Saint-Emilion is a name that everyone knows, even if they are not into their wine. For oenophiles its name is synonymous with quality, affordable red wine from the Bordeaux region. We visited the town on a glorious day in mid January, it was very quiet and one can only imagine how busy it gets in the summer.
The small town is steeped in history, having been formed by a monk called Emilian in the 7th century. However King John of England is probably the one person who did the most to establish the town in the 12th century when England ruled the area of Aquitaine.
Saint-Emilion is perched on the side of hill and within the cobbled, hilly streets are walls and medieval ruins dating back hundred of years. That it is a UNESCO heritage site tells you everything. There are underground caves (cellars), catacombs, a castle keep, subterranean church and much much more to explore.
Wine merchants abound on every street, selling the very wine that is grown immediately around the town and further afield, in between are dotted various restaurants and cafes, including two michelin star restaurants. This is a true gastronomes paradise.
Saint Emilion wines are generally not as expensive as some of the grand chateaux of the Mèdoc and it can be drunk almost immediately without having to lay it down. The dominant grape variety is Merlot, which gives a deep red, full bodied and velvety wine.
St Emilion has its own Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC), you should find that on the label of most bottles, this is the most basic quality but that’s not to say its not good. Spend €8-10 on a bottle and it will be lovely drink.
The vineyards immediately surrounding the town (and by immediately I mean within yards), are ranked as the “Grand Cru’s”, which are the best quality St Emilions’. They are reclassified every 10 years to ensure the quality remains consistently excellent. They also have to submit each vintage every year for tasting. Grand Cru’s can be bought for €12 upwards and will need laying down before drinking.
The top quality is the Premier (1er) Grand Cru. Which are the best Grand Cru’s and will be about €20 a bottle upwards and need laying down for longer than the Grand Cru’s. These are examples of labels showing the Grand Cru labelling.
Once you venture outside of Saint-Emilion there are a huge amount individual chateaux offering tastings, “dégustation”, they all want your business and will be glad to show you around. Do a bit of homework before you go and find out which estates you want to taste and buy. The value you can get buying direct, “vente direct”, is amazing.
No blog post of mine would be complete without mentioning food!! Despite it being the middle of January there was still plenty of places to eat, although most of the high end restaurants were closed until mid-February.
We went to Lard et Buchon on the main street. Situated in a cave dating back to the 14th century it oozed history and class. Here are a few photo’s of our meal.