Day 93 of EU Austerity Drinking finds us sick, stuck in bed, in Bordeaux, and worst of all, completely sober.
But “Portes Ouvertes dans les Graves” is happening. Basically, free buses will carry us from one free winery tour and tasting to the next, until we have soaked in all that Graves has to offer.
So I drag my flu-riddled wife out of bed. We miss the first train, after hacking and coughing our way to the station. We catch our breath, and hop on the next. While we chug out of Bordeaux, here’s some context.
Graves is a subregion of Bordeaux. It covers vineyards that surround the city and run South along the Garonne River’s left bank.
Its name has nothing to do with dead people. Graves (sounds like, “mauve”) refers to the soil, made of fine, well-draining, gravel pebbles that glaciers churned out of the Pyrenees during the last ice age. This gravel can go 50 feet deep. Which is a good thing, because this valley is flat.
This valley is also miserably wet. Without drainage from Graves’ gravels, the place would be a swamp. Swamps make grapes angry.
After a half hour, we land in Graves’ southern tip: the village of Langon.
We meander, stuffy-headed, until we find Graves’ tourist office. They beam with excitement: the rains clearly have dampened turnout. In little time, we pile into our chariot: a white minivan with a fairly chatty driver.
Soon outside of town, our tin can rattles into Château Pont de Brion’s gravel parking lot. Green and yellow vines stretch in soft rolls around the complex. Two, orange-tiled, yellow-painted, single-story buildings face the center lot.
Pascal and Chantale Molinari greet us with awkward English. Pascal, tall, grey-haired, and sweater-vested, then walks us shortly through three rooms of sharp, stainless steel tanks, a handful of strewn-about barrels, and between large cement cubes, inside whose ports we see yellow enamel lining for his red wines.
We end up in a hall with five bottles. Each has a sticker with a grape type. A young couple wafts in and out of the room. He gets more glasses. We start tasting.
These are just-fermented, single varietal wines from this 2012 harvest. Pascal has yet to filter, fine, blend, or age these Bordeaux-to-be. What better way to understand some of the world’s most complicated blends, than with its wine deconstructed?
It looks a hazy, light lemon color. Young, moderate aromas smell of Asian fruits, mango, clove, and cinnamon spice. The palate is dry, with adequate acid, alcohol, and body. Flavors of cinnamon, cardamon, and tropical pineapple last for a medium length. Clearly, Sémillon is the soft, spice box of a Graves Blanc blend.
This other major player in white Bordeaux blends looks a bit greener in color. More powerful, youthful aromas of green bell pepper, grapefruit, and a slight honey emerge. It feels dry, with notably more acid, but average alcohols and body. Again flavors of lemon and grapefruit, grass, salt, and yeast assail the palate with more vigor than the Sémillon. This is where Sauv Blanc snaps and structures the blend.
Parent to Cab Sauv and second string in most Bordeaux reds, 2012’s Cab Franc looks a hazy, medium intensity, dark purple. Strong aromas remind us of beets and pomegranate. The dry palate perks up with bright acidity, noted tannins that average out to medium alcohol and body. Flavors taste moderately of pomegranates, beets, and stones. This is too young, but Franc clearly brings Bordeaux’s aromatic punch.
Cab ripens later than most varieties, and Pascal harvested this only six days ago. I just stopped fermenting. It looks hazy, and a deeper purple than the Franc. Aromas smell moderately again of beets and black fruits or berries of some sort. Highish acids match the Franc, but more robust tannin grips our gums. Young flavors of black fruits, and that ripe, bloody beet ring again like all their reds. Cab Sauv’s thicker skins add color and tannin.
Again, hazy purple. Medium aromas of wet earth, beets, and hot-mashed black fruits smell pleasant. Acids step back and let fairly rich tannins and body dominate. It tastes of leafs, beets, and black fruits. Merlot, that staple of Right Bank Bordeaux (but much derision beyond), tastes fairly complex and would add heft to a blend.
Lastly, this wine looks deep, dark, and blue. Turbo-charged aromas of bull’s blood, red apple, chocolate, and all spice mess with our noses. Big tannins and body through their weight around. Bold flavors of raw beef, red apple skin, chocolate, and all spice pop up again. This would immediately beef up any blend, like espresso added to milk. But Pascal, like most, only grows 1 hectare. Petit Verdot is a pain to ripen. He also doesn’t mess with Malbec or Semillon: used occasionally in other mixes.
These wines are in their infancy. The quality is fine now but hard to judge. Only time and craft-full blending will morph their dense, young, beet-like flavor into something more complex.
We move to the main tasting room.
A table bears twenty open bottles. We try a handful. The whites with a few years on them seem good.
Looking at their range and prices, Southern Graves works hard in the shadow of more-famed regions like Margaux or St Emilion. However, Pascal seems relaxed, normal, unburdened by the past. His packaging looks modern and his wines taste equally approachable.
But before we get very far, a brusque nobody and his wife with dog crash into the room, reeking of cigarettes. They flaunt opinions at each other, posturing and puffing casually after each comment. Pascal bends over backwards. Slowly, we slip into obscurity.
Then our white tin can chariot rambles into view. We rush out. I accidentally trip over the dog, apologize, and hide as our van lurches to the next winery.
Next Monday’s EU Austerity Drinking Tour post will visit a wholly different winery in Graves. Check it!
Glad to have MLK day off to read depth and breadth of this visit. Complex crafting is interesting.
Agreed! Bordeaux is, if anything, complex.
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How interesting to read your post about one of our local vignerons – but not one of our best. Langon Graves is an acquired taste and reading your wonderful critique l assume you would agree. We fell into the ‘Brion’ trap when we first came here from Roussillion in 2007 and believed that it was sompehow connected to THE Chateau Haut Brion family of great Graves wines. Only to be very disappointed by the quality and overblown prices.
Still we soon learned that there are great value for money wines in and around Langon – Pont Bron not being one of them.
Enjoy your blog enormously
We learned quite a lot during Langon, Graves’ Open Doors event, even if we never found an outstanding wine. Value for money was good but vintage variation made it a challenge. Caillivat makes serious wine but charges quite a bit for it. I fully agree that Pont de Brion is overpriced (also too modern for my tastes).
Either way, we hope to return (hopefully when not beleaguered by the flu).
What producers have you found worthwhile?
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