The Saint-Émilion appellation of Bordeaux has an incredibly long history of winemaking and a sterling reputation among serious wine collectors. This region of the Right Bank is known for producing rich, lush Merlot and floral, tannic Cabernet Franc with spectacular aging potential. The complexity of the wines and their high secondary market value is on par with the Right Bank’s other famous appellation, Pomerol, and many wine enthusiasts consider these two regions to produce some of the very best Bordeaux. In other words, if you want to build a truly impressive Bordeaux collection, seeking out the best wine from Saint-Émilion is a good start.
In this detailed guide, we’ll explore the areas of Saint-Émilion that produce the very finest wines in this appellation. We’ll also provide a list of the most reputable Saint-Émilion producers and a vintage chart with the most promising years to invest in. After reading this guide, you will become more familiar with one of Bordeaux’s most legendary appellations and have the expert insight you need to start a valuable collection of your own.
Where to Find the Best Wine from Saint-Émilion
Saint-Émilion is among the largest appellations in Bordeaux, and this can make it difficult to identify which terroirs or vineyards produce the best wine. This appellation includes many microclimates and a great deal of variation in the soil composition from one chateau’s vineyards to the next. If you’re looking for the most complex wines to drink or lay down (and potentially even resell later), then there are a handful of areas and producers you should focus on.
Nearly all the chateaux in Saint-Émilion are classified by an official rank, which is typically listed on the wine’s label:
- St-Émilion Premier Grand Cru Classé: The highest classification; these are generally the best wines from Saint-Émilion for serious collectors.
- St-Émilion Grand Cru Classé: Just below Premier in terms of quality classification, but still spectacular wines for collectors.
- St-Émilion Grand Cru: Not as prestigious as the higher two classifications, but above the rank of unclassified wines.
- St-Émilion: These are any wines that don’t meet any of the criteria required in the other classifications or whose producers chose not to be classified under the current system. These wines are not necessarily of poor quality, but many with this classification are easy-drinking table wines.
The Saint-Émilion Wine Council (Conseil des Vins de Saint-Émilion) decides what classification each chateau receives, and the organization usually revises the list once every ten years. However, while the classification system is an easy way to spot the best wine from Saint-Émilion at a glance when you’re looking at labels in a wine shop, it’s not 100-percent reliable. For one thing, since chateaux only move up or down in rank every decade, a chateau may be currently producing very high-quality wines, yet has a lower rank because its ranking has not been reassessed yet. Second, just because a particular chateau is ranked below another doesn’t mean that all of the wines coming out of that chateau will be lower in quality. The vintage and producer’s winemaking techniques can still have a significant impact on the wine’s quality, regardless of classification.
Another way to find the best wines from Saint-Émilion is to look at the characteristics of the major terroirs in the region. There are three distinct areas of Saint-Émilion that produce very different styles of wine:
- The plateau: This high-elevation, limestone-rich subregion generally produces the best wine from Saint-Émilion. One area of this plateau, called the “Cotes,” is home to most of the highest-regarded producers in the entire region. Wines from this area are rich and spicy with a very distinctive minerality. Limestone in the soil soaks up excess water in rainy months and retains this water in dry months, giving the vine roots access to the ideal amount of moisture year-round. The fruit grows slowly and evenly as a result. Limestone is also rich in calcium, which winemakers believe this gives the wine greater minerality.
- The slopes: This is a hilly region containing sandy soil studded with gravel. It is close to Pomerol on the western side of Saint-Émilion. The “graves” area, named for its gravel hills, is located here (not to be confused with the Graves subregion on the Left Bank of Bordeaux). These wines tend to be lighter and more delicate than those from the Cotes. That’s because the sandy soil is fast-draining and holds onto heat. Vines that have warm roots and little access to water tend to produce light-colored, aromatic fruit.
- The flats: This region is located at the bottom of the slopes. The soil here is rich in clay, which retains water well and produces large, somewhat diluted fruit. As a result, the wines from this area are generally less complex than those from the other two terroirs.
Regardless of where the fruit is grown, most Saint-Émilion producers cultivate Merlot and Cabernet Franc along with some other varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, and Malbec. The best Merlot is made in the Cotes, as the wine is incredibly rich, concentrated, and full of black fruit and chocolate flavors. The best Cabernet Franc is made in the graves area, which brings out this variety’s aromatic and floral characteristics. Most winemakers in Saint-Émilion blend these two varieties, but the amount of Merlot or Cabernet Franc in the blend depends on the vintage, where the wine is made, and whether the producer wants to make a richer or more aromatic wine.
While terroir can tell you a great deal about the quality, collectibility, and characteristics of the best wine from Saint-Émilion, to find wines worth buying, you should also consider the producer’s reputation.
