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Graves

Graves is a wine district in France's Bordeaux region, characterised by the gravel soils (graves) after which it is named. Unique among Bordeaux's sub-regions, Graves is respected as much for its red wines as for its whites. It is the only district producing grand cru wines of both colours, most notably the Premier Grand Cru Châteaux Haut-Brion (dry red and dry white) and d'Yquem (sweet white).

The district's catch-all appellation is AOC Graves, which covers both red and white wines. A typical Graves red is based on the classic Bordeaux varieties Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Malbec and Petit Verdot. These are used in varying combinations, but most often the blend is dominated by Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. The typical Graves white is dry, mid-bodied and made from the equally classic combination of Sémillon, Sauvignon Blanc and Muscadelle.

Other than the cover-all Graves appellation itself, there are several slightly more specialised appellations in force here. Pessac-Léognan covers the district's finest dry red and white wines, while Graves Supérieures, Cerons, Barsac and the famous Sauternes specialise in sweet white wines.

The prestige of the Graves appellation has been somewhat reduced since 1987, when the Pessac-Léognan appellation was created. The two parishes of Pessac and Léognan are located at the northern end of the district (at the southern fringe of Bordeaux city) and are home to many of its most respected producers.

Graves is seen as the birthplace of Bordeaux's high-quality red wines. It was here that the region first gained its reputation, as early as the 14th century – hundreds of years before Dutch wine merchants and producers drained the marshes of the Médoc. The well-drained, light-reflective soils here are ideal for growing wine grapes, making the gravel-rich Graves terroir among the finest Bordeaux has to offer for growing Cabernet Sauvignon, a variety which performs particularly well in free-draining soils such as gravel and sand. In areas where clay is more prevalent, Merlot is planted in favour of the Cabernet varieties.

In the late 20th and early 21st centuries, Graves has proved that even without the high-end producers and terroirs of Pessac-Léognan, it is capable of producing high-quality red and white wines. Since the sub-region was partitioned, the southern end of Graves has focused on wine styles demanded by modern wine consumers; fresher, crisp white wines have replaced the sweeter styles, and richer, fruit-driven reds have appeared quite in contrast to the more elegant, more austere styles traditionally associated with the area.

The word "Graves" appears in various place names around Bordeaux. The region's gravels are the result of many millennia of geological activity by glaciers and rivers. Over the years, the Garonne and Dordogne rivers (which merge into the Gironde estuary) have transported vast quantities of gravel and mineral-rich silts down from their mountain sources (in the Pyrenees and the Massif Central respectively). These deposits have accumulated in several areas around the region, most notably in places where a river's course has shifted over time, creating gravel banks. The two most famous of these are the Graves district and the Médoc peninsula.
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