It is small and hilly, and nearly every other shop along its steep, narrow streets sells wine. This is Saint-Émilion, the picturesque medieval town in the wine district of Saint-Émilion, 25 miles east of the city of Bordeaux and the oldest winemaking area in the Bordeaux region. While most people think of red Bordeaux as primarily made of Cabernet Sauvignon, Saint-Émilion is known for full, luscious reds based primarily on Merlot; Cabernet Sauvignon plays a minor role in its blends. It is soil that largely determines which grapes grow best, and in Saint-Émilion’s soils, that is Merlot.
Bordeaux recently had two particularly great vintages — 2009 and 2010 — many of which I tasted during a recent visit to Saint-Émilion and at tastings in New York. In Saint-Émilion, I visited Château D’Arcole, the first winery in Bordeaux to be organic and one of the earliest to be certified biodynamic. With a blend of 70 percent Merlot and 30 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, its 2009 shows a lovely balance of fruit flavors in its aroma and taste and a developing satiny texture. Its 2010 is also a rich wine, beautifully balanced, robust in structure, with vanilla notes from its time in oak and silky tannins. ($35–40)
Château Faugères 2009 is deep-colored with an intense and pleasurable aroma and rich, full-flavored, well-integrated taste. The 2010 is ink-deep in color, round with hints of anise and black cherry. The château plants 85 percent of its vineyards in Merlot. ($50–55)
Both Château Dassault 2009 and 2010 are exceptional: rich color; full, fragrant nose; ripe and juicy with a long, satisfying aftertaste. Its 2009 is based on 75 percent Merlot, its 2010 on 83 percent Merlot. Cabernet Franc plus 5 percent Cabernet Sauvignon round out their blends. ($40–45)
Château Fombrauge plants its vineyards in 80 percent Merlot with 12 percent Cabernet Franc and 8 percent Cabernet Sauvignon. I enjoyed its 2009, a lovely, fruit-rich, delicious wine with a whiff of fresh earth in the nose. Its 2010 is a bright, fresh, open wine with rich fruit flavors and a medium-long aftertaste. ($50)
Saint-Émilion is surely a Merlot lover’s paradise.
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