Some years ago in April we decided to take a break from our usual Italian holidays and fly to Bordeaux. France’s fifth largest city is a jewel. Think Baroque instead of Renaissance. Always boasting of stunning classical buildings financed by the prosperous wine trade, Bordeaux has had a major facelift and now also boasts of a smart new tram system. Our first morning there we were strolling across the stunning Place de la Bourse when we spotted a friend and neighbour from Dublin giving a wine tour to a group of enthusiasts. Small world? No need for a rented car on this trip thanks to France’s excellent train system. We did two excursions from Bordeaux, one south past the great sand dunes of the Bassin d’Arcachon, past glitzy Biarritz and on to the charming seaside town of Saint Jean de Luz. The second visit was east to the stunningly beautiful Roman town of St-Emilion, also the centre of one of Bordeaux’s most famous wine communes. The hilltop town is like my dream holiday place, beautiful architecture, wine bars, wine shops and nice cafes and restaurants at every turn.
There is even a little train a la the Clonakilty Model Railway that you can take to catch a glimpse of all the surrounding famous Grand Cru estates.
Saint-Emilion’s world famous product is grown along the slopes of the town which is located on the right bank of the Gironde and its tributary La Dordogne, indicating Merlot as the dominant grape. Generic Saint- Emilion AC also has four satellite regions offering good value, Lussac, Montagne, Puisseguin and Saint Georges. Going upmarket from this point, the classification gets pretty complicated, (and the wines get quite expensive!) Saint-Emilion has its own classification outside of the famous 1855 Medoc listing of the best Bordeaux wines. First introduced in 1955 it is regularly updated, unlike the Medoc equivalent. The 2012 version lists in ascending order of quality, Grand Cru Classes, Premier Grand Cru Classes B, and finally Premier Grand Cru Classes A, of which
there are only four Chateaux, Angelus, Ausone, Cheval Blanc and Pavie.
Saint-Emilion’s popularity can be attributed to the soft, approachable character of its mostly merlot based wines. They can generally be enjoyed at an earlier age than their more astringent cabernet based cousins from the Medoc.
Outstanding recent vintages of Saint-Emilion include 2005, 2009 and 2010.
While visiting Saint-Emilion, (an official Unesco World Heritage Site), we stayed at a pleasant well-located inn, Hotel et Logis des Remparts, which I’m happy to recommend.
L’Enclos du Chateau de Saint-Pey, Saint-Emilion Grand Cru 2011. This was the star buy in this year’s annual French wine sale in Lidl. €13.99.
Chateau Robin Lussac-Saint-Emilion 2011. A good example of a fine value wine from one of the four Saint-Emilion ‘satellite regions’. Curious Wines, Cork, €17.99 or €14.39 if you buy two.