Misty mornings in Southern France
It’s 8 am on a Friday morning, and I am chasing fog rolling over gorgeous vineyards. Picture perfect but I can’t seem to capture the beauty of Bordeaux, France, a world capital of wine with a sweet little secret.
A fairytale setting where miles and miles of green landscape meet charming villages and gorgeous chateaux, Bordeaux is the kind of place for driving around, picnicking and painting. It is undeniably charming from its landscape and architecture to the names of its towns like Loupiac, Cadillac, and Sainte-Croix-du-Mont.
Traversing and trickling across the countryside is the river Garonne. As I look take in the greens, Emma, my guide, explains that eons ago, the area was a prolific oyster bed, and thanks to those prehistoric shells, the soil rich in chalk and limestone thus making the wines of Bordeaux amazing.
Cadillac is a town that is easy to love. Gorgeous and walkable, it’s everything you want for a weekend in southern France – a medieval town complete with fortress wall, bombastic entrance gate and Château de Cadillac, whose illustrious five-century history includes residence to a would-be king Duke of Epernon and a bout as a women’s prison.
On Saturday, Cadillac is a pedestrian paradise. Markets line the city streets and crowd the Chateau’s square. I find new woven purses, florists showoff larger-than-life hortensia, and the stands are filled with antiques. The air is scented with burnt caramel, which means cannelés, a local pastry of custard center and a dark, thick caramelized crust and flavored with rum and vanilla.
And, of course, Sweet Bordeaux. Situated on the right bank of the Garonne river at the Entre Deux Mers wine region, Cadillac is the perfect base for exploring Sweet Bordeaux.
What is Sweet Bordeaux?
With just the word “Bordeaux”, palates immediately recall the region’s hearty red wines, with an afterthought to sweet whites such as Sauterne and Barsac. But they’re not the only ones. Entre-Deux-Mer has eight niche and lesser known wine appellations known as Sweet White Bordeaux, all thanks to that gorgeous fog I caught rolling over the valley.
Fog and mist are beloved in Bordeaux for their mystery atmosphere and epic sunrises, and most importantly, for encouraging Botrytis cinerea, a fungus which, when in the right conditions, causes a beneficial infection on grapes. This “noble rot”, as its fondly known, is key to making sweet white wines.
Ranging from pale yellow to honey and amber, sweet white Bourdeaux wines are made from semillon, sauvignon blanc and muscadelle grapes, sometimes a blend, sometimes exclusively semillon. They can taste like nectar, sunshine, vanilla and your first kiss, but full disclosure, I’m not a wine expert just a curious taster.
I know what you’re thinking: dessert wine is, well, dessert. I’m not asking you to change your tastes and neither are the vintners of Sweet Bordeaux. They’re just asking that you open your mind to tasting Sweet Whites differently.
From tapas to tapioca, sweet Bordeaux go with anything, so they say. And I thought I’d test out the theory. Over my long weekend, I enjoy the sweet wine of Chateau Biac with smoked haddock soufflé with curry sauce. At Château Dauphine Rondillon, an eight-generation family estate, Sandrine Darriet-Froléon serves kaiseki (a multi-course Japanese dinner with fish and soup) paired with the chateau’s sweet white, focusing on umami-rich dishes that complement the nectar.
At Chateau Langoiran, the Famille Gonfier served a monument platter of oysters with their family wines Chateau Tanesse, Lion de Tanesse and Chateau Le Gardera. I participate in a cooking class at Chateau de Birot, probably the most stately of all the chateaux I visited and make Vietnamese spring rolls and pho. Later, I’m told a picante Pad Thai would be the perfect dish to pair with a Sweet White Bordeaux.
By the time I leave on Sunday afternoon, I am convinced that I have to return immediately. In fact, I’m thinking about organizing a watercolor week with my mother, an artist who will enjoy the sweets just as much as I have.
Bordeaux’s sweet whites are an adventure on the table and in the countryside. Each chateaux has a story- whether it’s a centuries-old family estate like Chateau Fayau, a truly medieval down to its next gen winemaker Charles Medeville who does medieval combat fighter hobbyist, the retirement dream of Biac’s Youmna Asseily where you’ll watch the prettiest sunsets or the prehistoric prowess of Chateau Lamothe de Haux, a family-run winery whose wine cave is lined with oyster shells.
And bonus points to the ancient Roman road I found on my way to the airport.
May 9, 2022