Satellite St Emilion, Fronsac
Saint-Emilion possesses an ancient history of winemaking and is a UNESCO world heritage site not only for its beautiful old village but also for the vineyards that surround it, a true cultural landscape. To the north and east of this core area is an area of mixed agriculture, though vines account for 50% of the land, consisting of four further communes with the right to append the name of their more famous neighbour to their own. These are Montagne, Saint Georges, Lussac, and Puisseguin. Parsac and Sables are two communes formerly enjoying similar privileges but which are no longer seen having merged into Montagne and Saint-Emilion respectively. From these less renowned appellations you will find much good value for wines of a similar, merlot dominated style to Saint-Emilion itself, and of increasingly high quality and improved reputation.
Merlot is the dominant grape here with cabernet franc in earnest support and some supporters of the more difficult to ripen cabernet sauvignon. The...
Merlot is the dominant grape here with cabernet franc in earnest support and some supporters of the more difficult to ripen cabernet sauvignon. The soils, mostly damper and cooler than those of the Médoc, are responsible for this varietal hierarchy and merlot consistently ripens in the clay, though limestone, gravel and other alluvial deposits that make up the various vineyard soils. Merlot certainly ripens more consistently than cabernet franc and considerably better than cabernet sauvignon on clay, but each commune or estate has its own variations on these soil themes and the different grape varieties have their own supporters depending on the terroir. Cabernet sauvignon, for example, is gaining some ground as climate change brings more warmth and consistency to vintages.
There are two main areas where the quality is more consistently superior. The first is up on the plateau that abuts the border with Pomerol. A continuation of the plateau of blue clay that defines the best wines of Pomerol, this area is home to the most sought after of all Saint-Emilions, Château Cheval Blanc. The second group of properties are to be found on an escarpment east of the town of Saint-Emilion, where a thin layer of topsoil overlays a bedrock of sandstone on south-facing slopes that end suddenly and precipitously. Though the best wines of the second group are less highly regarded than the best of the first group there are superb wines in both.
Saint-Emilion has a hierarchy of properties similar in some ways to the Médoc classification of 1855, though that of Saint-Emilion is reviewed every ten years or so. The classification was first established in 1955 and has been updated in 1969, 1986, 1996, 2006 and 2012, often causing uproar and legal battles between those demoted and the authorities.. The Saint-Emilion classification might be seen as a more meritocratic one than that of the Médoc as each château must apply for inclusion and is then judged by a panel of experts who base any decision on the quality of wines at tasting. The estates must also adhere to lower permitted yields than generic Saint-Emilion and make wines with a minimum 0.5% abv higher than the generic wines. There are two categories within the classification â€“ Grand Cru and Premier Grand Cru, the latter of which is divided further into two camps â€“ A and B. The 2012 classification embraced 82 Grand Crus, 18 of them Premiers.
Saint George Saint-Emilion is the smallest of the appellations at around 180 hectares and used to be bottled as Montagne. Evidence of very early Roman vineyards means it may be one of the oldest vineyard areas of France but it is certainly the smallest appellation in the Bordeaux region with an unusually uniform soil composition among the four communes, being almost all clay-limestone underpinned by a fossil rich limestone that makes a perfect spot for vines to put down deep roots.
Lussac Saint-Emilion, rich with the evidence of ancient Roman occupation including its name taken from a local Roman villa supposed to have been owned by one Lucius. The best properties are based in the north of the appellation where the clay is purer.
Puisseguin also takes its name from an ancient root, this time Celtic, derived from a word meaning â€˜hill of strong wineâ€™. Its 990 hectares make up the most easterly of the communes and it is beginning to earn a particular reputation for improvement in its wines in recent years.