The finest white Bordeaux and the most classic and refined reds.
One of the top appellations within Graves, Pessac-Léognan is home to the only Graves chateau listed as a first-growth in the 1855 Médoc classification – Chateau
Haut-Brion. In fact, praise for the chateau dates back to the days of Thomas Jefferson, when, upon visiting the chateau in
1787, bought 125 bottles for his cellar in Virginia. Pessac-Léognan is also known for producing some of the finest dry white
wines of Bordeaux.
The majority of wines made here are red, but their dry white wines are excellent as well. Many
of the top chateau, like Chateau Haut Brion and Chateau Mission Haut Brion, produce top-quality whites alongside their red.
Other Chateaux, like Smith Haut Lafite and Carbonnieux, are better known for their distinguished whites than reds. Both colors
of wine from Pessac-Léognan have the specific tastes of the gravelly soil where it's grown.
A tasting of 2007 Grande Cru de Graves wines
2009 The real standout here was the Chateaux Pape-Clement white. Seductive creamy fruit
flavour caress the palate. rich overall and comples with refreshing acidity. Well rounded and with sufficient oak to
allow substantial cellaring.
More to come . . .
A tasting of Pessac-Léognan
A tasting of whites and reds from five different Pessac châteaux produced the following results. The wineries included
Brown, Bouscaut (Cru Classé de Graves), Ferran, de Crfuzeau, and La Louvière.
Pessac-Léognan is perhaps our favorite Bordeaux appelation. It is one of the most historic--home to Châteaux Haut Brion
and Carbonnieux, among others--and intrudes geophysically right into contemporary Bordeaux city. This was the original home
of "claret," exported in such great volume to the British Isles. Until 1987, Pessac was part of the Graves appelation, and
produces extremely high quality reds, but also long-lived and well-structured whites. There are about 1,500 hectares of vineyard.
There are two calssifications: regular Pessac-Léognan and Cru Classé. Haut-Brion is both a Cru Classé of Pessac and a
1ier Grand Cru of the 1855 Medoc classification.
In addition to the organized tasting, we have also recently tried a few other Pessac vintages of note, included below.
The standout was Château Brown, 2005 (white), which we scored 5/5. This may not be a wine for everyone,
and is quite distinct from most Bordeaux whites. Rounded and opulent, with the refined Bordeaux style, it has flavors
and aromas of flowers and citrus, with some peach and a bit of mineral charcter. We also tried the 2002, which was equally
as good, though perhaps a little less refined.
The Brown 2002 red scored a 3/5 and displayed a dark red colour and gravelly bouquet with light berry flavors and a food
Château Ferran white, 2004, 2/5. Red, 2003, 4/5 with a ruby red color, big bouquet, floral and rose,
tasting of cherries with violet on the finish. A good match for Creole food.
Château Bousacut white, 2004, 2/5--washed out (a little too subtle), but not at all objecionable. Red
2003, 4/5, ruby color, gravel and light fruit on the nose; well balanced to taste with very fragrant cherry tones and a good,
Château La Louvière white 2005, 2/5 and red 3/5, light in color, with leather and vanilla accents.
Château de Cruzeau white, 2003, 4/5 with a faint bouquet but pleasing buttery flavor with citrus and
butterscotch notes; red, 2003 2/5 with a deep red color, fruity bouquet of berries, dry to the taste with light cherry flavors.
Château Carbonnieux red, 2004 4/5 is an extremely pleasant and well-balanced wine, drinkable now, with
cherry and berry flavor galore. The 2003 is also well balanced, a bit more tannic, 3/5.
Château Le Chevalier, 2001 5/5, open up a lot with a little breathing: cherry, strawberry, and rhubarb
notes, lingering finish. Very nice.
Located on the southern outskirts of the city of Bordeaux, the
Graves region takes its name from its stony terroir. In fact, the French word graves means
"gravel". These stones, worn smooth by the Garonne River and its tributaries during geological and climatic upheavals of the
late Tertiary and early Quaternary periods, explain the Graves natural potential to produce great wines.
The sixteen estates that were classified great growths over half
a century ago have the unusual distinction of producing both red and white wines. One of them, the prestigious Château Haut-Brion,
was even classified a first growth in 1855.
