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Wine is being produced throughout France and has been done for over 2,500 years with certain Châteaux dating their history back to Roman times, around 6th Century BC. Ranking second in the world in per-capita consumption and first in total production quantity. More so than the overall quantity of wine is the quantity of truly great wines coming out of France makes the nation the envy of wine-making nations worldwide.
Two concepts pivotal to the higher end French wines, in particular, are the idea of 'terroir' and the Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée (AOC) system. Terroir refers to the way the geography, geology and climate find their way into the glass, telling a story of the origin of the wine. The AOC was set up in 1935 and has the primary goal of protecting the authenticity of the wines and the livelihoods of the producers. Appellation rules strictly define which varieties of grapes and winemaking practices are approved for classification in each of France's several hundred geographically defined appellations, which can cover entire regions, individual villages or in some cases, like in Burgundy even specific vineyards.
Classic wine regions in France include Champagne (home of Champagne), Burgundy (Pinot Noir and Chardonnay), Bordeaux (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec, Petit Verdot), Alsace (Aromatic varietals), Loire Valley (Chenin Blanc, Crémant) and the Rhône Valley (Syrah, Grenache Mourvedre)
The Bordeaux classification of 1855 is still in use, as is the Sauternes and Barsac Classification of the same year. Wines from certain regions can be bought En Primeur, which is when the wine is sold prior to it being bottled.
Bordeaux produces some of the most highly sought after and revered wines in the world. Located close to the coast, in the south-west of France the town and is divided by the Gironde River. Wines to the west of the river are referred to as left bank, and are Cabernet dominant. To the East of the river, on the right bank Merlot is the dominant grape variety. Throughout the 57 appellations, over 10,000 wine-making châteaux grow the red grapes; Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Malbec. These are commonly blended and collectively referred to as clarets. Smaller amounts of Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc is also grown in Bordeaux.
In 1855, due to the high export demands of Bordeaux wines, Emporer Napoleon III requested an official Bordeaux classification system, based on market costs of the wines at the time. The Chateaux were classified in to five ‘growths’ from first growth to fifth growth and cru Bourgois. Also in 1855 The Sauternes and Barsac classification covered the sweeter wines, with Chateau d’Yquem the only Superior First Growth, followed by Premiers Crus and Deux Deuxièmes Crus.
Saint-Émilion is a historic, World Heritage-listed red-wine-only appellation on the right bank of the Gironde river in Bordeaux, France. A bit inland from the Atlantic Ocean, the maritime influence is not as pronounced here as it is in other sections of Bordeaux but still factors in to this cool, humid region. It’s well-suited to growing early-ripening grapes. The primary grape variety is Merlot, followed by Cabernet Franc; some châteaux also grow small amounts of Cabernet Sauvignon. Wine styles can vary widely – from simple wines made for drinking in their youth to premium Grand Cru Classé – depending on location and winemaking techniques. The best expressions generally have intense, concentrated aromas and flavours of red and black plums, along with vanilla and clove notes from new oak. They are usually full-bodied, with high alcohol content and often high acidity and high tannins. They have great ageing potential, and bottle ageing will soften tannins over time. Saint-Émilion also boasts its own classification system for Premier Grand Cru Classé and Grand Cru Classé wines – a system that goes under review every 10 years.
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