As I get older and seek more subtlety, I am increasingly starting to appreciate the wines from the Graves. Let's take the most prominent wine from the region: the venerable first growth Chateau Haut-Brion. This wine has never been about power or intensity, even in very ripe years such as 1982, 1990, 2005 or 2009. Its aristocratic personality favours nuances and longevity, and it has a certain reserve in its youth.
I tasted the 2009 Haut-Brion in 2010 when it was not yet bottled, and I gave it nearly perfect points. Recently, I tried it in bottle, and the flavours were dormant, the potential locked up behind its firm tannins. But there is no denying that the 2009 Haut-Brion has the complexity to make it one of the chateau's best vintages of the past few decades.
Many of Chateau Haut-Brion's neighbours have similar structures and personalities. The closest is Chateau Haut-Bailly. Its 2009 is a complex, concentrated wine of amazing finesse and nuance. With Chateau Haut-Bailly, the potential of the wine, even in modest vintages, takes a decade to open.
These wines are not for the impatient, demanding marketplace. They are not for flashy blind tastings of trophy wines, either. Because they refuse to shout or intrude, they will probably not do well. The best wines from the region, especially Pessac-Léognan, are for enjoying over a meal, where the wine does not try to compete with the chef's creation, or scream for attention.
When I was asked which region in Bordeaux most often gives me drinking pleasure, I replied Graves. The diversity here is unrivalled - there are wonderful reds, as well as great white wines and sweet wines.
There is no question that Pessac-Léognan, within the Graves region, reigns supreme among the dry white wines from Bordeaux. The complex whites from sauvignon blanc-semillon blends can be found here. These include Haut-Brion Blanc, La Mission Haut-Brion Blanc, Smith Haut Lafitte Blanc, and Pape Clement Blanc.
This year is the 60th anniversary of the official classification of the Cru Classes de Graves. To mark this sixth decade, the 16 chateaux of the classified growths, all located in the appellation of Pessac-Léognan, will be showcasing their wines in major cities around the world. They will be holding a tasting in Hong Kong on March 1. The group will be presenting two wonderful vintages: their 2010 whites and their 2009 reds.
I was fortunate to taste the selection earlier this month in Paris.
- 2009 Chateau Haut-Brion: majestic, complex, reserved Haut-Brion that shows amazing potential. At the moment the wine is closed, but the texture and structure leaves no doubt that this is one of its greatest vintages.
- 2009 Chateau La Mission Haut-Brion: compared with Haut-Brion, La Mission is more open with spicy, cedar, tobacco flavours. A generous, layered wine with supple texture and beautifully ripe tannins.
- 2009 Domaine de Chevalier Rouge: a beautifully crafted red with velvet tannins. A gracious wine that is both serious and generous with ripe plums and blackberry fruits.
- 2009 Chateau Haut-Bailly: a classy red with plenty of substance and potential to age for decades. The beautiful handling of the tannins makes the wine seductive and substantial. Don't approach for another 10 years.
- 2009 Chateau Malartic-Lagraviere Rouge: this combines freshness with precise, detailed flavours that range from cedar and cassis to sweet spices and violets. A lifted red that is more open than many others from this vintage.
- 2010 Domaine de Chevalier Blanc: year after year, Olivier Bernard crafts delicious, generous whites that have great intensity and potential to age.
- 2010 Chateau Malartic-Lagraviere Blanc: the 2010 white is vibrant, and filled with juicy apricot and nectarine fruits. Enjoy it now although it is worthy of cellaring for at least a decade.