Recognised for their superior quality as far back as the
17th century, the grands crus of
the Graves were the first great wines of Bordeaux. These estates are proud to perpetuate a centuries-old tradition.
THE GRAVES GREAT GROWTHS
The Graves is the only French appellation whose name is so
closely associated with its terroir.
What better proof of its origin? The Graves' uniqueness, as exemplified
by its classified growths, is irremediably linked to that of its soil.
It took millions of years for torrential streams and gigantic glaciers
to move untold tonnes of pebbles, silt, rocks, flint, and sand from the Pyrenees to form this mysterious millefeuille of alluvial
terraces on limestone bedrock from the Tertiary Period. In other words, the glass of Graves one drinks today has something
of the Oligocene epoch about it…
However, the history of Graves wine as we know it dates back
to three great men: Clément V, the Gascon Pope, Arnaud de Pontac, an innovative member of the Bordeaux parliament, and Montesquieu,
the enlightened philosopher, all of whom understood that the Graves pebbles were a divine blessing. Each of these famous men
knew intuitively that good wine can only come from good terroir, and that their estates were ideally suited to winegrowing.
The Graves is the cradle of Bordeaux wine, and a part of the Bordeaux
vineyards with its own strong, unique identity.
The region's proximity to the city of Bordeaux made it very
popular with the Bordelais and
acted as a stimulus to production. Although the Graves' famous wine châteaux, whose architecture is both eclectic and attractive,
are no more than a tram ride away from the city centre, the vineyards have managed to resist urban sprawl (and contribute
precious oxygen to the environment!). Since its creation more than twenty years ago, the Pessac-Léognan appellation has expanded
onto soil ideally suited to viticulture, more than doubling in size thanks to the perseverence of a group of dynamic winegrowers.
Despite a number of obstacles, Graves wines have stayed true
to their much-loved style for a variety of reasons (respect for the terroir, a blend of premium grape varieties that has proved their worth for centuries, the use of
traditional viticultural practices, and a very natural, nonindustrial approach to winemaking). In a word, this style can be
described as "elegant".
Furthermore, the region's greatest wine estates have remained
faithful to their roots. For example, the Crus Classés de Graves are still owned by families who live there and welcome their guests there.
The châteaux welcome visitors on the weekend during "Open
Door" days, which are increasingly popular. Since they are so close to the city of Bordeaux (vines can be found just past
the ring road), wine tourism is very big. In fact, it is difficult to imagine a stronger link between a city, its history,
its geography, and the international reputation of its fine wine. In addition, this vineyard region was long referred to as
les Graves de Bordeaux. This
part of the Graves, encompassing 10 communes to the south and west of the city of Bordeaux, is now called "Pessac-Léognan",
an appellation contrôlée dating from 1987.
Crus Classés de Graves:
these simple words convey a multitude of meanings. The French word cru is
the name for a specific place where vines grow (crû is the past tense
of the verb croître, meaning "to grow"). These crus are classés, or "classified", in keeping
with a longstanding Bordeaux tradition. As early as the 17th century, the royal intendant Bazin de Bezuns wrote to Louis the
14th: "There are three cantons in the Bordeaux region whose wines are
sold at a high price. The best and the one with the most vines is the Graves, which are quite close to the city of Bordeaux".
There have been other classifications over the years. In the 19th century, Château
Haut-Brion was put at the very pinnacle of the famous 1855 classification.
In more recent times, the classifications of 1953 and 1959
included sixteen estates, officially named the Crus Classés de Graves.
The great originality of these 20th
century classifications does not lie in the hierarchy they established, but in
the fact that, for the first time, great red AND white wines were classified at the same time, which is unique in the world
of wine. It should be pointed out that the greatest dry white wines of Bordeaux are made in the Graves, so this is only natural.
These wines are not only listed in a classification, but are also in regular strong demand on the international market.
Once a wine lover visiting the Graves puts down his glass
and looks around him, he will discover lovely rolling countryside with low-lying hills that look a series of green ocean waves.
This calm beauty is obviously the result of countless years of effort by local winegrowers. With impeccable breeding thanks
to their terroir, then lovingly aged and attractively packaged, the great wines of the Graves can age for
decades. Like the vineyards where they were born, they have time on their side.