If CALIBRE could only select one fine wine region to champion this Christmas, it would be St-Emilion. Particularly in recent vintages, its wines have been so gloriously hedonistic, so delightfully fragrant and complex, that they put the rest of the fine wine world to shame.
All top-end Bordeaux is wonderful, but many superlative wines cannot be approached for several years, due to the tannic structure. St-Emilion, however, tends to be pleasant to drink from a younger age, but the wines can easily be cellared for decades – just ask James Bond, who drank a bottle of 1982 Angelus in Casino Royale. A legendary vintage from a legendary estate.
If you’ll allow a brief biography; the town of St-Emilion is situated in the corner of an escarpment above the Dordogne, in south-west France. Vineyards spread out in all directions from the little but much-visited gem of the Bordeaux region – merlot and cabernet franc make up the mainstay of local blended wines, aided by smaller amounts of cabernet sauvignon. The essence of St-Emilion is a fruit-forward, velvety structure and a smooth palate – perfect to enjoy at Christmas.
As elsewhere, not every chateau is up to snuff and the region does have its share of poor wines. However, you can expect nothing but the best from our selection below…
Chateau Croix de la Labrie 2017
This is a magnificent estate, charging very, very fair prices for its red wines. The 2017 vintage is our favourite – a rich mouthful of black fruit, damson and spice that proves how delectable St-Emilion can be. It may not have the status or renown of Lafite, but it is every bit the equal in quality.
What: Chateau Croix de la Labrie 2017
Where: Crump Richmond Shaw
How much: £65
Chateau Trianon 2011
The secret to this wine’s beguiling aroma is the terroir, the local conditions that influence how the vine grows. Planted on sandy soils over clay, Trianon is unusual as it incorporates the carmenere grape into its wines – the variety is a mainstay of Chilean wine, but it is seldom seen today in St-Emilion.
However, it is only to the benefit of Trianon’s wonderful red wines. Blackberry and blackcurrant dance out of the glass, supported by a swathe and velvety texture. Sublime.
What: Chateau Trianon 2011
Where: Chester Beer & Wine
How much: £40
Couvent de Jacobins 2016
This is a truly historic and remarkable estate, owned by the same family for generations. The 2016 vintage was a landmark of Jacobins, offering opulent flavours of damson and plum, great concentration and fine length. An exceptional St-Emilion at a fair price that would sit well with any Christmas dinner.
What: Couvent de Jacobins 2016
How much: £35
Chateau Monlot 2015
When Zhao Wei purchased this small property in 2011, it was the movie star that was the talk of the town. Yet in recent years it’s the wine’s superb quality, and not the novelty value of having a superstar owner, which has become the key talking point.
The 2015 vintage could be the best yet – full-bodied and complex, the wine boasts the most attractive creamy texture and enticing black fruit profile.
What: Chateau Monlot 2015
Where: La Vinotheque de Bordeaux
How much: £100
Chateau Lassegue 2012
Chateau Lassegue is, without question, one of St-Emilion’s best value wines. Purchased in 2003 by the Jackson Family – a wealthy Californian wine dynasty – Lassegue is run in partnership with senior winemaker Pierre Seillan.
Its wines are renowned for their generosity and length of flavour. The 2012 vintage is a case in point; lush, textured and utterly divine.
What: Chateau Lassegue 2012
Where: Corking Wines
How much: £55