France | Saint Émilion, Bordeaux
Situated on the right bank of the Dordogne, a few kilometres to the east of Libourne, is the medieval town of Saint Émilion, which gives its name to the red wines produced in the region. Made predominately from the Merlot grape variety these wines are often rich, smooth and very accessible.
Built on a semi-circle of hills, visitors flock to the town of Saint Émilion and its myriad of churches, cloisters and convents clustered on the top, within and below a plateau which is responsible for some of the regions finest wines.
Saint Émilion is one of Bordeaux' favoured appellations and viticulture dates back to the Roman times but, despite this, the region was ignored by the 1855 Classification prepared by the Chamber of Commerce. It was not until 1954 that a system of classification was devised for Saint-Émilion.
Unlike the Médoc 1855 Classification, which is essentially set in stone, the Saint-Émilion system is revised every ten years and is therefore, arguably, a more reliable guide. The top wines are classified as premiers grands crus classés (A and B grades), grands crus classés and grands crus.
Aside from this system, there have always been some mavericks who went their own way, gaining cult status with or without classification as in the case of François Mitjavile of Tertre Rôteboeuf. François pioneered a new generation of wines which, through meticulous attention to detail, created new standards of quality with the resulting demand having no need for any official rank.
SAINT ÉMILION SATELLITES:
In addition to the main Saint-Émilion appellation, there are a number of satellites which used to be sold simply as Saint Émilion but which were awarded an appellation in their own right, in part to protect the reputation of the greatest of the great. In deference to their historical link with the principal appellation, they are allowed to attach Saint-Émilion to their names. These are now Saint-Georges Saint-Émilion, Puisseguin Saint-Émilion, Lussac Saint-Émilion and the largest of the satellites Montagne Saint-Émilion.
Montagne Saint Émilion lies at the very centre of the Saint-Émilion region. It is steeped in history and the vineyards are dotted with centuries-old windmills and houses. There are also rewards of magnificent views for visitors walking through the vines. Historic buildings and fine vistas not withstanding, this is a region steeped in the tradition of winemaking, fiercely proud of its terroir and history tradition.