Appears in
Oxford Companion to Wine

By Jancis Robinson

Published 2006

  • About

St-Émilion, important, fast-changing red wine district in Bordeaux producing more wine than any other right bank appellation, and home of most of the extravagantly priced garage wines. It takes its name from the prettiest town in the Bordeaux region by far, and one of the few to attract tourists to whom wine is of no interest.

The town’s historical importance is undisputed, and obvious to the most casual of visitors. In the 8th century it was a collection of caves hollowed out of the cliff on which a fortified medieval town was to be built. In the Middle Ages its port, Pierrefitte, played an important part in shipping wine down the dordogne river, until it was overtaken by libourne a few miles downstream. It was on the pilgrim route to Santiago de Compostela, and even today its confrérie the Jurade de St-Émilion prides itself on maintaining the district’s reputation for hospitality. As outlined in bordeaux, history, St-Émilion was a wine region long before the Médoc on the left bank of the Gironde, even though for most of the 19th century it was less important commercially. In the early 20th century, the wines of St-Émilion were left to the merchants of Libourne to sell in northern France and northern Europe, while the bordeaux trade concentrated on selling left bank wines. The reputation of St-Émilion grew steadily throughout the second half of the 20th century, accelerating towards the end of the century, not least because of international interest in some of the garagistes. As a result, rivalry between the left and right banks intensified, with St-Émilion and the scores of wine shops lining its narrow cobbled streets being the focus of right-bank wine activity.