Digging Graves

A quick intro to Graves…

Every year, the two titans of Bordeaux – the Left Bank and Right Bank – lock swords in a battle for supremacy. Observing from the sidelines to the south is Graves, the gritty third wine region of Bordeaux, nonchalantly whittling a stick with its Swiss army knife. A less glamorous choice of blade for sure; but far more versatile.

Bordeaux is world-renowned for its reds. Fighting on this front, Graves would win many battles but it would lose the war. It has a secret weapon, however, in its white wines. Its dry whites are the best in Bordeaux, and can be more than a match for the best reds in cooler years. Its sweet whites, Sauternes and Barsac, are also stunningly good.

The Graves region stretches southeast from the city of Bordeaux alongside the Garonne River. Its reds stick to the Bordeaux blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc, but give leaner, earthier examples with notes of tobacco and charcoal. The whites are blends of Sauvignon Blanc, Sémillon and Muscadelle. Oak ageing provides a spicy tang and added muscle, giving them a more powerful style compared to rival Sauvignons from the Loire.

Many of the best Graves reds and whites come from the sub-region of Pessac-Léognan. It begins in the suburbs of Bordeaux, but stretches south among fields and pine forests. It’s home to First Growth Château Haut-Brion, and its sister estate La Mission Haut-Brion. Year after year they duel for the title of Graves ‘Wine of the Vintage’. Big names like these come with a three-figure price tag, but thanks to its relatively low profile, Graves can also be a hunting ground for bargains. Value is a relative term in Bordeaux, but the three below all excel in their class.

Château des Gravières ‘Cuvée Prestige’ 2009 (WineTrust100, £13.00)

Juicy, ripe black berry fruits and a dry finish – 2009 was a great year in Bordeaux. Delivers a lot of pleasure for the price.

Clos Floridène Blanc 2011 (The Wine Society, £18.00)

From the estate of Professor Denis Dubourdieu, one of the most sought after oenologists in France. Aromas of lychee and citrus fruits followed up by a sappy, tangy, intense burst of flavour.

Domaine de Chevalier 2008 (Wine Rack, £55.99)

This is a classic, fruity but very savoury Pessac-Léognan from a stand-out estate. Lush and ripe with intense blackcurrant and charcoal flavour. It has a lovely balance between fruit and oak, with a long, fresh finish.

First published in Living France magazine.