St Emilion, Bordeaux 2018

Saint-Emilion is a charming medieval village located in the heart of the Bordeaux wine area. The legend tells about a monk from Brittany who fled from Vannes, his hometown, to seek refuge in one of the natural caves in a place called Ascum bas (former name of the village) in the 8th century. His name was Emilion. Living the life of a hermit he accomplished a few miracles and rapidly became famous in the region and even far beyond its borders. Soon he had many disciples and with their help he evangelized that place and made it become a great religious centre. Even after his death his followers carried on his legacy and even called the town after him: Saint-Emilion.

From the 9th century to the 19th century limestone was quarried from under the town to give an architectural uniformity to Saint-Emilion. Nowadays the extraction is over (the underground area became like a Gruyere cheese, and weaken the foundations of the buildings) but there are still 200km of underground galleries under the village and its vineyard standing as a proof of that activity.

In 1999 the area became World Heritage Listed by UNESCO as a Cultural Landscape, that is to say a historical landscape that remained intact but which is still carrying on its activity.

St Emilion is certainly a wealthy town. The shops are mainly wine selling shops, which have been very smartly renovated.The ever present Irish Pub even had an Irishman running it.

Saint-Émilion is one of the principal red wine areas of Bordeaux along with the Médoc, Graves and Pomerol. The region is much smaller than the Médoc and adjoins Pomerol. As in Pomerol and the other appellations on the right bank of the Gironde, the primary grape varieties used are the Merlot and Cabernet Franc, with relatively small amounts of Cabernet Sauvignon also being used by some châteaux.

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Chateau Courtebotte

We stayed three nights here

Built during the reign of Henri IV, this chateau dates from the 17th century and overlooks the Dordogne River. Recently renovated, it combines classic and contemporary furniture. There are 5 rooms in the chateau, which are to a very high standard. But they have three self catering options in the grounds, which attract, shall we say, a different sort of clientele.

There is a swimming pool, six hectare of garden; and a viewing platform high above the river. The owner, Isabelle, is very much hands on, but was struggling a bit when we were there in the high season. Room not ready on mid-afternoon arrival, room not serviced one day.

The breakfast was exceptionally good, and the dinner that we had one night (she does not do dinner every day, and tries to make up like mined groups).

The minus was the noisy children (British) who were out of control round the pool,. Their behaviour plus the lack of enough umbrellas at the pool, made it difficult//impossible to relax there.

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Chateau Yquem

Château d'Yquem is a Premier Cru Supérieur wine from the Sauternes. In the Bordeaux Wine Official Classification of 1855, Château d'Yquem was the only Sauternes given this rating, indicating its perceived superiority and higher prices over all other wines of its type. Yquem's success stems largely from the site's susceptibility to attack by "noble rot" (a particular kind of infestation by Botrytis cinerea). Wines from Château d'Yquem are characterised by their complexity, concentration and sweetness, which is balanced by relatively high acidity. With proper care, a bottle will keep for a century or more, and the fruity overtones will gradually fade and integrate with more complex secondary and tertiary flavours.

Since 1959 (though not every year), Château d'Yquem has also produced a dry white wine called Ygrec (Fr: the letter "Y"), made from an equal blend of Sémillon and Sauvignon blanc

The chateau was family run until 1996 when it was bought by the current owners LVMH Moët Hennessy – Louis Vuitton

The vineyard has 250 acres in production at any time.The vines consist of 80% Sémillon and 20% Sauvignon blanc. Harvesting is carefully timed, and on average six tries through the vineyard are undertaken each year to ensure that only the botrytized grapes are selected. The yield averages nine hectolitres per hectare compared to the usual twelve to twenty hectolitres per hectare in Sauternes. The grapes are pressed three times and transferred to oak barrels for maturation over a period of about three years.

