon grape often plays a big role) and match well with food.
"When I joined the estate and started working with my uncle Philippe, we needed a project to build something, so that we could learn to work together," said Baly. "Our family had some vines in Graves which we used to make a dry white that we sent to a family member's restaurant in Alsace, so we had some experience with dry whites. But we had never made one from the terroir in Coutet. So that was totally new for us."
So new that a separate vinification area had to be constructed and two years of trials done before the Balys decided to formally release a dry white. The Balys have a commercial and technical partnership with Baron Philippe de Rothschild S.A., which helped them fashion the new wine.
"We really couldn't have done it without that help from Baron Philippe," said Baly. "It's a great combination, as we're a small, family-run winery and can do things on that level. But we have a great support team behind us to help us with a lot of the technical aspects of both viticulture and vinification."
The wine is called Opalie, derived from the Latin word opalus, which loosely means "stone from many elements." Minerality is important to Baly (she is fond of saying Coutet is derived from the French word for knife).
"We didn't just want a dry Coutet," said Baly, noting that the wine, made from equal parts Sémillon and Sauvignon Blanc, will be made from specific plots harvested earlier, rather than a generic selection of declassified lots that don't make it into Coutet's grand vin. "There is no Barsac appellation for dry whites, but we wanted a dry white that captures the minerality we feel makes Barsac special."
The wine is entirely barrel fermented in 60 percent new oak, with partial malolactic on the Sémillon portion. The two varieties are blended after the malo and then aged in barrel for nine months prior to bottling. There are just over 200 cases of the debut 2010 vintage, with 250 cases of the 2011 to follow.
"That's the maximum level we can do," said Baly. "Based on the parcels in the vineyard we have earmarked for the wine, and without sacrificing the quality of Coutet. But we're very happy with how it has turned out. I think it proves what this terroir is and it also keeps us on our toes, technically, by forcing us to do something different."
The Château Coutet Bordeaux Opalie White 2010 (tasted non-blind but without Baly present) crackles with life, showing bracing chamomile, tarragon and green almond notes and a distinctly racy feel up front. But there's also nice underlying richness, with hints of gooseberry jelly, white peach and green melon sliding in before a pure, stony finish takes over. It's delicious on its own, but easily has the stuffing and vivacity to marry nicely with seafood or white meat. I might give it a whirl with fresh oysters as well.
The wine has just been released in the U.S. market. It retails for $42. An official review, based on a blind tasting, will appear in the near future.
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