Featured AOC – Saint Emilion
Saint Emilion takes its name from the Breton monk Emilian, a travelling confessor, who settled in a hermitage carved into the rock there in the 8th century – which you can still visit. The monks who followed him started up the commercial wine production in the area but Saint Emilion's wine history stretches back much further to Roman times. The first author to mention that wine was grown in his native Bordeaux was the 4th century Roman poet Decimus Magnus Ausonius and it is believed that Château Ausone in Saint Emilion stands upon the foundations of his villa Lucaniac. Saint Emilion itself is a beautiful Roman village, sitting on a hillside overlooking field after field of vines over looking the Dordogne Valley.
The town of Saint Emilion is perched high up on a limestone rock, in the shape of an amphitheatre and is riddled with 173 acres of catacombs that run underground. Above ground you will find tightly fitted houses of a warm ochre colour, all nestled one against the other, separated here and there by small steep and winding streets. Some of these streets are still covered in the original granite cobblestones that had once served as ballast for the otherwise empty ships returning from Cornwall. These ships would export the local wine held in such high esteem by the Crown of England.
Saint Emilion is the oldest wine area of the Bordeaux region and is a UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) World Heritage site. Deep down below the surface of the medieval town lie the ancient wine cellars and labyrinth like catacombs which link up the old buildings in a subterranean world. They are carved out of the soft, pale ochre limestone that was used to build the town. Above the vaulted ceilings of the caves that reach out into the countryside the vines dig their roots through the surface clay until they tap into the minerals released by the limestone beneath.
Closest to the town of Saint Emilion is an area of deep limestone surrounded by chalky soils mixed with clay and silt on fairly steep slopes. This area is the stereotypical Saint Emilion area and has 11 of the 13 highest rated Châteaux: Ausone, Angelus, Beausejour Becot, Beausejour Duffau Lagarrosse, Belair, Canon, Clos Fourtet, Canon La Gaffeliere, Magdelaine, Pavie and Trottevielle.
Along the flat, ancient flood plains of the Dordogne River lies lands of alluvial sand and clay that has been deposited by water. There is also a sandy plateau to the west of the town of Saint Emilion and the soil here is mostly aeolian sand (very fine sand brought by wind). To the west of Saint Emilion, bordering Pomerol, lies soil made up from gravels and this is home to the remaining 2 out of the top 13 Chateaux: Cheval Blanc and Figeac.
There is one patch of unique soil in Saint Emilion that is the only complex mixture known to exist in the Appellation, It is a combination of sand, clay and chalk over an iron oxide sub soil (crasse de fer) which is 15.7 inches (40 cm) below the surface. This subsoil rests on top of limestone bedrock. The wine grown from the 100 year old vines there is Chateau La Fleur Morange.
Due to the diversity of the soils there are many different styles of wines but in general Saint Émilion wines are considered to be the most robust in Bordeaux. They reach maturity more quickly than other red Bordeaux wines and age beautifully. Their flavours are of blackcurrant and blackberry, preserved fruit, toasted bread and truffles. They are rich, warm wines and the high concentration of Merlot makes them velvety and round. They can also be complex, elegant and earthy.
Saint Emilion is not only famous for its wines but also for its Macaroons. Almond Macaroons were first made in 1620 by Les Ursulines, a small community of nuns who resided in the village. The recipe, believed to include the mix of sweet and bitter almonds, was a secret closely guarded by the Ursulines and passed down through generations of the order until, in 1930, it passed into the hands of Madame Grandet. With the help of her family she opened the Blanchez Bakery at 9 rue Guadet. Three generations later and the Bakery is still there and is a thriving business, where the recipe remains unchanged and the preparation and baking is still done by hand. Even the almonds are selected, roasted and powdered on site. Whilst other bakeries exist in St Emilion none have the right to bear the name St Emilion Macaroon.
Townsfolk insist that the Macaroon is a perfect accompaniment to the wines of Saint Emilion and for the Paris Worldfair in 1867, the chateaux owners of the First Growths set up a collective exhibition and added numerous boxes of Macaroons to their wine shipments. Those Macaroons were offered to the Members of the Tasting Jury as well as to the many visitors of the Fair, together with a glass of Saint Emilion!
- 3 egg whites (room temperature)
- pinch salt
- ¼ tsp cream of tartar
- ¾ cup sugar
- 6 oz blanched almonds, toasted and ground to a fine powder
- 2 tbsp flour
Preheat the oven to 325ºF and line 2 baking sheets with foil. Beat together the egg whites, salt and cream of tartar in a mixing bowl. Add the sugar a spoon at a time and continue beating until the egg whites are glossy and form stiff peaks. Gently fold in the flour and ground almonds. Drop tablespoons of the mixture about an inch apart on the prepared baking sheets.
Bake for about 20 mins until the macaroons are a golden brown. Slide the foil from the baking sheet and cool on a rack for 5 mins. Gently peel the macaroons from the foil and return to cool.