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Description to Saint-Emillion AOC
This French wine-growing area is located in the east of the Bordeaux region and, with Pomerol, forms the core area of the rive droite (right bank) of the Gironde and Dordogne estuaries. It is named after the small town of about 2,000 inhabitants that lies on the slopes of a hill above the valley of the Dordogne. It takes its name from the Saint Benedictine monk Émilion (Aemilianus). According to legend, he lived here in the 7th century in the forest of Combes in a cave that is now on the site of Château Laniote. Saint-Émilion is also a stop on the Way of St James to Santiago de Compostela. It is one of the oldest wine-growing areas in France, as the Romans planted the first vines here.
Soil, climate and grape varieties
In 1999, Saint-Émilion became the first wine-growing area in the world to be designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In addition to Saint-Émilion, the ten by five kilometre area includes the communes of Saint-Christophe-des-Bardes, Saint-Hippolyte, Saint-Étienne-de-Lisse, Saint-Laurent-des-Combes, Saint-Pey-d'Armens, Saint-Sulpice-de-Faleyrens, Vignonet and partly Libourne. The four communes of Lussac, Montagne, Puisseguin and Saint-Georges, separated by the small watercourse Barbanne, are independent appellations that are allowed to indicate the place name with the addition Saint-Émilion on the label.
The climate is more continental and not as maritime as in the Médoc to the west and has greater temperature fluctuations. The vineyards are situated between 25 and 100 metres above sea level. The area is characterised by a variety of soil types, often even within the individual châteaux. It is roughly divided into four zones: Plateau (limestone formations with argillaceous limestone or sandy clay), Côtes (similar, but different slope and orientation), Graves (gravel and coarse gravel) and Sables (alluvial gravel). These soils also yield a wide variety of wine types.
The vineyards cover around 5,500 hectares of vines, cultivated by over 1,000 winegrowers. Red wines are produced for the most part, and only these have appellation status. The full-bodied and full-bodied wines with a silky texture are produced from the dominant variety Merlot, which occupies around 60% of the vineyard area here, as well as Cabernet Franc (here Bouchet) with portions of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cot (here Malbec, Pressac) and Carmenère (also Carbouet); the typical grape varieties of the Rive droite. Long maceration periods and barrique ageing in mostly new French oak barrels are common. They are softer, fruitier and less tannic than those from the Médoc.
In addition to Saint-Émilion, there is also Saint-Émilion Grand Cru, which are wines with sensorially tested quality criteria. There are four differences between the two. The yield is limited to 8,000 kg/ha or 55 hl/ha (instead of 9,000 kg/ha or 65 hl/ha). The must weight of the grapes (except Merlot) must be at least 189 g/l sugar (instead of 180 g/l). The alcohol content is prescribed to be at least 11.5% vol (instead of 11% vol). The wine must be stored for at least 14 months before marketing. For the Grands Crus, the wines must undergo a second test before bottling. The quality of the last ten vintages, the reputation of the wine, the market price achieved and the quality of the terroir are assessed.
The best Grands Crus with the addition "Classé" enjoy the status of classified growths. The classification applies exclusively to the Grand Vin (first wine) of the winery and can also only be valid for a defined part of the vineyards. All other wines, such as second wines or white wines, must have a different designation on the label as the main name than the first wine. For example, the second wine from Château Cheval Blanc bears the name "Petit Cheval Blanc". In rare cases, a winery may have two first wines, each with a different name (see, for example, Château Faugères).
The classification system is not as rigid as that of the Médoc and is regularly revised (see Grand Cru for the confusingly different classifications in France). In contrast to the Médoc, the sites (i.e. the boundaries of the vineyards) of the wines included in the classification may not be freely changed. This provision has also led to declassifications in the case of mergers of differently classified wineries (example Château Beau-Séjour-Bécot). The first classification was in 1955, the others were in 1969, 1985, 1996, 2006 and most recently in 2012. The total number of classified wineries is limited to a maximum of 90. In 1986 there were 85, in 1996 there was a reduction to 68, in 2006 to only 60 and in 2012 again a big increase to 82.
After the 2006 classification, however, there were protests by downgraded wineries. The four downgraded Château Cadet-Bon, Château Guadet, Château La Marzelle and Château La Tour-du-Pin-Figeac lodged a protest, or rather a challenge to the result, with the administrative court in Bordeaux (except for Château La Tour-du-Pin-Figeac, the other three were reclassified in 2012). After examination, the court found that it was grossly erroneous to first taste the wines of already classified estates and then separately the others. As a result, there was a confusing back and forth. First, the 2006 classification was overruled and that of 1996 was put into effect, this was rejected again and the 2006 upgrading of eight châteaux was confirmed, this again rejected and finally, on 13 May 2009, a "final" decision was made. Now the 1996 classification was valid again. In a footnote, however, it was noted that the eight chateaux upgraded in 2006 (6 Grand Cru Classé and 2 Premier Grand Cru Classé B) may keep their new rank.
The 2012 classification was carried out under the supervision of the INAO by a jury of seven professional tasters. To ensure independence, no members from the Saint-Émilion Syndicat or the Bordeaux wine trade were among them, but experts from Burgundy, Champagne, Loire, Provence and Rhône. The wine evaluation was done by blind tasting with a 20-point system. At least 14 points were required for the Grand Cru Classé, at least 16 points for the Premier Grand Cru Classé. There was an increase from 60 to 82 establishments, which is attributed to improved winemaking standards and greater consistency of scoring. The shock caused by the many declassifications in 2006 has visibly motivated great efforts. There was only one declassification with Château Corbin-Michotte. This classification will now probably be valid for the next 10 years (until 2022).
Premier Grand Cru Classé
The top Premier Grand Cru Classé is divided into two groups, A for the top châteaux, which can be equated with the Premier Cru Classé châteaux of the Médoc in terms of quality (there was no change here until 2012 with the Château Ausone and Château Cheval Blanc estates) and B for the other châteaux. This is followed by the Grand Cru Classé, for which there have been changes (declassifications and/or reclassifications) each time in the previous evaluations. The lowest class is Grand Cru (without Classé), which, unlike the other classes, is not a longer valid classification. The classified wineries (h = upgraded, n = new, w = reclassified after declassification)
Actually, this lowest level is not a classification (these vineyards were just "not classified"), but an additional designation for the simple AOC Saint-Émilion. In 2012, over 200 producers received this classification. Excellent wines are also produced by individual wineries. Examples include Château Patris, Château Tertre-Rôteboeuf and, before the great leap from "Grand Cru" to "Premier Grand Cru Classé B", Château Valandraud.