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The Other Side of Bordeaux

With a bevy of aristocratic red wine labels such as Châteaux Mouton Rothschild, Latour and Lafite ringing in their ears, who could blame wine lovers for concluding that reds are the only serious wines Bordeaux has to offer? Even the numbers on the ground seem to favor this notion -- fully 89% of Bordeaux vineyards are planted with red wine grapes.

Thankfully, Bordeaux is a very large area. Out of the remaining 11% of vineyards come millions of cases of distinguished wine that often gets overlooked. This includes a massive lineup of top-flight dry whites, along with one of the world's most cherished sweet wines, Sauternes. And as though the area hadn't been blessed enough already, only an hour's drive up the Autoroute from the city of Bordeaux lies the famous brandy region of Cognac.

A Beautiful Friendship. The most common white Bordeaux is a blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon. Why a blend? In a word, balance. Sauvignon Blanc lends racy acidity and flamboyance; Sémillon counters with body and depth. You'll find that these whites mesh superbly with an ultra-wide range of dishes, and they go swimmingly with fresh fish and seafood.

For the classiest Bordeaux whites, the region of Graves has the loftiest reputation -- in particular, a sub-district of Graves called Pessac-Léognan. Also keep an eye out for Entre-Deux-Mers, an area that produces many wonderful white wines at modest prices. 

Super Sweets. Unctuously sweet and decadent, top dessert wines from Sauternes and the neighboring Barsac region are examples of winemaking at its most fanatical. As an example, it can sometimes require the fruit of almost an entire grape vine to yield just one glass of wine. Despite such uncompromising standards, however, many good Sauternes wines are offered at affordable prices. Half-bottles are usually available, too, lowering the price of admission to attainable levels. In addition, due to its slightly lower profile, sweet deals can sometimes be found in quite nice bottles of Barsac.

Red, White and . . . Cognac. In addition to its world-famous reds and equally worthy whites, Bordeaux  offers yet another prized sip to the world: Cognac. This prestigious wine-based brandy is named after a city north of Bordeaux, and is considered the finest brandy in the world.

To attain its rock-solid dependability, Cognac is usually blended from grapes of different vintages. For good value, opt for Cognac with "V.S." on the label. The youngest spirit in this blend will be at least 2 years old. "V.S.O.P" offers greater complexity in a blend of brandies no less than 4 years old. For the ultimate in flavor and expressiveness -- at a corresponding price -- the "X.O." and "Napoléon" designations contain no Cognac less than 6 years old, and often, brandies that are many decades old.

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