Once they were one: Graves, a sub-region within the large Bordeaux region of France. It wasn’t until 1987 that the northern part, beginning just south of the city of Bordeaux, gained its own legal appellation, Pessac-Léognan. Separate or together, they both carry the distinction of their soil. Graves means “gravel,” and true to its name, these two sub-regions have deep levels of gravel and stone, excellent for producing particularly fine grapes and, thus, fine wines. Graves and Pessac-Léognan boast another distinction: They are the only sub-regions in Bordeaux that make both top-class red and top-class white wines. Graves produces 20 million bottles a year, of which two-thirds are red; Pessac-Léognan produces half that many bottles, of which 80 percent are red.
Here, as in many Bordeaux districts, Cabernet Sauvignon features as a major grape. But Merlot, which gives a wine gentle tannin and forward fruit flavors, plays a starring role as well, followed by Cabernet Franc. The sub-regions’ ruling white grapes are Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon.
Following the fine 2009 vintage, Bordeaux was blessed by the 2010 vintage, considered even better, a prediction borne out by the Graves and Pessac-Léognan 2010 reds I recently tasted.
In Graves, Merlot-dominant Château Villa Bel-Air 2010 emits a rich berry aroma followed by a generous taste: a delicious, silky wine. Château Magneau 2010 offers red fruit aromas; a well-balanced, robust taste; and medium-long aftertaste. Château Roquetaillade La Grange 2010, 60 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, presents an inviting nose of cassis and cherry and a full, rounded, satin-like body.
I found a particularly attractive 2010 Pessac-Léognan red in Château La Garde 2010. The nose of this Cabernet Sauvignon-dominant wine brims with deep, dark fruit. Offering a smooth and well-structured body, the taste is spicy and juicy yet firm.
Pessac-Léognan’s Château Haut-Lagrange 2010 reigns supreme. With its aromatic nose of plummy dark fruits, this Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot blend shows a bit more tannin than other 2010s I tasted, which may indicate a longer life ahead. This full-bodied, almost dense red exhibits forward flavors of dark fruits, especially plums, and a rich and striking spiciness.
Not only are these wines delicious to taste, they are deliciously priced for outstanding Bordeaux; prices range from about $20 to $50.
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