Learn everything about Graves, Bordeaux wine, in our complete guide, with the top ten facts of Graves, a look at the character and style of all the best wines, complete profiles on all the top vineyards and producers with wine tasting notes, histories, and buying guides for all the best wines along with wine and food pairing tips.
If you want to read about other Bordeaux wine producers in different Bordeaux appellations: Links to all Bordeaux Wine Producer Profiles If you are interested in learning more about Bordeaux wine, we offer numerous articles on everything about Bordeaux wine, from a history of the Bordeaux region and the famous 1855 Classification, the grapes used to produce Bordeaux wine and even vintage summaries, covering Bordeaux wine from 1900 to today: All About Bordeaux Wine Guide
The complete guide to all best chateau, wines, vineyards and producers in the Graves Appellation:
Overview of the Graves appellation : The Graves, (the original name for the Pessac Leognan appellation) takes its name from the unique soils that consist of deep layers of gravel and stone.
Graves is located just to the south and east of Bordeaux city on the left bank of the Garonne River and not too far from Sauternes. Graves is a naturally warm climate appellation, due to its proximity to the city. The Graves appellation can receive more precipitation than its neighboring appellations as well, which alters its climate. However, it is the gravel, rocks, and stone-filled terroir in the vineyards that give the appellation its name and identity.
To get an idea of how the soil and terroir of Graves compare to the other important appellations in Bordeaux; The terroir and soil of Bordeaux Graves is one of the few Bordeaux appellations with their terroir as the appellation is well-suited for the production of red, white and sweet Bordeaux wine.
It can be a difficult region for growers who must remain vigilant as the soils can be a bit too warm for the white wine and slightly too cool for the red wine. This situation requires a lot of work and attention when it comes to the decision of when to harvest.
Classification of Graves: This is a complicated subject as it has a few twists and turns. In 1855, with the exception of Chateau Haut Brion, which was classed as a First Growth, the remaining producers from the Graves area were excluded from the original classification of 1855.
That situation was finally rectified in 1953 when the wines from the area of Graves were officially classified. Although it took several more years before the official 1959 Graves Classifications was finalized.
At the time of the classification, the chateaux in the area were considered a part of Graves, meaning this was well in advance of the creation of Pessac Leognan as a unique, separate AOC appellation. Pessac Leognan as an appellation was only created in September 1987.
With the creation of Graves as its own appellation, the remaining vineyards were never classified. However, it is interesting to note that on the labels of the Classified Growths from Pessac Leognan, they continue stating “Cru Classe de Graves”.
History of Graves: Graves is the area many wine historians cite as the appellation the Romans first planted with grapes to produce Bordeaux wine close to 2,000 years ago. It’s amazing to consider that two thousand years ago, the Romans knew about the unique terroir in the region that would later become Pessac Leognan. In fact, probably to the elevations, the Romans first planted vines in what is now Pessac Leognan.
Wine from the Graves area was exported to some degree to England from 1152 to 1453. In about 1305, after Cardinal Bertrand de Goth was elected as the Pope, he was given a vineyard in the Graves area as a gift. The Pope renamed Clement V, was an avid wine lover who was interested in vineyard works resided at the property before moving to Avignon. The chateau was renamed in his honor, Pape Clement.
Graves continued gaining in popularity, due in part to the fame of Haut Brion and for its proximity to the city of Bordeaux and its ability to easily export their wines.
Things changed in 1987 when the Graves appellation was split in two. The vineyards to the north located in Pessac and Leognan were awarded a new appellation status. Vineyards in the south remained in the Graves.
The idea for the Graves appellation and the creation of Pessac Leognan came from Andre Lurton, who owned numerous vineyards in the northern part of Graves. The birth of the idea started in 1964, with an initial group of 60 chateaux who created their own, new syndicat. Andre Lurton, the president of the new group brought the proposal to the INAO in 1980. By 1984, chateaux were placing both Pessac Leognan and Graves on their labels.
3 years later, in 1987, the Graves and Pessac Leognan appellations became officially recognized as being uniquely different regions in Bordeaux. From that tie forward, Graves took on a lesser role in Bordeaux.
Vineyards, Terroir, and Grapes planted in the Graves appellation
The terroir of Graves varies. The best vineyards have rocks, gravel, and stones in the soil with elevations. You also find clay, sand, and limestone. These various soil types and shifting micro-climates allows the Graves appellation to produce red, white, and sweet wine.
Graves is a large appellation covering almost 3,500 hectares. With such a large area, you find a diverse array of soils and levels of quality in the soils. Consolidation is a well-known term here. Perhaps 200 growers are active in the Graves appellation today while 10 years ago, the number of vignerons was at least twice that amount.
Graves is almost double the size of its neighbor to the north, Pessac Leognan. The Graves appellation is planted to both red and white wine grape varietals. 72% of the region is devoted to red wine and the remaining 28% is planted to white Bordeaux wine grapes.
Here, you find the vineyards planted to roughly 60% Merlot, 35% Cabernet Sauvignon and lesser amounts of Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Malbec, and a few vines of Carmenere. For the white wine grapes, Semillon is king at 60%, 33% Sauvignon Blanc, 4% Muscadelle and 3% Sauvignon Gris.
In total, Graves produces a lot of wine, roughly 12,000,00 cases of red wine and 4,666,00 cases of white wine per vintage.
The Top Ten Facts you need to know about the Graves appellation
#1 Graves takes its name from the gravel soils found in the region.
