Contributor: Gina Gregory
Taking wine trips abroad is one of the most rewarding and anticipated events of my year. On one of these memorable trips, my husband and I traveled to France. Our first stop was a week in Bordeaux, one of my favorite wine regions. I’ve spent many years drinking, collecting and selling the famous wines of Bordeaux, so it was a dream to finally get a chance to visit the area I’ve grown so fond of. If you ever get a chance to visit the Bordeaux wine region, I highly recommend the area of St. Émilion. Located on the east side of the Gironde estuary (known as the right bank), St. Émilion is a fortress-like medieval village with cobblestone streets and Romanesque churches. It’s also the name of a wine growing region, much smaller than the Médoc (located on the left bank), but produces more wine than all the famous appellations of the Médoc combined. The Romans planted vineyards in this area as early as 2nd century AD, which makes it one of the oldest wine regions in Bordeaux. Remarkably there are over 1000 crus located within 6 miles of the St. Émilion village. Though it’s dense with châteaux, St. Émilion is home to some of the best quality Bordeaux including Château Cheval Blanc, Château Magdelaine, Château Ausone, Château Pavie, Château Figeac and Château Angelus.
There are several different soil compositions in St. Émilion including hillsides of limestone, clay and a few gravelly terraces, which result in a fairly wide range in style and quality of wines. Dominated by Merlot and Cabernet Franc (here known as Bouchet), St. Émilion is a red wine district, producing only red. Considered more approachable at a younger age, wines from this area are often described as robust & velvety with a rich fruitiness. The classification of St. Émilion is complex and is separate from that of the Médoc. It is split into 5 categories: St. Émilion, Grand Cru, Grand Cru Classé, Premier Grand Cru Classé B and Premier Grand Cru Classé A.
On one of our afternoon strolls through the hilly village, we entered a tiny wine shop (St. Émilion has over a hundred of them) that specialized in old vintages. Immediately upon entering, the friendly owner asked us our birth year. Since my husband’s (Kenny) birthday was in a few days, we gave her his birth year 1970. She shuffled around the tiny room moving a few old boxes here and there, when suddenly she claimed, “ah, yes” and from a dusty box, she pulled out and even dustier bottle; a 1970 Grand Cru St. Émilion, from Château Vieux Rivallon. I thought, what the heck, for nostalgia sake, let’s take a bottle home and we’ll have fun re-living our holiday. We sat on that bottle for another year. Until one night, while making wild mushroom risotto, Kenny said, “Let’s open the 1970”. Would you believe that we nearly cried after drinking that wine? Here we thought we had been lured into an impulse buy (which we had), but who would have thought that that 1970 after 35 years and carting it around, plus flying it back to the states, would be one of the most beautiful, complex and stunning wines we had ever had? We were bummed we didn’t by two. So, if you do make it to St. Émilion, and stumble into a small dusty wine shop, my advice is take two of whatever she brings out for you. Cheers!