Tag Archives: saint emilion
Since I’ve started working at SoDivin I have noticed that wine connoisseurs in France do not buy the same wines as our customers outside of France. French customers have been surrounded by French wine their whole lives, at every dinner growing up, perhaps a nicer bottle for a special occasion, the entire culture of wine creating a convivial atmosphere has constantly been a large part of every meal and get-together their whole lives. As a result, the average French person, who is not opposed to wine, has a depth of knowledge that those of us from non-wine producing countries couldn’t possibly have. Though some of us are trying to catch up.
Our customers in non-wine producing countries often buy wines from the top chateaux in France: Lafite Rothschild, Petrus, Latour, Mouton Rothschild, Cheval Blanc. These wines with an international market and luxurious reputation have prices to match. They are undoubtedly some of the top wines in the world, universally recognized as such, but to the average consumer the prices make them unattainable. Not to say that there is no overlap between the very top tier of chateaux and French consumers, the French just know that there are good values to be had amongst the grand cru classé wines of Bordeaux. French wine is complicated to understand compared to some New World wine producers who are allowed to put more information on their labels but Bordeaux is not the most complicated region in France to understand either (that would be Burgundy).
So what do the French know that helps them navigate the grand cru classé wines of Bordeaux?
Appellations and terroirs
While wine drinkers in non-producing countries and New World wine producing countries look to the grape variety to tell them the style of a wine, in France people look to an appellation or terroir to tell them about the style of the wine. In France they mostly grow vines that are well-adapted to a given region therefore grape variety is found in the notion of style but it is not the most telling information. Case in point: If you have ever tasted a Chardonnay produced in Burgundy and a Chardonnay produced in the Languedoc region, it becomes very clear very quickly that terroir and climate can make the elegant, mineral wine from Burgundy unrecognizable in the Languedoc.
Terroir is a hotly contested notion amongst wine connoisseurs in the New World wine producing
countries. In France terroir is literally and figuratively the foundation of all winemaking. In general, in France winemakers have utmost respect for their terroir as it is what allows them to grow their noble vines (and therefore make incredible wines). There is a very general notion of terroir like for any plant; some plants grow better in more or less acidic soil or more or less salty soil. For French winemakers there is a more specific notion of terroir; there are differences in structure and aromas in wines from different appellations and terroirs just a few kilometers away from each other.
Saint Emilion (as I wrote in a previous blog) has a soil that is better adapted to Merlot than to Cabernet Sauvignon therefore the wines dominant in Merlot have a different character than the top appellations on the left bank of the Gironde that are dominant in the Cabernets.
Some examples of Saint Emilions with excellent reputations:
Some examples of Pauillacs with excellent reputations:
While Saint Julien doesn’t have any 1er cru classé wines in its appellation it is known that it is easy to find excellent bottles and difficult to find even a mediocre bottle in Saint Julien.
Some examples of Saint Juliens with excellent reputations:
Try try again
To learn about French wine it is most important to try as many different wines as you can: different chateaux, same chateau in different years, different appellations to learn what you like. There are so many choices within the grand cru classé wines of France and with just a little research it will be easy to find lovely wines amongst the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th grand cru classé that are a fraction of the price of the very top tier. Wine is life-long learning experience.
When we think of the greatest Bordeaux red wines we often conjure the region of the Médoc along the left bank of the Gironde River. After all, the Médoc holds the greatest number of highly ranked appellations (Saint Estèphe, Pauillac, Saint Julien and Margaux) and chateaux (Chateau Lafite Rothschild, Chateau Margaux, Chateau Latour, Chateau Haut-Brion) in the Bordeaux region. However, on the right bank is the Saint Emilion appellation that has both an older and more recent history than the Médoc, a slightly different structure of its wines and produces some of the finest wines in all of Bordeaux.
The Romans first grew vines in Saint Emilion, centuries before anyone cultivated grapes in the Médoc region. In fact, UNESCO has named Saint Emilion a world heritage site for being the oldest cultivated terroir in Bordeaux. Winemakers in Saint Emilion have been exporting their product since the 12th century. However, in the first half of the 20th century the wines of Saint Emilion were overshadowed by the wines of the Médoc that had been officially classified by the French government in 1855, under Napoleon III.
During this period many winemakers in Saint Emilion and the entire right bank had noticed that the Merlot grape was especially well suited to their terroir and it added a smoothness to the wine made from the dominant Cabertnet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc grapes. Many growers wanted to grow a higher percentage of Merlot grapes. In 1956 there was a frost that reduced the harvest which drove prices of the wine up. Finally, they were able to invest in replanting Merlot grapes. This slightly changed the style of wines made on the right bank virtually overnight.
Saint Emilion wines were first classified in 1958 which brought the spotlight back onto the wines of this appellation. The wines were classified into 3 categories : Premier Grand Cru Classé, Grand Cru Classé and Grand Cru. The highest ranked chateaux in Saint Emilion are Ausone and Cheval Blanc which rank amongst the top chateau in all of Bordaux.
It is important to note the difference between Grand Cru Classé wines and Grand Cru wines. Wines marked Grand Cru simply adhere to 2 different qualitative rules different than those set by the Saint Emilion appellation: 0.5% higher alcohol and lower yield. Grand Cru Classé wines have been deemed of superior quality.
SoDivin has most of the best St Emilion chateaux in stock.
The current Premier Grand Cru Classé wines are:
Premiers grands crus classés A
Château Cheval Blanc
Premiers grands crus classés B
Château Beau-Séjour Bécot
Château Beauséjour (Duffau-Lagarrosse)
Château La Gaffelière
There are 68 current Grand Cru Classé wines.
Enjoy exploring the difference between Saint Emilion wines and wines from across the Gironde River.