Graves is a sub-region of the Bordeaux wine region in south-western France. The name is also used in the appellation AOC Graves, which applies to both red and white wines. The name is derived from the area's gravel soils, which help to create the distinctive profile of Graves wines – particularly those made from Cabernet Sauvignon. While Merlot grows well in the heavier clay of places such as Saint-Emilion, Cabernet Sauvignon performs very well in free-draining gravel and sand.
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 Medoc.
The prestige of the Graves name was somewhat reduced in 1987, when the new Pessac-Leognan appellation was created. It was carved out of the northern end of Graves, encompassing its most respected producers.
AOC Graves is the key appellation here. Red wines must be made from Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Malbec or Petit Verdot, while white wines must be produced from Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc and Muscadelle, and reach a minimum alcohol level of 11%.
Graves also produces sweet white wines under the appellation Graves Superieures. These are made from the same white grapes as those listed above, but have a much higher level of natural residual sugar. This appellation does not cover the famous and more prestigious wines of Sauternes and Barsac, or the sweet whites of Cerons. They are nestled within the boundaries of the Graves sub-region, but are independently recognized because of the high quality of their sweet white wines.
In the late 20th and early 21st centuries, Graves has proved that even without the producers and terroirs of Pessac-Leognan, 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 are produced alongside richer, fruitier reds.
The area around the southern village of Langon is entirely separated from the northern end of Graves by the Sauternes and Barsac appellations, and could be considered as a distinct production area in its own right.