Week 4 of 4 Week France course // Saint-Émilion

Saint-Émilion - A brief introduction to the region

In preparation for week 4 of our Online Tour De France we are briefly exploring Saint-Émilion.

On the Right Bank, most famously in Saint-Émilion and Pomerol, it is the fleshy Merlot grape which prevails, sometimes supported by Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. Here the soils are more mixed, with gravel and clay underpinning the rich, fruity wines of Pomerol. Styles vary more in Saint-Émilion, depending on the predominance of sand in the lower-lying slopes, or limestone on the hillsides and plateau.  

"The hill with a thousand Chateaux", Saint-Émilion is one of Bordeaux's largest appellations under vine, producing more wine than Listrac, Moulis, St Estèphe, Pauillac, St Julien and Margaux put together. Saint-Émilion has been producing wine for longer than the Médoc but its lack of accessibility to Bordeaux's port and market-restricted exports to mainland Europe meant the region initially did not enjoy the commercial success that funded the great châteaux of the Left Bank.  

Saint-Émilion itself is the prettiest of Bordeaux's wine towns, perched on top of the steep limestone slopes upon which many of the region's finest vineyards are situated. However, more than half of the appellation's vineyards lie on the plain between the town and the Dordogne River on sandy, alluvial soils with a sprinkling of gravel.  Further diversity is added by a small, complex gravel bed to the north-east of the region on the border with Pomerol.  Atypically for Saint-Émilion, this allows Cabernet Franc and, to a lesser extent, Cabernet Sauvignon to prosper and defines the personality of the great wines such as Ch. Cheval Blanc.   

In the early 1990s there was an explosion of experimentation and evolution, leading to the rise of the garagistes, producers of deeply-concentrated wines made in very small quantities and offered at high prices.  The appellation is also surrounded by four satellite appellations, Montagne, Lussac, Puisseguin and St. Georges, which enjoy a family similarity but not the complexity of the best wines. 

Since 1955, there has been a classification of Saint-Émilion wine. The classification is updated every 10 years or so, and consists of the following levels: Premier grand cru classé A, Premier grand cru classé B, and Grand cru classé. As of the new classification in 2012, there are currently four estates at the highest level: Château Angélus, Château Ausone, Château Cheval Blanc and Château Pavie. Previously, Château Ausone and Château Cheval Blanc were the only two estates at this classification level.

Food Pairing


‘Aromas of ripe berries, sweet spices, earth and smoke. Palate is rich, complex and the alcohol and acidity are harmoniously balanced by elegant ripe fruit and sweet spices. Long lingering finish.’This is the King of elegant Bordeaux blends, some of the best proteins to match with Merlot are in the middle-weight category. Think roast duck, turkey, and lean cuts of beef.