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).