One of the best looking medieval villages in France also makes some of its most delicious wines. Saint Emilion sits on the shoulders of the Northeastern perimeter of Bordeaux. Any sane driver should think twice about even driving OUTSIDE its walls or prepare to pay for a new side mirror or two. This little hillside city was never built with cars in mind and, I would argue, it’s for that reason it’s such a romantic place today: because autos aren’t allowed inside.
With tiny alleyways and stone paths slithering down to hidden courtyards and charming restaurants, it’s no wonder this ancient town gets over a million tourists per season. Thankfully it was cold, grey, and raining when we were there-stone streets as slippery as wet fish- so we had the place to ourselves.
Well worth the 45 minute trip from downtown Bordeaux, St. Emilion has been transporting people back to the 16th century for a long time. We stayed at an ancient home in the center called “La Logis de la Cadene”. The home belongs to a woman who grow up there and it has been in her family for a long time, as well. The Cathedral was lit up outside my room; it’s quite a sight brilliantly lit at night, inspiring. It was a perfect place for 100 Euros a night, and the old town, I swear, wraps it’s arms around you like…nevermind. Don’t be surprised if that room price climbs during the summer when the place is swimming with people. They also have a sound restaurant off the hotel that is truly best for leisurely, boozy lunches under the wisteria arbor, with the sloping alleyways flowing around the outdoor patio like so many rivulets carved around a rock in a stream.
I think most people who visit love to eat at “L’Envers du Decor” (literally ‘behind the scenes'”) for reliable, tasty Provencal dishes and a very good, yes pricey, local wine list. I drank an average 2004 Chateau Franc Mayne there which was medium priced on the list for 80 Euros which fell flat-we win some, we lose some. There is a tremendous gravel based backyard dining court there surrounded by decaying old church walls and protected by a priceless Caucasian Wingnut tree. I would love to revisit in warmer months and just sit there for hours quaffing rose, chomping on the local macarons, and gazing at the crumbling beauty of the place.
After visiting Chateau Grand Pontet, one of the Grand Crus, we learned that 2005 was a grand vintage here and that any wine lover should pick some up and sit on it for a decade. Interesting how the French price the great vintages higher than the rest. I wish that would happen more in other countries. It would keep people interested in your wines out of sheer loyalty if prices were cut during a less than stellar vintage. In the meantime drink 2004, 2001, and 2000 for significantly less money from St.Emilion. We enjoyed wines from Clos Puy Arnaud, Couvent des Jacobins, Grand Pontet, Clos de l’Oratoire (a personal fav), Pas de l’Ane, Angelus, Pavie, and Chateau Destieux. Shipping them home is a good idea, after all wine is bloody heavy.
The merchant up across from the cathedral, “La Grande Cave de Saint-Emilion” ships around the world and seems nice enough. His wife is sullen and quiet, but apparently makes some cult wine, so I forgive her. Shop around, however, there are about 47 shops to chose from. These merchants know which side their bread is buttered on, which explains why there are no scotch-tape boutiques here. Be prepared for hefty duties, hurrah!, I got crushed shipping to Australia. Out the door of L”Envers” to the right and around the corner, amidst the shadow of the cathedral, is the BEST spot for value hunters (I’m looking for the actual name, but to no avail). MAGNUMS, my favorite format, of very good wines were had for 35 Euros, like the 2002 Chateau La Grace Dieux “Les Menuts”. They didn’t ship to Australia.
Merlot is planted up to 65% of the district, followed by Cabernet Franc at 25% and Cabernet Sauvignon at 10% over a 13,000 acre landscape. The wines here are opulent and soft, thanks to the merlot, and have built a devoted following due to their more rapid development and approachability. Having one on your wine list under a 100 dollars is a guaranteed sale, and with Ausone and Cheval Blanc in the district, the place is hardly in need of a fresh coat of siloxane.