French Wine - One of the best known towns in the world of wine - St Emilion

St Emilion is an evocative place with a long history responsible for some of the very finest wines in the world and some of the most controversial. The towns and villages which give their name to the great wines of France can often be somewhat underwhelming to the vinous tourist, as anyone visiting Vosne-Romanée, Pauillac or Pomerol will testify.

St-Emilion is the exception, built on limestone quarried out from underneath the town, sitting pretty on an escarpement above the Dordogne.  Containing Roman ruins and criss-crossed by cobbled back streets St-Emilion, even the town church is a cellar. Tourists flock here, do not buy wine from one of the many cavists, I once had an argument in one of them regarding his 800% mark-up on a wine I was buying for Majestic a few years ago!

The wines here are based on the Merlot grape with Cabernets Franc and Sauvignon adding to the mix, they are richer and fleshier than the wines of the Médoc and generally more approachable in their youth. The terroir is varied but can be roughly divided into four parts. The sand and gravel zone which is an extension of Pomerol; containing some of the great names such as Cheval Blanc and Figeac. The Limestone plateau, which surrounds the town containing Clos Fourtet and Canon amongst others and the Côtes which houses Pavie and Troplong-Mondot etc. There is a large area of sand and clay on flatter ground which is home to most of the lesser wines and non-classified Grand Cru. The classification of St-Emilion happens roughly every 10 years, the last time was in 2012 when Pavie and Angelus were both promoted into the very top tier – Premier Grand Cru Classé ‘A’. With the promotion and demotion of wines comes argument, controversy (this isFrance!) and confusion for the customer. Many top properties choose to exist outside of the classification and the current boss of Cheval Blanc recently told me he would prefer to be in the appellation of Pomerol, where life would be simpler.

The wines themselves are varied. Ten years ago there was a clearer division between the late picked, extracted, heavily oaked style and the more rustic, classically proportioned. As in many parts of the world balance is now the first thought in the mind of winemakers and consultants and there is a convergence of styles. The image of the wines has suffered with Pomerol stealing many of the plaudits and being easier to sell. Sadly Pomerol cannot produce enough wine and the terroir of St Emilion has more variation, these are thrilling wines which have suffered from an image problem, now is a good time to buy. Personally speaking, mature bottles of Cheval Blanc and Figeac have been right up there with some of my very best drinking experiences, truly great wines


Published on 17/08/2015 / By Nick Dagley