Just to be clear, the word means “gravel” in French and is not a reference to ancient burial grounds!
This region lies just to the south of Bordeaux city (some of its producers are in fact within the suburbs of the town) and is one of the best value-for-money destinations for lovers of Bordeaux. Reds and dry whites are produced here, in roughly 70/30 proportions, making the Graves the only AOC in Bordeaux to be known equally for both styles. Running south for about 40km along the Left Bank of the Garonne, and west around 20km towards the pine forests of the Landes, the soils vary between deep pure gravels and a mixture of gravels with sand and clay over a limestone base. The influence of the river to the east, the Atlantic to the west and the forests on all sides will show clearly in the wines, and the best are deliciously complex – First Growth Château Haut Brion is a Graves estate. The volume of wines produced in the Graves is a double-edged sword; the rolling gravels banks stretch over almost 3,000 ha and you need to sort through the good, the bad and the ugly (sadly one or two we have encountered have been), but on the contrary the region allows good producers to benefit from economies of scale that make good Graves far more affordable than St Emilions or Pauillacs of similar quality.
Being on the Left Bank, Cabernet Sauvignon is the predominant red wine grape planted across the appellation, but in fact we often find that our favourites contain a high proportion of Merlot, which gives them a more supple and immediately satisfying fruit profile. For the whites Sauvignons (both Blanc and Gris) are winning nowadays over Sémillon and Mucadelle with producers well aware of the major international competition in crisp aromatic whites.