Wine in the French countryside
Visiting Saint-Emilion, France
Thank goodness for those Romans. Who knows where I would have ended up drinking wine if it hadn’t been for them! Thankfully, because of their foresight, it was in the beautiful French country town of Saint-Emilion that I found myself.
It was in the second century – almost two thousand years ago – that the Romans first planted vineyards here at Saint-Emilion. From that time the region has flourished and it is now one of the best known (and rightfully so!) wine-producing areas of the world.
The three main grape varieties of the Saint-Emilion region are Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon. If that doesn’t mean much to you, don’t worry. All you need to know is that from these grapes are born some delicious red wines! And if you stay here, you can get a chance to travel around to some of the wineries and taste the best on offer.
From the information office in the centre of the historic Saint-Emilion town, you can get maps of the local wineries. These maps will tell you when the wineries are open, if they charge for a tasting, if you need to book a tasting, and the style of the vineyard.
Many of them are close enough to walk to (although it’s an exercise-inducing walk, not a quick and easy stroll)… but a bicycle or a car would probably be best for exploring further afield. I had arrived in town on the train from Bordeaux but I get the feeling most of the tourists here are driving their way through France.
Saint-Emilion wine classifications
They take their wine seriously here in France – but no place moreso that Saint-Emilion. Since 1955 there has been a special classification used to rank the wineries here. Every decade it’s updated and a new one has just been released. There are now four winemakers who have achieved the top classification – ‘Premier Grand Cru Classé A’.
It’s an important and prestigious business, wine-making, and the people here won’t suffer fools gladly. That doesn’t mean they don’t appreciate tourists and aren’t happy to explain things to novices like me. But they don’t seem to be impressed with the merrymakers who weren’t serious about learning and (importantly) buying.
The good news is that the wine varieties are so affordable and of such a good quality, you will want to collect some bottles at every place you visit. Trust me on this one – the hardest thing will be limiting your purchases if you’ve only got a small amount of space to take them with you. How I wish I had a car… and a few weeks ahead of me in it. I would load up the boot with a few cases of this wine and merrily enjoy it for many an evening.
Next time, that’s the way I’ll be doing this place!