#2 Graves is one of the few Bordeaux appellations that is prized for both red and white wine
#3 Graves is the only appellation in Bordeaux that produces red wine, dry white wine, and sweet, white Bordeaux wine.
#4 Graves is the only Bordeaux appellation to have been classified at one time that is no longer classified today.
#5 Graves allows for the production of sweet wine, but those wines are sold as Graves Superieures.
#6 Graves is thought to be the area where the ancient Romans first planted vines in Bordeaux.
#7 The current Graves appellation was created in 1987, when the region split in half, dividing the vineyards in the north from the south.
#8 Graves has one of the warmest climates of any of the major Bordeaux appellations and is usually among the first to start harvesting.
#9 Graves is one of the few Bordeaux appellations where the majority of vineyards remain family-owned estates.
#10 Graves is the home to the most expensive wine in all of Bordeaux, Liber Pater, which can sell for over 25,000 Euros per bottle in select vintages!
The terroir and soil of Graves:
Graves, like all the Bordeaux appellations, has a unique terroir. For the red wine, the best vineyards have terroir with large deposits of gravel, quartz, pebbles, and rocks of various shapes and sizes. The terroirs can also feature blends of gravel, rocks, and stones with sand, clay, and hardpan soil with various depths of gravel deposits in the soil.
For the white wine, the grapes are planted in terroirs that most often combine clay and large deposits of limestone, with only minor amounts of gravel in the cooler terroirs of the appellation. A large amount of forest land in the region also plays a significant role in the cooling of the terroir. The Garonne river also plays an important role in the region’s climate profile, as it delivers much-needed moisture to the vines in the dry vintages.
In large part, the combination of the percentages of grape varieties cultivated and the terroir is what determines The difference between the wines of the Left Bank and those from the Right Bank.
Graves wine styles, taste, and character: The red wines from Graves at their best are focused on elegance and refined character as they lack the ability to develop as much concentration as you find in Pessac Leognan. The wines are aromatic, refined and can offer smoky sensations in red wines. Most can be enjoyed in their youth without much if any cellaring.
For the white wine, the wines exude freshness, yellow citrus, grapefruit, and green apple aromas. They can be exuberant and lively with a touch of flowers and honeysuckle due to the large amount of Semillon.
It is important to note that there are many vintages when the white and red wines produce completely different levels of quality.
Most recently: 2017, 2013, 2011, and 2007 are good examples of difficult years for red wines, but outstanding vintages for white wine. During the vinification of white Graves wine, most of the time, there is no contact with the skins and most estates do not allow the wines to go through malolactic fermentation.
Wines from the Graves appellation remain one of the most important regions for all Bordeaux value wine lovers to consider. Numerous small estates are making very fine wines that sell for $20 and less, for both red and white Bordeaux wine. Plus almost all of these wines are delicious in the youth.
The best wines, wineries, and vineyards in the Graves appellation
Clearly Liber Pater is the undisputed leader in the appellation, not only in price and wine quality but in innovation as well. Part of that innovation is their plantings of Castets, Tarney Coulant, and St. Macaire, all old Bordeaux varietals. Chateau Chantegrive and Clos Floridene are two other important estates in the appellation worth watching. Chateau Haura, Chateau Saint-Robert, and Chateau Brondelle are also worth keeping an eye on.
If you are going to visit the chateaux and vineyards in Graves you should also read these 2 articles to help you better plan your trip: Where to Eat when visiting Graves and Bordeaux as well as Guide to the best hotels and other places to stay in Graves and Bordeaux
Graves red wine and food pairings: Red Graves Bordeaux wines are perfect for a wide variety of wine and food pairings. In Bordeaux, lamb and Graves wine is one of the most popular wine and food matching ideas. However, any grilled, braised or stewed course with beef, duck, pork, veal or game dish is perfect.
Fish is also popular with red Bordeaux wine, depending on how the dish was prepared. With the smoke and truffle character found in the wines, dishes with mushrooms and other earthy components make great wine and food pairings with Graves wine. Cheese is also perfect with wine from the appellation.
Graves white wines with food: White Bordeaux wine is quite food friendly and makes for great wine and food pairings. White Bordeaux wine is perfect for a wide variety of dishes and cuisines.
Due to its fresh, citrus profile along with sweet fruits, spice, and mineral characteristics, most seafood dishes make perfect pairings. Chicken, veal, pork, sushi, Crudo, and semi-spicy dishes are great matches for white Bordeaux wine.
Most cheeses will also offer great wine and food pairings when served with white Bordeaux wine. White Bordeaux wine will taste and feel far better with a slight chill. 55 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit which is about 15 degrees Celsius really adds a lot to the tasting experience.
The best vintages of the Graves appellation are: 2020, 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2012, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2006, 2005, 2001 and 2000. Frankly, most vintages more than 15 years of age for the red wines and more than 10 years old for the white wines should be approached with caution.
To read about vintages from Graves and all the other Bordeaux appellations Bordeaux Vintage Charts 1959 Through Today If you are interested in reading more detailed information on other vintages for Graves and all the top Bordeaux appellations, please read: Bordeaux Year to Year Detailed Vintage Reports 1900 to Today
AOC Law and rules for Graves: Appellation laws for Graves include a minimum vineyard density of 5,000 vines per hectare. Alcohol levels must be at least 11% ABV for the red wines, 11% ABV for dry white wines, and 13.5% ABV for the sweet white wine from the Graves Superieures.
You can also read detailed information about other, smaller chateaux, wines, and vineyards located in Graves, as well as in other appellations here: Extensive Guide to the Smaller, Lesser Known Bordeaux Chateaux, Vineyards