On average, 65,000 bottles are produced each year. In a poor vintage, the entire crop is deemed unworthy of bearing the Château's name and sold anonymously; this happened nine times in the 20th century: 1910, 1915, 1930, 1951, 1952, 1964, 1972, 1974, and 1992 and in the 21st century one time: 2012.

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Chateau Guadet

We joined 4 others in a tour and tasting at Chateau Guadet, which is actually in the old town in St Emilion. It can only be visited by appointment, and the brass plaque on the front door is very discrete.

The vineyards have been in the same family for many generations. The present family member is Vincent, the winemaker, who runs the chateau with his father. Vincent spent 10 years working in vineyards in Australia, Chile and the USA . He then returned to the family business and is now in charge the estate, including the wine-making.

His tour and talk were entertaining and informative. Chateau Guadet became certified organic in 2010, and bio-dynamic in 2014, and was only the second bio dynamic winery in the St Emilion region. Wine production is done totally by hand just like it was done centuries ago. And bio-dynamic means they are not only organic (no fertilisers nor pesticides) but also take into account things in nature like the phases of the moon) The Chateau has an extensive limestone quarry located directly under the house. We were shown through the limestone tunnels under the house, where the store their bottles of wine to mature. All the wine vintages are stored in small limestone alcoves, with a small black chalkboard with the details of the year of production.

The vineyard name came from the Lacombe Guadet family who sold the estate in 1877 to Mathieu Garitey, ancestor of Guy-Petrus Lignac, manager of the estate today. Marguerite-Élie Guadet ( 1766 – 1794) was a French political figure of the Revolutionary period famous lawyer in Bordeaux and a girondin member of the house. He hid himself with other congressmen in the underground tunnels which snake beneath Saint Emilion. He was discovered and taken to Bordeaux, where, after his identity had been established, was guillotined. In memory the main street of the village of Saint Emilion where the estate is, carries his name. His image is to be found on the label today, perpetuating his memory.

The vineyard itself is situated a few metres north of the village of Saint Emilion and planted with 80% of Merlot and 20% of Cabernet Franc. The size of the estate is 14 acres and mostly clay and sand on the limestone plateau of St Emilion. We tasted two Chateau Guadet wines and I bought a few bottles. The bio-dynamic methods of production add to the cost of the wine, but Vincent claims that many years he has to sell at a loss - I was not altogether convinced on this point.

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St Emilion by Electric Tuc-Tuc

As we were the only punters, we had the tuc-tuc to ourselves and had a very agreeable tour round the town and the vineyards. We passed a few places that we later went back to, like the Collegiate Church and the Cloisters

 

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L'Auberge St-Jean

Only 500 meters from our hotel (but not walkable as the road would have been too dangerous after dark). the Auberge-St-Jean is a one star Michelin restaurant beside the bridge over the Dordogne. The dining room has nice views out along the river.

In many ways a "typical" one star Michelin restaurant, in as much as they have to conform to the Michelin formula on decor, service and food. The food was very good and the service not too stuffy. Happily they were not trying to go on to two stars, so we were spared the handbag stool and the surfeit of waiters

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L'Envers du Decor

A tourist restaurant in the centre of St Emilion offering good value for money, a nice environment, but middle of the road food and rushed service (they want to turn tables over)

The restaurant itself is in an inner courtyard flanked by the church walls. It is bustling. People come and go at an alarming speed. But at 50 euros a head, it was reasonable value for money.

More waiters (which they need) would put up the cost,. As would better quality food. They know the market that they are aiming at, and they appear to satisfy that market. You do need to book a table in the season, as they have a lot of customers wanting to eat here!

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Chateau de Pressac

 

It was only when we got to the chateau that I realised that I abandoned their tour last year because we could not hear the guide, and because the group was too large for her to manage. This year I inadvertently booked again, and again I had to abandon the tour for the same reasons.

It is architecturally a very lovely building, but they appear to want to churn through the tourists without any passion for their wine

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On to Victor and Gaynor

Trip to Gaynor and Vic