C’est pas Graves23rd October, 2013 by Ben Kennedy
I’ve always wanted to suggest a tongue-in-cheek advertising slogan for the wines of Pessac-Léognan, saying in big letters C’est pas Graves.
Too controversial, perhaps, a play on words suggesting that the wines are “not so bad”? It would probably generate a few lawsuits from the Graves winemakers, suggesting that their produce is necessarily a step down from their neighbours’.
As wine buyer for a top-tier UK importer, I only ever spent a tiny fraction of my time investigating the Graves appellation: there was relatively little interest in Pessac-Léognan compared to the communal appellations in the Médoc and the Right Bank, and as all the Crus Classés de Graves are found therein, why bother looking any further? Well, it took me a long time to work out why, and now I’m happy to share a few good reasons.
This weekend was the annual portes ouvertes, or open day, for the Graves region, a chance for wine lovers to get up close and personal with their favourite vigneron, to taste, learn and ask questions in a fun, friendly atmosphere that often has a family angle, with special events and entertainment laid on. The Graves, which lies just beyond the city limits, was famous for its wines long before the other areas of Bordeaux, so it has a wealth of historic buildings and beautiful estates to explore. It also has a very different feel, almost Hispanic I reckon, especially as you move down through the appellation towards Sauternes in the south.
We took some visiting friends to see a beautiful property, Château de Cérons, which makes red, white and sweet wines (the AOC Cérons for sweet wines is a tiny and little-known neighbour of Barsac and Sauternes), and in this respect the Graves can offer so much more to the consumer, an all-in-one solution to your wine needs. Xavier and Caroline Perromat took over the family property just last year and the improvements in their first vintage are very clear, so apart from being a gorgeous place to visit, this should be a wine to watch in the future. As with most of the Graves wines, this is a distinctly affordable offering, and there are hundreds of bottles of seriously good claret to discover in the appellation for well under £20.
One particular favourite of mine is a little vineyard named Château Couloumey which produces red and white from only 3.6ha of ferrous, alluvial gravel mix vineyards, essentially the back garden of a pretty 18th century chartreuse. The chai needs a new roof and the operation would be almost comical, if it weren’t for the fact that the wine is seriously good: effortlessly elegant, balanced and pure, and so down right drinkable. It’s a welcome respite from the many overworked, over-extracted reds that wrestle with the palate and give people the wrong idea about Bordeaux.
I appear to have acquired a disproportionate number of Graves wines in my négociant range over the last couple of years, partly because so many of these small producers don’t export and I believe they should. This in itself should be a good opportunity for hard-working merchants to make a decent margin. But my penchant for this appellation is mainly based on these three points: the Graves offers a wide variety of colours and styles; they are fresh, supple drinking wines with a real sense of local terroir (as opposed to hefty competition winners with mid-Atlantic accents); and there is a lot of great value-for-money to be found.
Rive Gauche Wines is a Bordeaux négociant which offers a range of wines for everyday drinking as well as Crus Classés and other Fine Wines. The company was established in 2011 by Ben Kennedy, formerly Bordeaux buyer for a leading St James’s merchant. The wines on our list are hand-picked on the key criteria of quality and value-for-money, and include numerous undiscovered gems that are exclusive to Rive Gauche.