St. Émilion – Bordeaux, France


The medieval village of St. Émilion
The medieval village of St. Émilion

 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.


Hillside vineyards and wall of St. Émilion
Hillside vineyards and wall of St. Émilion

 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.

The vineyards of Château Angelus
The vineyards of Château Angelus

    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!

Château Vieux Rivallon 1970 St. Émilion paired with wild mushroom risotto
Château Vieux Rivallon 1970 St. Émilion paired with wild mushroom risotto


O’Shea Scarborough Winery (Seattle)

A cool label goes a long way in my book and these guys have some of the best labels in town. They range from edgy to mystical to beautiful with sort of a historic depth. (They also use the big, sturdy bottles that make the wine feel important in your hands. Nothing says big, worthy (gift) wine like this type of bottle.) But the label isn’t what’s important … it’s the wine, and these guys are producing some notably outstanding local wines.

O’Shea Scarborough Winery is a partnership between Travis Scarborough and Darryn O’Shea. Travis and Darryn both called on us at Portalis in their former lives as wine reps for local Seattle distributors. I remember when Travis stopped by with one of his first vintages – no label, no approvals, just a bottle of Washington Syrah for Jens and Gina to try. Jens said it was good, but I’m not sure at the time that I realized they were going to make a go of it.

Their winery started in a garage (for real), and for more on their garagiste roots, check out this interview from 2006. They have upped the ante since then, moving to a grown-up facility in Tukwila. As well, they are past just having a bottle of red, producing an impressive array of varietals, including reds, whites and a dessert wine.  I can tell Jens likes these wines and so I asked what makes them different.  He said that for their first vintage, they are “pretty darn impressive wines”.  He said that most of the time when he tastes first vintage Washington wines they are fine, but they all sort of taste the same.  These, though, “have good acidity, balance and are pretty complex, with well-integrated oak.  It’s a promising beginning.”  Here’s Jens’ take on their lineup:

O’Shea Scarborough 2007 Semillon
Red Mountain, WA; $22
We currently serve this wine by the glass at the wine bar & people love it.  Wonderful pear and melon flavors with some citrus. Great acidity. A good sipper.

O’Shea Scarborough 2007 Proprietors Chardonnay
Horse Heaven Hills, WA; $34
Vibrant citrus fruit combined with toast and vanilla flavors. Excellent Chardonnay.

O’Shea 2007 Riesling “Cease & Desist”
Dineen Vineyard, Yakima Valley, WA
Bright & dry, German-style, good sipping acidity, good minerality.  Good future.  Store up to 2 years.

O’Shea Scarborough 2005 “The Immortal” Syrah
Columbia Valley, WA; Reg $38/Sale $34.50
Dark fruit, with espresso and coffee notes. Medium- to full-bodied, well-balanced and elegant.

O’Shea Scarborough 2006 Proprietors Cabernet Sauvignon
Yakima Valley, WA; $40
Black currant, cassis, dark fruit. Complex, elegant, with fine tannins on the finish.

O’Shea Scarborough 2007 Eiswein
Yakima Valley, WA; $34
One of the best WA “Eisweine” we have tasted. If you are interested in tasting this sweet dessert wine, grab it as we only have 1 bottle left.

Try these out if you get a chance.  They are excellent examples of what can come out of Washington State.

Contributor:  Julie Howe