Thursday, December 2, 2010

The Graves sub-region of Bordeaux

On October 8th, 2010, I attended a class titled Mastering the Medoc and Graves which was held at Decanter HQ in London and led by Decanter Contributing Editor, and noted Bordeaux maven, Steven Spurrier.  I detailed the Medoc sub-region in a prior post and will cover Graves in this post.

The name Graves is derived from the dominant characteristic -- gravel -- of the soil in the region.  The soil is comprised of gravel, sand, and clay carried out by the Garonne over thousands of years. What is considered the Graves sub-region begins at the gates of the town of Bordeaux and extends for 50 miles along the left side of the Garonne River.

Nestled within the confines of the Graves sub-region are the noted AOCs of Pessac-Leognan (dry red and white wines), Sauternes (sweet whites), and Barsac (sweet whites).  The Graves AOC is the only Bordeaux region that is legally permitted to produce dry reds and whites as well as sweet white wines.  The sweet whites are produced under the Bordeaux Superieur AOC.  Graves covers 3400 hectares and is planted to Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc for red wines and Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc, and Muscadelle for whites.

Graves has a one-level classification scheme which was originally implemented in 1953 for reds and then revised in 1959 to include dry white wines.  There are 16 Graves Classified Growths, all located in the Pessac-Leognan commune.  The most notable of these classified growths is Chateau Haut-Brion, the only non-Medoc wine to have been included in the 1855 Medoc classification scheme.

The red wines from Graves are distinctively garnet-red in color and are more robust than wines emanating from Medoc.  These medium- to full-bodied wines are characterized by red fruits, blackcurrant, and cinnamon.  The whites, which are barrel-fermented and aged on their lees, are flowery with notes of passion fruit and apricots.

Pessac-Leognan, in the far north of the Graves sub-region, was a part of Graves until it gained its own AOC designation in 1987 in recognition of its distinctive soils.  The 1350 hectares of Pessac-Leognana encompasses the most respected producers in the Graves sub-region to include the aforementioned Haut-Brion but also such notables as Chateau Pape Clement, Chateau Haut-Bailly, and Chateau Bouscaut, among others.

The red wines of Pessac-Leognan -- made from Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc -- exhibit a powerful bouquet along with red fruits and cocoa.  These wines can age 20 years and beyond and gain in complexity after 7 years, adding spice and other tertiary flavors.  The whites are medium- to full-bodied and will age up to 15 years in cellar.  These Semillon-Sauvignon blends will exhibit orange peel, boxwood, and passion fruit.  The crisper whites will have Sauvignon as the dominant grape in the blend while the fuller bodied whites will be Semillon-dominant.

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