Saint-Emilion is the winegrowing area of Bordeaux preferred by wine lovers who like to drink wine rather than cellar it.
That’s because the wines of Saint-Emilion (pronounced san-tay-mee-lee-yawn) are more fruit-driven and less tannic than the wines produced on Bordeaux’s Left Bank, so they attain maturity more quickly. Rich, refined and savory, they sometimes are referred to as the “Burgundies of Bordeaux.”
The appellation is in France’s Dordogne Valley and encompasses a total of nine villages. The vineyard area covers some 13,600 acres, the vines planted in mainly sand and clay soils. There are more than 900 producers of Saint-Emilion wine, which accounts for the variety of styles and flavor combinations in the wines.
The vintners specialize in Merlot-based cuvees, since that variety accounts for about 60 percent of the plantings. Cabernet Franc is the next most planted varietal (around 30 percent), followed by Cabernet Sauvignon and just a few rows devoted to Malbec.
Because of its size, Saint-Emilion produces more wine than the Listrac, Moulis, St. Estephe, Pauillac, St. Julien and Margaux areas combined. Merlot is widely planted on the plateaus overlooking the Dordogne River, and the village of Saint-Emilion — considered the prettiest of Bordeaux’s wine-focused communities — is perched atop steep limestone slopes.
Extensive vineyard plantings also are found between the village and the Dordogne River, home to alluvial soils mixed with a sprinkling of gravel.
Historically, the wines of Saint-Emilion have been better values than the wines of the Left Bank. That’s still true for the most part, but in recent years, the rise of “garagistes” — makers of deeply concentrated wines in extremely small quantities — has created a new level of pricing not seen in the appellation before.
Those wines also possess another non-Saint-Emilion characteristic: They typically need to be aged for several years before they’re enjoyable to drink.