The area formerly all known as Graves extends from below the village of St-Pierre de Mons to Blanquefort south-west of Bordeaux. It is subdivided into three large wine-growing areas: Graves itself (Graves Rouge, Graves Blanc Sec, Graves Superieures Moelleux and Liquoreux), Pessac-Uognan (Rouge and Blanc Sec) , and the sweet wine enclaves Sauternes, Barsac and Cerons.
The area stretches for about 50 km (31 miles) and comprises 43 different communes. Graves is the only French wine to carry the bedrock or soil of its terroir in its appellation on the label. The name 'Graves' is English. Medoc then was still swampland that was later drained and reclaimed by the Dutch. The name Graves became forever linked to its wines because of the favourable nature of the ground for winemaking.
French wines from Graves contributed to establishing the great name of Bordeaux rather than those of Medoc which only came into being in the second half of the eighteenth century, when they profited from the fame of Graves.
With Graves too what is instantly apparent is the great diversity of different terroirs. Generally the soil consists of terraces of clay and sand with gravel and plenty of boulders. The quality of the soil here ultimately determines the quality of this French wine. The Graves vineyards came under tremendous pressure in the twentieth century. The expansion of the city of Bordeaux caused about 7,000 hectares of land to be lost and this process was exacerbated by the economic crisis that preceded World War II, by that war, and the severe frosts of 1956. The vineyards close to the suburbs of Bordeaux suffered most in these times. For foreigners it is quite surprising to see that top chateaux such as Haut-Brion and La Mission Haut-Brion are almost permanently bathed in the smoke from Bordeaux.
In the 3,000 hectares of Graves, 53% red wine and 47% white wine is produced. The better wines (including all the Graves grand crus) have had their own appellation of Pessac-Leognan since 1987. Red wine throughout the area is made using Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Cabernet Sauvignon, sometimes supplemented with Malbec and PetitVerdot.
White wine is made using Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc, and Muscadelle.
Historically the red Graves were the great Bordeaux wines. The vineyards were planted by the Romans and the wine was highly desired by the Roman emperors. The wine became world famous thanks to the English but the French kings were also extremely French for gravel, the ground on which vines best thrived during the occupation of Aquitaine by the fond of the wine. Recognition with an AC was granted in 1937.
Depending on its terroir Graves red can either be light and elegant or full, fatty, fleshy, and full of tannin. The latter type in particular keeps well. A characteristic of the Graves red is the slight smoky undertone in both the bouquet and taste. This taste is derived from the soil. Other characteristic aromas are vanilla, ripe fruit such as strawberry, blackcurrant, orange peel, toast, green pepper (paprika), and a little cinnamon, coffee, cocoa, and humus as the wine matures. Drinking temperature: 16°C (60.8°F).
It is undoubtedly in this area, within and just outside the city of Bordeaux, that the region's winemaking roots run deepest. Graves wines, both red and white, have always increased the reputation of Bordeaux wines around the world. During the Middle Ages they were particularly renowned, and punishments were severe for those who cheated the public by passing off wines from other regions as being from Graves. Under the jurisdiction of Bordeaux, the vineyard at that time completely encircled the city.
The dry white Graves is always fresh, fruity, and very aromatic with scents of box, laurel, peach, apricot, citrus fruit, ivy, mint, vanilla, toast, and almond. If drunk when young the acidity of Graves Blanc Sec is rather sharp. Drinking temperature for this white French wine: 10-12°C(50-53.6°F).
Genuine Graves Superieures are superb but you will not find them among the cheaper wines. Expect to pay about double the price of the special offer wines. These sweet (moelleux) to liquorous French wines are very aromatic with suggestions of hazelnut, vanilla, toast, honey, peach, and apricot, and they are velvet smooth. The presence of fresh acidity provides the wine with balance. Drinking temperature for this Graves French wine: 6-8°C (42.8-46.4 °F).
Since 1987, the communes of Cadaujac, Canejean, Gradignan, Leognan, Martillac, Merignac, Pessac, St-Medard d'Eyrans, Talence, and Villenave d'Ornon have borne the appellation of PessacLeognan.
All the grand crus of the former Graves (1959) fall within this appellation, including Chateau Haut-Brion. There are a total of 55 estates and chateaux that bear the Pessac-Leognan AC. This French wine produced from these is generally of higher quality than the rest of Graves. This is partly due to the poor soil of Pessac-Uognan, to the hilly landscape, ideal situation of the vineyards, good drainage, and adequate water in the lower strata.
The total production area of Pessac-Leognan amounts to 950 hectares of which almost half has been replanted since 1970. At that time the vineyards of PessacUognan were threatened with suffocation from the smoke of the expanding city of Bordeaux. The survival plans of the remaining growers (almost
Classe red all owners of grand crus) resulted in their own AC recognition in 1987. Since that time the vineyards have been well protected against further expansion of Bordeaux. This French wines belong in the top category but remain affordable.
Pessac-Leognan Blanc is always a dry French wine. Sauvignon Blanc dominates here with the possible supplement of Semillon. The colour is a clear pale yellow to straw and the nose is particularly seductive: vanilla, toast, lime blossom, broom, grapefruit, apricot, peach, quince, mango, lychee, butter, and almond. The taste is fresh, fruity, fatty,and rounded. Drink this Blanc French wine at temperature: 12°C (53 .6°F) .
Pessac-Uognan Rouge is of exceptional quality. The colour is intense and exciting dark purple to carmine for a this French wine. When young there is a bouquet of ripe fruit such as blackcurrant and plum, together with vanilla, toast, almond, and a characteristic smokiness. These change as the wine matures to humus, prune, game, and truffle. Most wines use Cabernet Sauvignon as their principal grape with some Merlot and Cabernet Pranc. This French wine consequently keeps well. Drink this French wine at temperature: 16-17°C (60 .8-62.6°F).
The wine-growing area on the right bank of the Garonne is about 60 km (37 miles) long and runs from the suburbs of Bordeaux to the border with the Cotes de Bordeaux St-Macaire. The landscape is hilly and there are magnificent views across the river and the vineyards of Graves. The underlying beds are varied but chiefly chalk and gravel on the hills and alluvial deposits closer to the Garonne.
Production is mainly of red French wines but some smooth to liquorous white wines are made in the southeastern tip close to Cadillac,