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Graves


Wine By Region Right Europe Right France Right Bordeaux Right Left Bank Right Graves Right  Pessac-Léognan   Sauternes


Smith Haut Lafitte

Smith Haut Lafitte is one of the prominent Graves estates. Photo by Elfabriciodelamancha on Wikipedia. License: Creative Commons SA 3.0 Unported.

Yquem 1973

A bottle of 1973 Château d'Yquem, the top estate in Sauternes.
Photo by Monster1000 on Wikipedia.
License: Creative Commons SA 3.0 Unported.

While it is no longer as famous as the Médoc, Graves is one of the two mainstay wine areas of the Left Bank. The region was reinvented when the area home to all the greatest reds, Pessac-Léognan, broke off from Graves AOC in 1987. Now the region of Graves is best known as a container to both Pessac-Léognan and Sauternes.

The wines of Graves are full-bodied, use approximately even percentages of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, and are highly influenced by the gravel banks that give Graves its name. The wines generally have more feminine flavors than their Médoc neighbors, but are significantly structured and take a very long time to mature. Then there is Sauternes, widely regarded as the best place in the world for sweet wine.

As compared to the Médoc, where any white wine produced is disaffectedly labeled under the Bordeaux or Bordeaux Superieur AOCs, Graves and Pessac-Léognan are allowed to produce white wine under their appellations. A style of Bordeaux often overshadowed by the reds and Sauternes, Graves whites can have good dry fruit and impressively full body, generally thanks to the grape Sauvignon Blanc.

In short, powerful, concentrated, and lusciously flavorful wines of three different styles can be found in Graves. Even under the Graves AOC itself, as opposed to higher-end Pessac-Léognan, a number of outstanding reds exist. Pessac-Léognan and Sauternes are two extremely important regions for collectors looking for expensive, ageable wines of the highest sophistication.

History

Nowadays, wine on the Left Bank is mainly associated with the Médoc, especially the communes of Pauillac, Margaux, St-Julien, and St-Estèphe. These villages are home to the most famous châteaux, such as Lafite-Rothschild, Mouton-Rothschild, Latour, Margaux, Cos d'Estournel, and Ducru-Beaucaillou, and they are by far the biggest status symbols nowadays. Although Haut-Brion is famous, and Graves is respected in the wine world, its wine (red at least) does not compare to the Médoc in the amount produced, its popularity, or its price.

Smith Haut Lafitte barriques

The cellar of Smith Haut Lafitte.
Photo by Elfabriciodelamancha on Wikipedia.
License: Creative Commons SA 3.0 Unported.

Yet only a few hundred years ago, in the 17th century and earlier, Graves was enjoying a period of prosperity in which their wines were considered not only the best in Bordeaux, but the only wines of that style in France and perhaps the world. It is easy to forget that Graves was so famous, and it helps to put the Médoc's current popularity into a historical context.

In the year 1152, a historical marriage between Eleanor of Aquitaine and Henry II, the English duke, took place. The marriage had many commercial facets to it, and Henry saw potential in Bordeaux's land, which was uncultivated for wine production. By the Middle Ages, Graves was renowned for its intense, powerful style of wine, which at the time had few rivals in Bordeaux or anywhere else. By the early 1700s, a few small plantings had popped up on the right bank, in a town called St-Émilion and another called Pomerol. Even in the Médoc, a village called St-Estèphe had started cultivating the Cabernet grape. Graves, however, still went unquestioned as the #1 area to find wine of its style.

Over the next hundred years, enterprising foreigners drained the Médoc, turning it from wild swampland into prime wine territory. The plantings from the Right Bank began rapidly increasing. Médoc's takeover was slow but sure, and by the 1855 classification of the Médoc it was that region which was considered to dominate the Left Bank. All Graves had in the classification was Haut-Brion and Sauternes.

Graves has remained popular, and still commands high prices for its best bottles of wine. It was granted AOC status a year after the Médoc and its villages: 1937. The top châteaux, though, were dissatisfied with the large size of the appellation and the number of mediocre houses that qualified for the regulations. During the 1950s, a classification of Graves wine was organized in order to place a qualitative distinction on the best châteaux.

Dramatically, Graves' best producers were still not satisfied, and in 1987 the most westerly of them split off to form Pessac-Léognan AOC. As a result, Graves AOC itself no longer contains any of the top houses, and collectors now shop Pessac-Léognan instead. As a result, Graves has become an excellent place to find reasonably priced Bordeaux blends that exceed their reputation.

Climate and Viticulture

The general climate of Graves is given away by the name. Graves in French means gravelly land, and a number of gravel banks exist in Graves. The intensity of the wines, including Sauternes, comes from this characteristic. There are also small quartz deposits in the soil which play a part in the taste of the wine.

In Sauternes, another factor altogether may be responsible for the outstanding nature of the wines. Read about it on the Sauternes page.

Grape Varieties

Both red and white grape varieties are used in Graves. The reds are the most planted, but in terms of proportion to the fame of the wines, the white varieties are probably equal or superior.

Only three grapes are regularly used in Graves' white blends.

Major Producers

After the landmark 1855 Médoc classification, which also included a sweet white Sauternes listing, Graves reds had to wait until 1953 for their classification, and the dry whites until 1959. The 16 châteaux on the list are now all located in Pessac-Léognan. Don't forget Graves itself for bargains: Clos Floridène, Crabitey, and Magneau are among the estates with highly reputable wine within the old AOC. Here is the list of the classified Pessac-Léognan estates; much more info about each is available on the Pessac-Léognan page.

Yquem Collection

A large collection of Yquem.
This photo is copyright-free.

A classification of Sauternes was also done, with three classes. Yquem was alone in the first, the second contained the top Sauternes estates, and the third contained several runner-ups that also produce luscious sweet wine.

There is only one Superior 1er Cru:

It's hard to beat Yquem for quality, but their prices can be easily bested by the other 1ers crus of Sauternes:

In the second tier of Sauternes wineries, a number of several equally good houses exist:

Subregions

No less than six AOCs are contained within Graves AOC, including Graves AOC itself. Some of them are more obscure than others, but all provide excellent wines both red and white.

Couhins panorama

An interesting panorama of the vineyards of Château Couhins. Photo by Timothée Boissy. License: Creative Commons SA 3.0 Unported.