St Emilion Red Wines
The little village of St Emilion sits nestled on top of one of the ridges looking down on the Dordogne river valley about 40 minutes east of the city of Bordeaux. Made up of steep cobbled streets and lined with wine shops and restaurants it is a World Heritage site and a bit of a tourist hotspot. The reason is simple…great wine.
The Romans started it - realising that the gentle slopes, limestone soils and hot summers (and wet winters ) made for ideal winemaking ‘terroir’. The wines drank by Roman Legionnaires no doubt bear little resemblance to those being produced today but the weight of history, the depth of experience and un-rivalled passion for winemaking is evident on every street corner.
St Emilion vineyards tend to be small, on average of between 5 and 7 hectares, and are in many cases still family-owned and run. There is a real sense of community amongst the winegrowers many of whom have children at St Valery, the delightful little primary school hiding in plain sight right in the middle of the village.
The wines are usually Merlot-led, typically 70-80% with balancing flavours coming from Cabernet Sauvignon and Franc. They are characterized by soft, mellow fruits – strawberries and raspberries with some blackcurrant to give it backbone. If you are looking for smooth, easy drinking wines that are a perfect match for meats or cheeses look no further than St Emilion.
Alone amongst the Right Bank appellations St Emilion has its own set of quality standards – the Grand Cru Classification that unlike the 1855 Classification has specific quality standards that are measured every 10 years. This has essentially 3 levels;
- Grand Cru - is the entry level and essentially just requires a set of basic guidelines to be followed include no irrigation and defined density of plantation. There are in excess of 200 chateaux using this term many of whom benefit greatly from the term being confused with the higher standards required to become ‘Grand Cru Classe’
- Grand Cru Classe - which introduces quality tests both in terms of the wines chemical make-up but also the taste of the wine. There are just 64 chateaux that have achieved this standard.
- Premier Grand Cru Classe - are the cream of the crop they are judged in addition to the taste on their land management and even their oenotourism credentials (the quality of their cellars, how well they manage visitors etc). There are currently just 18 of these, of whom 4 have acquired the very top standard or “Class A” – Ausone, Cheval Blanc, Angelus and Pavie. Confusingly there is no distinction on these wines labels, you will only see the difference on the price ticket – think 3 or 4 times more expensive than the “Class B” wines.
None of this will guarantee quality that comes from the great soils and more importantly the passion and ‘savoir-faire’ of the winemakers. St Emilion truly does embody all that is great about Bordeaux wines.