Bordeaux France is well known for its wines, and for good reason. Its red wines, which by law must contain Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, have wonderful aging potential. But the region also produces delicious white wines. And while one may think “expensive”, Bordeaux also produces reasonably priced wines.
Bordeaux has a system of classification that dictates how various areas can label their wines. One of its current 5 classifications is its Crus Classes de Graves. (A Crus is a high quality vineyard or groups of vineyards that tend to produce full-bodied, complex wines).
We recently attended a class at the San Francisco Wine School that drilled into the wines of the Graves region and discusses the characteristics of the region.
Crus Classes de Graves
The Crus Classes De Graves classification consists of the wines from 14 chateau located in the Pessac-Leognan appellation, just south of city of Bordeaux. The classification is the only one in France to consist of white, red and sweet wines. The Institut National des Appellations d’Origine (INAO) granted this classification in 1953 to recognize the distinct wines produced in the unique gravel terroir. The wines are grown in layers of sandy, stony alluvial soil, with a moderate oceanic climate that is sheltered by the Landes forest, and rain-laden westerly winds.
Although reds account for about two-thirds of the classification’s production, it is particularly known for its dry white wines. They typically consist of juice from Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, Muscadelle and Sauvignon Gris grapes that are fermented and aged in oak vats and barrels. Although the terroir, vintage and treatment by the individual winemaker produces differences, white Graves are generally characterized by their minerality, citrus notes, flowery complexity, and their long, smooth finishes.
The class showcased three whites from the very good 2018 vintage. These, beginning with our favorites were:
- Domaine de Chevalier Blanc, Pessac-Léognan 2018 is a fruity, complex, minerally wine (75% Sauvignon Blanc and 25% Semillon). It has nice acidity that will hold, and probably continue to improve over the next several years. But at $145 a bottle, it is not likely to be an everyday wine.
- Chateau Couhins Blanc, Pessac-Léognan 2018 (90% Sauvignon Blanc and 25% Sauvignon Gris with 18 months of aging in 35% new French oak) shares much of the minerality and fruit of the Chevalier albeit with somewhat less subtlety. But at a more affordable $30 price tag, it is a wonderful wine to try.
- Chateau Couhins-Lurton Blanc, Pessac-Léognan 2018 (100% Sauvignon Blanc with 10 month oak aging on its lees) is priced between the first two. For our tastes, it was less compelling with a bold, tart acidity and had too much oak.
Grave reds consist primarily of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot along with additional of Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Malbec, and Carménère. Grave reds have higher percentages of Merlot than many Bordeaux (and especially Left Bank) reds. They are typically fragrant, elegant, and fruit-driven (although not particularly concentrated). We sampled three Grave reds, which we list from our favorite to our least favorite.
- Chateau Malartic Lagraviere Rouge. Pessac-Léognan 2018 has the smoothness of a Merlot-based wine. But it actually consists of 51% Cabernet Sauvignong and 36% Merlot with trace amounts of Petite Verdot and Cabernet Franc. It is fermented in a combination of stainless and oak vats and aged in 70% new oak. The dark fruit, nice acidity and fine tannin wine is priced at $55.
- Chateau Haut-Bailly Rouge, Pessac-Léognan 2018, priced at $170, was the budget-buster of the tasting. We originally learned of and tasted Chateau Haut-Bailly wines on our 2012 trip to Bordeaux where after a tour and tasting, we enjoyed a multi-course lunch accompanied with several of their library, as well as current production wines. The 2018, was fermented in concrete and stainless vats and aged for 18 months in a combination of new and neutral oak barrels. It has dark fruit and acidity and tannin levels that reflect its Cabernet Sauvignon-dominant (75%) blend with 25% Merlot, 5% Petite Verdot and 3% Cabernet Franc). It is best to wait for this wine to age.
- Chateau Bouscaut Rouge, Pessac-Léognan 2018 is a Right Bank-like blend of 59% Merlot, 3% Cabernet Sauvignon and 6% Merlot., It was fermented in stainless and concrete and aged for 18 months. In contrast with the Malartic Lagraviere, it tasted more like a Cabernet Sauvignon-based blend with its pronounced tannins and acidity and its Graves-like minerality.
The Bottom Line
If you can’t travel to a wine region, finding a local class or wine tasting is a great way to learn about the differences in wines. And you may even find a great price/value as we did with the Chateau Couhins Blanc, Pessac-Léognan. Now we just need to find it in a store, which can often be a challenge.
Related Blogs on the Bordeaux Regions