The terroir of Saint Emilion

The terroir of the Saint Emilion AOC (see roundish purple region on the Right Bank in previous post) differs from that of the Médoc (of course). The climate has less of a maritime influence, and the limestone bedrock is close to the surface, with only thin, mostly clay-rich soils. We visited just one Chateau—Troplong Modot. Notice that the rocks in this vineyard are angular because they are pieces of the underlying bedrock, whereas the rocks in the Médoc are very rounded because they are pieces of rocks from the Pyrenees that were transported a great distance by rivers.


The clusters that remained on the vines at Chateau Troplong Modot were stunning bundles of fruit that appeared to burst with flavor. Also at this Chateau is a restaurant with one Michelin star—Les Belles Perdrix. The food was outstanding, and the  presentation exquisite. The chateau’s own wine provided a stellar pairing (like the Médoc this AOC is also primarily Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot but the Merlot grape tends to have the higher percentage). It’s hard to imagine what a three-star restaurant would be like!


The region surrounds the village of Saint Emilion, which is named after a monk who in the 8th century lived in a cave here and allegedly performed many miracles (for which  he achieved sainthood). The town is typical of a medieval village—buildings are made of stone and perched on a hill with crumbling remnants of an ancient wall. It does have one unusual element. The bell tower appears to come out of the ground, but it is actually sitting on top of a cathedral. It’s just that the cathedral was carved out of the limestone bedrock rather than being built above ground where everyone could see it. It’s possible to visit this underground church—called the “Monolithic church” because it was carved into “one rock”. It is reminiscent of the underground churches that are found in Cappadocia, Turkey.


The photo below was taken from the bell tower; it illustrates a distinctive aspect of the Saint Emilion terroir. In the Médoc, slopes are very gentle, whereas the region here is much more hilly, so grapes experience even more variation depending on whether they are on a slope facing north or south or east or west. But like the Médoc, the landscape here is also dominated by seemingly unending vineyards and chateaux.


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  1. S Fenson on October 18, 2016 at 3:56 pm

    That shot of Jay is the next cover of Wine Spectator!

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