Which Saint-Émilion Producers Make the Most Collectible Wines?
Knowing where in the appellation the best wine from Saint-Émilion is made is helpful, but it’s also important to know which Saint-Émilion producers typically make the highest quality wines. Here are some of the most notable producers from the limestone plateau and the slopes of the Saint-Émilion appellation:
|Producers on the plateau/Cotes||Producers in the graves area|
|Château Angélus||Château Cheval Blanc|
|Château Ausone||Château La Dominique|
|Château Beau-Séjour Bécot||Château Figeac|
|Château Trotte Vieille|
Another top-quality producer worth taking note of is Château Valandraud, which is located in neither the Cotes nor the graves areas. This producer is situated in the commune of Saint-Étienne-de-Lisse in Saint-Émilion, which is rich in clay. The dense clay here, however, is balanced by fast-draining limestone and produces rich, lush Merlot (which is why this producer typically makes wines with a higher percentage of Merlot than Cabernet Franc). Château Canon-la-Gaffelière is another producer located just outside of the plateau at the foot of the slope. The soil here has a balance of limestone and clay, so this producer grows both Merlot and Cabernet Franc in equal quantities. Notable Premier Grand Cru Classé producer Château La Gaffelière is in a similar location on the slope.
The list above isn’t comprehensive, as there are many other producers in Saint-Émilion that make wines worth drinking. However, the producers above are generally considered to be the most valuable and collectible. Not only do their wines age well and taste incredibly complex, but they also increase in value over time, making them ideal investments for collectors looking to resell their bottles later.
The Best Vintages of Saint-Émilion
To start a collection of the best wine from Saint-Émilion or to add to an existing Bordeaux collection, it’s helpful to know which vintages are rated most highly by professional wine critics. Here are some vintages worth exploring from this region.
|Year||Recommended Wines to Try|
|2018||2018 Château Ausone|
|2016||2016 Château Angélus|
|2015||2015 Château Pavie|
|2014||2014 Château Cheval Blanc|
|2012||2012 Château Pavie 2012 Classe A Special Release|
|2010||2010 Château Cheval Blanc|
|2009||2009 Château Pavie|
|2008||2008 Château Cheval Blanc|
|2006||2006 Château Cheval Blanc|
|2005||2005 Château Cheval Blanc|
|2003||2003 Château Pavie|
|2000||2000 Château Ausone|
High-Quality Historical Vintages
Some noteworthy vintages that were released prior to 2000 include:
The best wine from Saint-Émilion can age for 20 to 50 years or more, so if you decide to invest in more recent vintages, it’s important to keep this in mind. Below, you’ll find a few other tips on how to age and enjoy Saint-Émilion wines from your collection.
Tips on Collecting, Aging, and Reselling Saint-Émilion Wines
Compared to wines from other top Bordeaux regions like the Médoc, Saint-Émilion wines are often more approachable in their youth. That’s because these wines typically include a large percentage of Merlot in the blend, which is a richer, less tannic variety than Cabernet Sauvignon. Many of the best wines from Saint-Émilion can be enjoyed within an average of ten years after release as a result. You could drink them sooner, but you may miss out on some of the more complex flavors that develop with time. However, while the drinking window comes sooner for these wines than for other Bordeaux blends, Saint-Émilion wines still have superb aging potential. They generally reach their peak about 20 to 30 years after release, and the best vintages may continue to develop even 50 years after release. Some Saint-Émilion wines from the 1940s are still drinking beautifully today.
If you simply want to enjoy wines from Saint-Émilion yourself, you might choose to invest in Bordeaux wines of other classifications, not just Premier Grand Cru Classé.
If you plan on reselling your collection, it’s best to invest in wines from chateaux with Saint-Émilion Premier Grand Cru Classé status. These wines gain the most value on the secondary market over time. To resell your wine for the best possible price, it is also wise to keep your bottles in professional storage while you wait for them to reach peak maturity. Not only does this protect your bottles from damage, but it also helps prove provenance.
However, if you simply want to enjoy wines from Saint-Émilion yourself, you might choose to invest in Bordeaux wines of other classifications, not just Premier Grand Cru Classé. Many lower-ranked wines are very close in quality to the top-ranked wines and make excellent gifts. These wines also make good choices for serving at dinner parties, as they pair well with hearty dishes and cheese platters. With so many high-quality producers and terroirs to choose from, it’s impossible to pick just one best wine from Saint-Émilion. If you’re a fan of concentrated Merlot or delicate, aromatic Cabernet Franc, this is a region worth exploring in depth.
Whether you are starting your high-end wine collection or adding to an established portfolio, Vinfolio is your partner in buying, selling, and professional storage. Contact us today to get access to the world’s finest wine.