by Ian Blackshaw
The town of St Emilion
As many readers of my wine articles will know, my favourite French wine region is the Bordelais and, in particular, my favourite red wine is St Emilion; and this week I realised a long-held ambition to visit the town and its famous vineyards.
I was not disappointed in the wine I tasted, but I was a little disappointed in the town itself, which, together with its tower and Romanesque church, with its fine cloisters, stands on a walled promontory keeping vigil over the vineyards below. Although the town is a very charming and historical place, whose history goes back to pre-historic times, and, in fact, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it is very touristic and full of cafes, bars and restaurants, as well as shops and tasting places, all selling St Emilion wine to the tourists. One is really spoilt for choice of the St Emilion wines on offer, and, as one might expect, the choice varies in quality from fine vintages to what I might call ‘generic’ St Emilion, which is still enjoyable.
Of course, the St Emilion wine houses and chateaux that surround the town, which have been in the same families for many generations, offer superb examples of St Emilion wine and this is, naturally, reflected in their prices.
Chateau Richelieu at Fronsac
We did not stay in St Emilion, but stayed nearby in Fronsac, another very good wine area, in the Chateau Richelieu, which offers bed and breakfast in five well-appointed and charming bedrooms, all with en suite facilities, overlooking the Chateau’s gardens and own vineyards. The Chateau, which also offers private four-course dinners with wine in a rather splendid period dining room, at one time, was owned by the famous French Cardinal Richelieu, who was Louis XIII’s Chief Minster (Prime Minster of France) and whose name the Chateau bears to this day. He bought the Chateau in 1632 and died ten years later. A wine lover himself, he is reputed to have said: “If God forbade drinking, why would he have made wine so good?” A good excuse for a tipple or two, even for a cleric!
The Chateau was recently owned by a Dutchman, who sold to the Chinese and they have exclusivity on the annual production of the vineyard, which is some 70,000 bottles. However, guests at the Chateau are permitted to buy the wine, which, of course, we did. They have just released the 2006 vintage and it is very good indeed – a full bodied wine rich in tannins, which gives the wine its dry characteristic taste. Several other Bordeaux wine properties have also been bought by the Chinese, who certainly have a taste for fine French Bordelais wines.
The Chateau offers internet access gratuit to its guests and has its own website at www.chateau-richelieu.com.