At its finest, the marriage of barrel-aged Sémillon and Sauvignon in Pessac-Léognan produces some of the greatest whites in France. Of these extraordinarily complex and age-worthy wines, the top châteaux are Smith Haut Lafitte, Pape Clément, and Haut-Brion.
On the West Coast, just three winemakers consistently garner ratings that challenge the superstars of Graves. The first is Luc Morlet, with his lusciously textured “La Proportion Dorée” ($75/btl). The second is Luc’s brother, Nicolas, who crafts Peter Michael’s “Coeur à Coeur” ($85/btl). The last is Chris Upchurch of DeLille Cellars in Columbia Valley.
Known for its Bordeaux-style reds and Provence-inspired Cabernet-Syrah, DeLille Cellars is perhaps the most recognized producer in Washington among wine critics and sommeliers. Back in 1995, however, the partners at DeLille were at a crossroads. They wanted to make a white wine, but as the market was already flooded with California Chardonnay, bringing in more of the same felt uninspired. To find the answer, Chris Upchurch, winemaker at DeLille, went on a pilgrimage to France.
Notepad in hand, Upchurch headed straight to Pessac-Léognan, where he absorbed all he could from Jean-Philippe Delmas of renowned Château Haut-Brion. In standout vintages — notably 1959, 1989, 1990, 2005, and 2013 — Haut-Brion makes one of the most treasured whites in the WORLD, having earned 100 points from Wine Spectator in 2005 and often exceeding $1,500/btl. There wasn’t a more perfect training ground for Upchurch.
At Haut-Brion, Chris learned about the vagaries of vintage in Bordeaux, and how some years favored Sauvignon and Sémillon over others. In cooler, dry vintages, for instance, vines would dig deep into the substrata, picking up minerally rich characteristics from the gravelly clay soils, while achieving the much-sought-after crisp, nectarine-like qualities of the Sauvignon and the honeysuckle, creme brulée power of the Sémillon.
Delmas explained how the wine could thus reach incredible levels of complexity and richness without skin contact or malolactic fermentation, and how it would then be aged in 100% new Seguin Moreau barrels for anywhere from 13-16 months, depending on the vintage.
Upchurch scribbled down everything he could from Delmas, never losing sight of that notepad. When he returned to Woodinville, DeLille began sourcing fruit from a few sites best suited for the white wine the estate had been aching to produce.
DeLille’s first vintage of “Chaleur Estate Blanc” came out in 1995, but it took 11 vintages for Upchurch to master the blend. Depending on the year, Chris found that anywhere from 32 to 38 percent of Sémillon should be used in order to bring out just enough intensity without overpowering the Sauvignon.
Since 2007, DeLille’s “Chaleur Estate Blanc” has taken flight, bringing Stephen Tanzer to his knees. The most influential French white critic in the world wrote that the wine “could do major damage in a blind flight with some high-end Bordeaux whites,” awarding it a minimum of 93 points in every vintage since ‘07. According to Tanzer, DeLille’s “Chaleur Estate Blanc” not only stands shoulder-to-shoulder with Luc Morlet’s “La Proportion Dorée” and Nicolas Morlet’s “Coeur à Coeur” at Peter Michael, it frequently OUTPOINTS them at a fraction of the price.
Compared to “La Proportion Dorée” ($75/btl) and “Coeur à Coeur” ($85/btl), 2014 DeLille Cellars “Chaleur Estate Blanc” is not only as good as Bordeaux Blanc gets in the New World, but it’s an absolute steal at $24.99. You make the call.
$27. 6 Bottles. Giving the white Bordeaux brethren a run for their money, DeLille shined brightly against a side-by-side tasting with E'spirit de Chevalier. 5 stars for great value.
Easily a "best-in-class" white Bordeaux blend... Right there with Morlet and Peter Michael products... Wish I bought more!
This is one of our favorite Sauvignon Blanc blends. It has a blended softness that makes it better than many of the Sauv Blancs we like to drink. This is our 'go to' wine when we want to serve something that is a cut above many of the high end Sauv Blanc's we normally serve.
Wonderful dinner wine. Sauvignon Blanc paired well with Semillon. Great with the Halibut.
Delicious and rich
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