Right Bank of Bordeaux - Wine Tour
The Right bank of the Gironde, in France, is home to Saint Emilion. A splendid city that shines not only for its monochromatic limestone architecture, but for its surrounding vineyards.
Saint Emilion as a wine region is a source of premium wine and without a doubt, is amongst the finest in the world. The zone appears to be destined to forever take the back seat while it’s more famous neighbours: Pomerol to the north, and the overconfident communes of the left bank take center stage.
On this tour, though, I’ll show you three wineries that are not as famous, but still show off great winemaking.
La Terrasse Rouge for lunch
The beautiful village of St. Emilion
BTW, my home base was the Chateau Grand Barrail (SLH) of which a review will follow.
Saint Emilion is home to over 800 growers and producers, yet just a few of them are crowned by their Classification System as the best of the best.
Cheval Blanc, Ausone and Angelus are a few of the top wineries in the region. But you don’t have to wander far in this vibrant leafy landscape before you find yourself at the gates of a quality-minded Château tended by caring, spirited people.
I booked a private one day tour, which is recommended in Bordeaux - otherwise it’s not easy to get a tasting and cellar tour at the various chateaux.
I showed up at Château Coutet, a five-minute drive west from Saint Emilion village. The Château owns 13 hectares of vineyards, densely planted in the poor, calcareous clays with Merlot (60%) and Cab Franc (30%). The 400-year-old estate is family owned and has been making wine for 14 generations.
Their pledge to sustainable farming is admirable, everything is done manually, and no pesticides, fertilizers or weed killers have ever been used.
If you’re lucky, you’ll get to see their plowing horses canter through the rows of vines. In spring, tulips and narcissus decorate the vineyards as part of an ideology of diversity pioneered by Coutet.
As customary in Bordeaux, the estate produces just one wine: Château Coutet, and although it's classified under the less prestigious Saint Emilion Grand Cru category, it's extraordinary.
The wine is always balanced and generous. However, in exceptional vintages, it can over deliver. Their 2005 was a charm, ruby red with deep crimson tints, the wine opens with red fruit aromas of wild berries and red cherries. Hints of spices and peppercorn adorn the nose while the palate is more black fruit driven and sharp. The mouthfeel is rich and elegant. Tannins are present but refined. This wine has developed well and will endure.
More recent vintages are just as balanced and pleasant although the concentration is not as good as the '05. This wine is a no-brainer, everyday wine to stock and keep close to your chest. Enjoy with friends and family over a nice steak dinner. Well made, by a devoted family, and on sale for a fraction of the price of more prestigious neighbours.
Three miles southeast of the village, you’ll find Château Pressac. This winery is at another level, literally; classified as a Grand Cru Classé estate. The building is at a hilltop, 80 meters over the flatland, and has a fantastic view of the Dordogne Valley.
Today this Château is modern and has been fully refurbished, but its history dates back to the Middle Ages. The property has seen entire chapters of mankind go by, and it has played a big part in them. Generals signed the treaty that ended the 100 years’ war in the premises in 1453. It’s also believed to be one of the first places to grow Malbec in the area.
You can't miss a visit to Château Pressac, it's truly an adventure. The ancient architecture is unparalleled. Every visit starts with a tour of the premises; a history lesson you won’t forget. Then you get to see the winery, and the fun begins.
The tasting started with a light rosé from 2017 together with cheese and sausage.
I then enjoyed three vintages of the Château Pressac; all equally satisfying, yet unique.
2007 was a tough year for the vines in Saint Emilion, and producers struggled to ripen the grapes as much as they wished. Pressac was no different. The resulting style was a lighter version of their flagship wine, acidic and aromatic, with a medium body and a modest intensity. The fruit is there, and the oak accents give it finesse. The gray summer also affected the wines age worthiness. This is still a lovely wine, ready to drink, and you’ll love it if you prefer soft, subtle Bordeaux.
Château Pressac 2014 is a whole other creature. Very expressive filled with black and blueberry aromas. Pressac is 70% Merlot, vinified in concrete vats and aged in 60% new oak for 12 months. This is serious business. The wine is deep and expressive. Lovely toasty aromas and an almost rustic feel make it a vigorous wine balanced with racy acidity.
Last but not least, 2011, another great vintage for the right bank, stole the show. The wine is as generous as the '14, but it's more elegant. Velvety tannins and vibrant acidity accompany the overall fruitiness of the wine. The structure in this wine is overwhelming, this one will age well. If you want to know how a quality Saint Emilion tastes like, this one is close to the mark. We all agreed on this one, good enough to buy a case for future enjoyment.
Château Beau-Sejour Becot
One more estate worthy to mention is Château Beau-Sejour Becot. Neighbor to the Coutet estate, this Château is classified as Grand Cru Classé B, as high as you can get before being part of the prestigious Classé A club.
Apart from their classified estate wine, the Château makes small volumes of a single vineyard wine called Château La Gomerie. Part of the garagiste movement, this wine is concentrated and overly infused with oak. A modern style that defies tradition. 100% Merlot, this wine sheds plum and blackberry aromas. Vanilla and spices burst from the glass. Critics love this wine, and I like it too.
They make Château Beau-Sejour Becot, their signature wine, from the 20 hectares in the limestone plateau dedicated to Merlot (73%). The estate is gorgeous, and its underground tunnels filled with resting bottles is an exhilarating discovery. I tried the 2014, and I can say you sense the lineage. Age-worthy, it has coating, round tannins that frame ripe fruit aromas of licorice and spice. Balanced fruit and oak, this Saint Emilion is a tremendous value.
I was also allowed to enter the underground tunnels of cellars full of 50,000 bottles maturing old vintages.
You don’t have to visit the top wine estates in Saint Emilion to get a unique viewpoint of its capacity, personality and hospitality. The people welcome you with open arms. Every Château, big or small, is worthy of a visit. I can tell you I’m impatient to go back, to visit old friends and make new ones. Wine is the perfect excuse.
A tip for Lunch
Terrasse Rouge Brasserie Restaurant (approx. 25€pp) overlooking the most famous St Emilion, Cheval Blanc and the neighbouring appellation of Pomerol.
Take time to visit the cobbled streets of the atmospheric medieval village of St Emilion founded in the 8th century by the hermit monk Emilian. Stand on the top of the underground monolithic church dug out from a single limestone rock by the monks over 300 years.
Stay tuned for more wine tour reports and corresponding hotel reviews!