Is it true that great vintages for Bordeaux reds are not so good for the whites, and vice-versa? If so, why?

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Dear Dr. Vinny,

Is it true that great vintages for Bordeaux reds are not so good for the whites, and vice-versa? If so, why?

—Arkay, Malaysia

Dear Arkay,

I heard this theory when I started learning about wine, and not just in regard to Bordeaux, but to winegrowing regions in general. But it's not true in every case.

I checked in with Wine Spectator senior editor James Molesworth, our lead taster for the wines of Bordeaux, to get his take. “White grapes (Sauvignon Blanc, Sémillon and Muscadelle in Bordeaux) ripen earlier than red grapes (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc). so weather patterns can affect the white and red grape wine harvests differently," he says. "However, they are not diametrically opposed. There are often harvests where both whites and reds are excellent—2011 and 2015 in Bordeaux, for example.”

I suspect this theory, as pertains to Bordeaux, might be because a cool, wet year is not ideal for red grapes, but can provide agreeable conditions for Botrytis cinerea, the "noble rot" that makes the dessert wines of Bordeaux's Sauternes and Barsac regions so special. But those late-harvested botrytis-affected white grapes for dessert wines are picked even later in the season than the red grapes, so it’s incorrect to assume that their quality is in opposition either.

—Dr. Vinny

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