A highlight of our Bordeaux Wine tour is the delightful village of Saint-Emilion. Although part of the Bordeaux wine appellation, it’s winemakers are proud of the reputation that has made it one of the most famous labels in the world.
To be classified St-Emilion AOC, the grapes must come from quite a small geographical area – 5,400 hectares, or 13,000 acres, covering the town and 7 satellite communes. This area represents just 6% of the total Bordeaux wine region. Within this small area there are over 1000 producers, so most vignerons have relatively small vineyards. The compact area is also very handy for cycling, because from our base in the heart of the medieval village we can easily visit our favourite producers and take our time over tastings!
St-Emilion is one of the oldest wine-producing regions in the world, with a rich history dating back to Roman times. Its unique terroir, which includes limestone and clay soils, as well as a temperate climate, is well-suited for growing the Merlot and Cabernet Franc grape varieties that are commonly used in St-Emilion wines (there are no white or rosé St-Emilions!). The wines of St-Emilion are known for their complexity, elegance, and aging potential, the most prized vintages from the most sought-after producers can fetch stratospheric prices.
The wines have a higher proportion of merlot to cabernet than most wines of the Medoc, and this results in a rounder, less ‘robust’ wine.
St-Emilion wines are classified into four categories, which are referred to as "growths" or "crus" in French. These classifications are based on the quality and reputation of the vineyards and the wines they produce. The four classifications are:
Premier Grand Cru Classé A: This is the highest classification in St-Emilion, and is reserved for the very best vineyards, which are considered to produce the finest wines in the region.
Premier Grand Cru Classé B: This is the second-highest classification in St-Emilion, and is given to vineyards that are also considered to produce exceptional wines, but not quite at the level of the Premier Grand Cru Classé A.
Grand Cru Classé: This classification is given to vineyards that produce high-quality wines, but are not considered to be at the level of the Premier Grand Cru Classé A or B.
St-Emilion: This is the basic classification, which includes all of the other vineyards in the St-Emilion appellation. These wines are generally considered to be of good quality, but not at the level of the higher classifications.
The classifications are reviewed every 10 years, and these reviews are treated very, very seriously as they can have a massive impact on the prices that the wines will fetch. At the moment, only 4 château have the highest classification – Cheval Blanc, Ausone, Pavie and Angelus. As an example, a bottle of Château Ausone 2010 will currently cost £950/$1,200.
Now, if the fabulous wines were not sufficient reason to visit, the village itself is a destination in its own right. St-Emilion was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999 in recognition of its exceptional cultural and historical significance. The cobbled streets and pantiled roofs can be seen in wonderful panorama from the terrace by the steeple of the monolithic church. The steeple is only the visible part of the church - It is a unique example of a subterranean church carved entirely out of a single piece of limestone rock.
The church was built during the 12th century by a monk named Émilion, who became the patron saint of the town. The church was carved out of a natural limestone cave, and the structure is supported by a series of columns and arches that were also carved out of the rock. The church's interior features several chapels, an altar, and a bell tower, and it has a capacity of up to 200 people.
A guided visit to the church is always a highlight of our two night stay in the village. Another very popular high point is a hands-on blending workshop - blend and bottle your own vintage! Together with a Michelin starred dining experience, the St-Emilion part of our Bordeaux Cycling and Wine tour is one of the most memorable of all of our trips! We've got spaces on our Bordeaux Vineyards tour on 18th June and a couple left on 27th August. Don't miss it!