The region of Graves, south of the city of Bordeaux, is considered the top terroir for the dry whites of Bordeaux. Here you will find the only classified whites of Bordeaux. The dry whites were classified along with the reds in 1953, revised and completed in 1959. Coming 100 years after the famous 1855 Medoc and Graves classification, it includes 16 properties but for a total of 22 wines (13 red and 9 dry whites – 6 properties do both – do the math!)
Carry on further south to the Sauternes and Barsac appellations and once again you are in classification country. When someone mentions the 1855 classification, we immediately think about the reds but at the time of this classification, the top dog was in a fact a Sauternes; Chateau d’Yquem was classified as the only 1er Cru Classé Supérieur, a step above even the Lafites and Latours of the time – those where the days!
Some of you will know I have a certain bias towards these wines but I feel it’s justified, as there are a total of 27 classified growths in Sauternes and Barsac, of which 10 are first growths. For an appellation of only 2 200 ha compared to the Medoc (16500 for 60 classified growths), that’s quite an achievement.
But don’t ignore the dry whites produced in the Southern Graves. Many Sauternes and Barsac properties make delightful dry white wines, either from terroir that is not included in the sweet wine appellation or by choice, enjoying experimenting with the aromatic expression of their sauvignon and semillion before the famous botrytis attacks.
The white wines may only represent a small amount of Bordeaux production (8% for dry white and 3% for sweet) but they probably represent the product sector where some of the most dramatic increases in quality have been seen in Bordeaux in the last 20 years or so. Thanks to research at the faculty of oenology in Bordeaux University and the application of this research in the properties, there is marked difference in the style of the whites produced now compared to 60 years ago when white wine production made up over half of the wine production of the Bordeaux region.
Temperature control, cleanliness, skin contact, controlled use of SO2 and yeast selection as well as the judicious use of oak and aging on the lees have produced a new generation of crisp dry and elegant oak fermented white wines as well as the fabulous sweet wines including those from lesser known appellation of Cérons as well as Sauternes and Barsac.
Talking of Cérons, book ahead to experience the ‘Apér’O Cérons’ at Château de Cérons. Following the visit of the château, cellar and vines and a tasting of their 3 wines you can call in at their little grocery store to stock up on local specialities such as foie gras, tapenades, bouchons de Bordeaux, etc. for an ‘apéro-picnic’ under the magnificent magnolias in the park around the château, followed perhaps by a walk along the river or a horse and carriage ride to neighbouring Château Myrat.
The Graves has a big advantage for visitors. As well as the range of wines; red, dry and sweet white, it also offers a range of prices points from Cru Classé to affordable. If you want to learn more about this area and its wines, it has now become much more accessible; the wine producers of the 3 appellations of Graves, Pessac-Leognan and Sauternes and Barsac have joined together to create an interactive web site to help you discover the region. ‘La Route des Vins de Bordeaux en Graves et Sauternes’ is unique as it has a daily update of properties are open to public for visits and tastings. You can also see which properties are happy for you to just drop in, as well as those that require an appointment.
Graves is considered the birthplace of the fine wines of Bordeaux, with some properties dating back to the middle ages. This cultural and historical heritage is also detailed on the website along with details of where to eat, from Michelin stars to local bistros, and where to stay from B & B S to 5-star luxury.
It’s a one-stop shop.You can plan your trip and reserve directly on-line. It also keeps you up to date and what’s happening and other attractions in the region.
This Saturday for example is the ‘Samedi Blanc’ an opportunity to visit 12 white-wine producing properties of the Pessac Leognan appellation in the Northern Graves. They are all open for tastings and visits as well as a giant picnic across several of the properties. You can just turn up for the tastings but book on line for the picnics on email@example.com or by phone : 05 56 00 21 90