I’d say most wine regions are beautiful, but St.-Émilion is downright stunning. I felt like Dorothy waking up in Oz as we entered the countryside. Being autumn, the vineyards were gold in color, the sky was deep blue, and the strong morning sun further illuminated the scene. The town of St.-Émilion is everything you’d expect from a former medieval village (cobblestone walkways, hanging trellises, outdoor cafes). Today, it devotes itself to wine and wine tourism, where there is literally a wine shop on every corner—sometimes right next to one another.
I was touring St.-Émilion with my MBA class at the Bordeaux International Wine Institute. Our day began with a visit to the Maison du Vin de St.-Émilion and a presentation on the different appellations followed by a wine tasting. Here are a few highlights we learned about the St.-Émilion wine region, which includes the appellations St-Émilion, St.-Émilion Grand Cru, Lussac St.-Émilion, and Puisseguin St.-Émilion:
- St.-Émilion is today the only wine region to be a World Heritage site: The region was UNESCO protected in 1999.
- Many small producers: The area distinguishes itself from the rest of Bordeaux with lots averaging just 5-6 hectars (more like in Burgundy).
- Large export market: St.-Émilion is among the largest exporting regions in Bordeaux, with 41% of its wines sold outside of France (the avg. for Bordeaux exports is just 12%).
- Main grape varieties: Merlot (60%), Cabernet Franc (30%), Cabernet Sauvignon (10%)—you will also find scattered amounts of Malbec and Carménère, which may become more popular as global climate change persists.
- First wine classification in 1954: St.-Émilion’s wines are classified either as Grands Crus Classés or the more prestigious Premiers Grands Crus Classés (which is further divided into A and B catagories); The system is re-evaluated every 10 years.
In the afternoon we visited Clos Fourtet, followed by Chateau Angélus. Both of these producers are Premiers Grands Crus Classés producing first and second label red wines.
Don’t get lost in the caves!
The most impressing aspect of Clos Fourtet is its underground cellars, a vast network of caves used to store wine. While touring the cellars, I felt like I was walking through the catacombs of Egypt—there were tunnels everywhere! These caves are constructed of limestone bedrock, which is almost white in color and gives off a very nice glow. I asked our guide if they hold many events in their cellars. Her response was that they’ll stage an occasional tasting, but have to be very careful that the guests don’t wander off in the caves because they may never come back!
Bond drinks Bordeaux
I always knew James Bond was a fan of Bollinger Champagne, but it wasn’t until I entered Chateau Angélus that I learned the latest 007, Daniel Craig, also drinks red Bordeaux—1982 Chateau Angélus to be precise. In the most recent Casino Royale film (during the scene where he first meets Vesper Lynd while traveling by train to Montenegro) Bond orders a bottle of ’82 Ch. Angélus, which is visibly placed between them on the table.
Well, I can’t disagree with 007’s taste in wine—I was fortunate enough to try the 2003 Ch. Angélus and, wow, this wine is amazing! It is a 50/50 blend of Merlot and Cabernet Franc. The color was deep garnet with a nose of black pepper, red cherry and truffle. Overall, a full-bodied wine with flavors of mushroom and sour cherry. However, it is the mouthfeel that distinguishes this wine: a sensation as smooth as velvet, luscious beyond belief—absolutely incredible!