A lovely lie-in this morning ahead of our day in St Emilion. We watched the sun rise over the autumnal trees as we cruised up the Dordogne to Libourne. The Dordogne is both a river and a region. Libourne itself is an historic bastide town, founded in 1270 by Roger de Leyborne (from Kent, UK).
From here, our local guide, Agnes took us by coach almost immediately into the vineyards of Pomerol, of which Petrus is the outstanding example of a red wine made entirely from the Merlot grape. All the St Emilion region wines are red, from 860 estates, 64 of which are Grand Cru classified, all of which are cured in oak barrels before bottling.
Petrus was the mayor of Bordeaux in the early 1200s who refused to hand the city’s key to the King of Castile. As the city’s first ever mayor, he more than earned his title in protecting the city and arguably the heritage of the wine and vineyards we experienced today. Petrus is possibly the most highly regarded Claret – a grandeur well earned by its grape and production, and well served by its name.
St Emilion wine tasting
Then we reached our St Emilion wine tasting experience at Chateau Haut-Veyrac where the delightful hostess, Camille, explained everything about their one wine of the same name, a St Emilion Grand Cru. The vineyard is owned by the Claverie family. Their whole production is managed by six people: this includes picking, either by machine or by hand, transferring the harvest to the vats (steel and concrete), transferring to barrels and bottling; whilst the wine is maturing, the vines are pruned (pared back to two shoots) and old plants replaced. Then in spring new shoots from the root ball are removed, and other shoots trimmed out to ensure aeration (to prevent mildew and other diseases). In June any leaves are removed that may be sheltering the grapes from the sun. All this for 28,000 individual plants by 6 people = constant hard work!
We tasted two vintages – 2011 and 2014 – which can be kept for drinking for another 10 years and 5 years respectively. First we check for the colour of the wine in the glass – purple, ruby and red are OK. Orange is not – ask for another bottle! Then put your nose right into the glass (you will know straight-away if the wine is bad) to savour the particular notes of blackcurrant or red berries. Swirl the wine in your glass to aerate it and then take a mouthful and swill it around you whole mouth before swallowing (or spitting if you are going on to taste more wines). Then take another taste for the full flavour of the wine to become apparent. We preferred the 2014 – it was lighter in colour and more red berry in flavour – but both were delicious.
The Bordelaise (75cl) bottle of 2011 costs 19.50 EUR and the 2014 19.00 EUR. Once you appreciate the work that’s gone into making it, the price is very reasonable indeed.
Visit St Emilion
Back on board the coach with Agnes we headed for St Emilion town itself, a gorgeous town, naturally full of wine outlets but also with much history outside of the wine industry. For example, close by is the village of Pressac, where in 1453, following the Battle of Castillon, which ended the Hundred Years War, the official treaties were signed at Chateau de Pressac, which only became a wine producer in the 1700s. Much of the land was de-forested in this region to plant vines and most of the limestones used for building was quarried in St Emilion itself.
One of the hidden wonders in the town is the monolithic Catholic church, hewn out of the rock-face next to the market square. With a religious history from pagan times, including defense during times of war, it offers a fascinating half-hour tour. Agnes also had plenty of special insights to add as an actual inhabitant of the town. She showed us the local macaron delicacy (not the coloured sandwich variety found in patisserie all over France) as well as giving us directions to other sites during our free time to explore before heading back to Liborne and Cyrano.
What a wonderful and enlightening day. Discover Bordeaux for yourself.
Read more about our cruise aboard MS Cyrano de Bergerac: