Tag Archives: Saint Emilion

Saint Emilion Chronicles #7, Part II: A Wine Tasting of Chateau Figeac 1988

Chateau Figeac 1988

Following our previous post about the history, estate, terroir and winemaking process at Chateau Figeac in Bordeaux’s Saint Emilion region, let’s now focus on my review of a bottle of their Grand Vin that I had an opportunity to taste: Chateau Figeac, Saint Emilion Grand Cru AOC, 1988 ($200).

The Bottom Line

Overall, the Chateau Figeac 1988 that I had was an outstanding, elegant wine: after 26 years of aging, it still performed flawlessly, offering a broad aromatic palette that unsurprisingly underscored tertiary aromas, but still presented fruity, secondary aromas to complement them. It still had enough acidity to keep it alive (although I would not wait much longer to drink it) and noticeable but gentle tannins, along with great smoothness – attaining a nice balance. It had pleasant and vivid mouth flavors of fruit and spices and a long finish. Outstanding!

Rating: Outstanding and Recommended Outstanding – $$$$$

(Explanation of our Rating and Pricing Systems)

About the Grapes, the Producer and the Estate

For plenty of information about Chateau Figeac, its history, estate, terroir and winemaking process, please refer to our previous post about it.

As to the grapes, Chateau Figeac’s quite unique Bordeaux blend is made up of 35% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Cabernet Franc and 30% Merlot. For detailed information about each of those grape varieties, check out our Grape Variety Archive or simply click on the hyperlinks of each of the three grape varieties above.

FRANCE, Saint Emilion
 – The stunning tasting room at Chateau Figeac (Premier Grand Cru Classé B)

Our Detailed Review

The wine that we are going to review today is Chateau Figeac, Saint Emilion Grand Cru AOC, 1988.

As mentioned in our previous post, Chateau Figeac is a Premier Grand Cru Classé “B” wine according to the 1955 classification of the wines of Saint Emilion (for more information about it, see our previous post providing a general overview of the Saint Emilion wine region and its wine classification system).

You can find very detailed information about how this wine is made in our previous post about Chateau Figeac.

The wine was 12.5% ABV and the proportions of the blend were 35% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Cabernet Franc and 30% Merlot (for more information about those grape varieties, check out our Grape Variety Archive). In the U.S. available 1988 bottles retail for about $200, while in France they retailed for about €160. I decanted it for an hour before enjoying it.

As always, for my review I will use a simplified version of the ISA wine tasting protocol that we described in a previous post: should you have doubts as to any of the terms used below please refer to that post for a refresher. For your own structured wine tastings, consider downloading our FsT Wine Tasting Chart!

In the glass, the wine was garnet red and moderately viscous.

On the nose, its bouquet was intense, complex and fine, presenting a kaleidoscope of aromas: cherry, raspberry, tobacco, underbrush, wet soil, dried leaves, potpourri, herbs (sage, rosemary), cocoa, vanilla and black pepper.

In the mouth, the wine was dry, had medium ABV, and was smooth; it was still moderately acidic, tannic and tasty. It was medium bodied and wonderfully balanced, with intense and fine mouth flavors of cherry, dark chocolate, tobacco and rhubarb. It had a long finish and its evolutionary state was mature, meaning to be enjoyed now as it will decline if left to age much longer.

Saint Emilion Chronicles #7, Part I: A Visit to Chateau Figeac

FRANCE, Saint Emilion
 – Chateau Figeac (Premier Grand Cru Classé B)

For those of you who remember our Saint Emilion series, this is its next installment: after our post on Chateau de Ferrand, today we will talk about another Chateau that we visited – Chateau Figeac.

On a previous post, I have provided a general overview of the Saint Emilion wine region and its wine classification system: if necessary, take a look at it for a refresher.

History

Chateau Figeac’s origins date back to the II century AD, when it comprised a Gallo-Roman villa and a large estate which were owned by the Figeacus family after whom it has been named.

By the XV century, Figeac became one of five noble houses in Saint Emilion and there is evidence that in the XVI century (when Chateau Figeac was rebuilt in a Renaissance architectural style) grapevines were grown and wine was made at the estate. Documents dating back to the XVIII century confirm that Figeac wines were already being shipped overseas.

However, it was not until the late XIX century/early XX century that Chateau Figeac primarily became a wine estate and marketed its wine under the “Chateau Figeac” label. The turning point was the acquisition of the estate in 1892 by the Manoncourt family, who hired a preeminent agricultural engineer by the name of Albert Macquin, who brought a scientific approach to the vineyard and winemaking process and equipped the cellars with oak vats.

In 1955, Chateau Figeac was ranked as a “Premier Grand Cru Classé B” in the 1955 Saint Emilion classification (for more information about the 1955 classification, see our previous post about Saint Emilion and its wine appellations). It was also around that time that, in Merlot-dominated Saint Emilion, Chateau Figeac settled for a wine with quite a unique Bordeaux blend of grapes (approximately, 30% Merlot, 35% Cabernet Franc and 35% Cabernet Sauvignon) which became known as “Figeac style”.

For more information about the grape varieties making up Figeac’s blend, please check out our Grape Variety Archive

FRANCE, Saint Emilion
 – The stunning tasting room at Chateau Figeac (Premier Grand Cru Classé B)

The Estate and Its Terroir

With almost 100 acres (40 hectares) where over 240,000 vines are grown, Chateau Figeac is the largest property in Saint-Emilion. It is located to the west of Saint-Emilion, bordering Pomerol.

Its soils are mostly composed of sand and gravel, with some relatively deep clay layer. Gravel in particular is the typical feature of Figeac’s topsoil, which favors the retention of heat creating a favorable environment for the ripening of the grapes.

As previously mentioned, three main grape varieties are grown in nearly equal proportions at Chateau Figeac’s estate which form the blend for its wine: Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Cabernet Sauvignon, which is something fairly unique in the Bordeaux area.

Lately, massal selection has been implemented at Chateau Figeac, resulting in the selection of the best of the estate’s oldest vines (some of which are almost 100 years old) for grafting newly planted vines so as to preserve the distinctive features of the Figeac vineyards.

FRANCE, Saint Emilion 
- The vineyards at Chateau Figeac (Premier Grand Cru Classé B)

Winemaking Process

The winemaking process at Chateau Figeac combines traditional methods with modern techniques: during the visit of the winery, I have had the pleasure to speak with an extremely competent employee of the Chateau with whom I had an opportunity to discuss many aspects of their production process.

This is a summary of the main steps in Chateau Figeac’s winemaking process:

FRANCE, Saint Emilion 
- The barrique cellar at Chateau Figeac

1. Harvesting. Given the three varieties that are grown at the estate and make up Chateau Figeac’s blend, unsurprisingly the harvesting of the grapes is staggered based on the desired ripening point of each variety.

2. Destemming and Sorting. The harvested grapes of each variety are separately destemmed and sorted using an optical scanner capable of sorting 5 tons of grapes per hour! For more information about destemmers and optical grape sorting machines, go back to our post about Chateau de Ferrand which has an image and a video about such prodigious piece of equipment.

3. Crushing and Treatments. The sorted grapes are then crushed and pumped into small-sized fermentation vats along with their juice, skins and seeds, and sulfur dioxide (AKA SO2) is applied to the must. This enological treatment is essentially an antiseptic, an antioxidant and it facilitates the dissolution of the pigments (AKA anthocyanins) from the skins of the berries. For more information about sulphur dioxide, refer to our previous post on sulfites and wine.

4. Cold Maceration. The must then undergoes a cold maceration phase (i.e., a short, low-temperature, pre-fermentation maceration) of about three days in order to maximize the extraction of the primary aromas that reside in the skins of the grapes and therefore enhance the wine’s bouquet.

FRANCE, Saint Emilion 
- Oak Fermenters at Chateau Figeac (Premier Grand Cru Classé B)

5. Fermentation and Maceration. Chateau Figeac utilizes both ten open-topped oak vats and twelve stainless steel vats to ferment its wine. Here the must ferments for about one week at controlled temperature using the grapes’ natural yeast (i.e., without adding selected yeasts) and macerates for about three weeks with regular pump-overs and rackings.

6. Malolactic Fermentation. The wine then undergoes full malolactic fermentation that is started by means of the addition of lactic acid bacteria to the wine.

7. Pressing. After the malolactic fermentation, the free run wine (the one that flows freely out of the fermentation vat) is transferred to the aging barrels, while the cap gets pressed and the resulting press wine is reblended with the free run wine.

FRANCE, Saint Emilion
 – Automated basket grape press at Chateau Figeac (Premier Grand Cru Classé B)

8. Aging. The Grand Vin then ages for 15 to 18 months in 100% new French oak, medium-charred barrique casks, while the Second Vin is aged 80% in second-fill French oak barriques and 20% in new French oak barriques.

9. Fining and Bottling. After appropriate aging, the wine is fined for clarity, stability and reduced astringency by using egg whites and finally bottled, capsuled and labeled.

FRANCE, Saint Emilion -
 Capsuling and labeling machine at Chateau Figeac (Premier Grand Cru Classé B)

Chateau Figeac has an average annual production of about 100,000 bottles of the Grand Vin (“Chateau Figeac“) and 40,000 bottles of the Second Vin (“Petit Figeac“).

This is it for today: I hope you enjoyed this virtual visit to Chateau Figeac. The next post will focus on a wine tasting of a bottle of Chateau Figeac’s Grand Vin, vintage… 1988! Stay tuned! 🙂

Saint Emilion Chronicles #6: Chateau de Ferrand, a Visit and a Wine Review

The wine tasting area of Chateau de Ferrand (Grand Cru Classé)

After a hiatus due to the winter holidays and the addition of cyclone Sofia 😉 to our family, it is time to resume our Saint Emilion series.

Today we will briefly talk about one of the Chateaux that we visited during our stay, namely Chateau de Ferrand, and I will review their Grand Vin, of which I brought a couple bottles home.

On a previous post, we have provided a general overview of the Saint Emilion wine region and its wine classification system: if necessary, take a look at it for a refresher.

Chateau de Ferrand (Grand Cru Classé)

About the Producer and the Estate

Chateau de Ferrand is located near the town of Saint Emilion, on the right bank of the Dordogne river, not far from Bordeaux. The Chateau was founded in 1702 and since then it was remarkably owned by only two families: that of Elie de Bétoulaud, the founder, and since the XX century that of Baron Marcel Bich, the man who became world-famous for the inexpensive, disposable ballpoint pens which still bear an abbreviated version of his name, “Bic“.

The wine case storage area at Chateau de Ferrand (Grand Cru Classé)

Incidentally, there are two interesting anecdotes regarding the Baron and the abbreviation of his name: (i) Baron Bich was actually Italian – he was born in 1914 in Turin and relocated to France when he was in his thirties and (ii) the decision to drop the “h” at the end of his name in the pen brand was reportedly due to commercial reasons, namely the concern of how the word “Bich” could sound when pronounced by English-speaking consumers… 😉

Nowadays, Chateau de Ferrand is managed by Pauline Bich Chandon-Moët, a descendant of Baron Marcel Bich who married Philippe Chandon-Moët, whom we have been fortunate enough to meet and chat a little bit with in the course of our visit.


The vineyards of Chateau de Ferrand (Grand Cru Classé)

The estate counts 32 HA of vineyards where Merlot is the dominating variety (75%), as is generally the case in Saint Emilion, followed by Cabernet Franc (15%) and Cabernet Sauvignon (10%). The estate lies on a limestone plateau with clay-rich soils where the vines are planted at altitudes ranging from 150 to 330 ft (46 to 100 mt) above sea level. The average density reaches an impressive 7,000 vines/HA and the Chateau’s annual production is about 180,000 bottles.

Ripening Merlot grapes at the vineyards of Chateau de Ferrand (Grand Cru Classé)About the Grapes

You can find out many cool facts about and the DNA profiling of Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon by checking out our Grape Variety Archive.

About the Wine

Chateau de Ferrand is a Saint Emilion Grand Cru Classé wine: it was promoted to the status of Grand Cru Classé in the 2012 revision of the classification of the wines of Saint Emilion (for more information, see our previous post about it). It is made as a Bordeaux blend of the three varieties that grow in the estate. Although the percentages in the blend vary from vintage to vintage, by and large they are similar to those of the plantings that we mentioned above.

Interestingly, in the winemaking process, Chateau de Ferrand’s enologist uses a cutting-edge Italian-made destemmer and optical grape sorting machine called X-Tri to automatically sort the grapes worthy of their Grand Vin from those that are not up to standard. Should you wish to know more about this unbelievable machine (it can accurately sort about 15 tons of grapes per hour!), check out the producer’s website, which also includes a pretty cool video demonstrating how it works.


The X-Tri optical grape sorter of Chateau de Ferrand (Grand Cru Classé)

The must then goes through a short 2-day pre-fermentative cold maceration phase to maximize the extraction of color and aromas, followed by approximately 10 days of fermentation with natural yeast in concrete vats and then full malolactic fermentation that is started naturally, by increasing the wine’s temperature (without adding any lactic acid bacteria).

Concrete fermentation tanks at Chateau de Ferrand (Grand Cru Classé)

Finally, the wine ages for about 15-16 months in 60% new oak barrique barrels and 40% one-time used barriques (these are mostly French oak, with about 10% of US oak) plus 24 more months of in-bottle aging.


The barrique cellar at Chateau de Ferrand (Grand Cru Classé)

Our Review

Based on my tasting of several vintages of the Grand Vin at the end of the visit (there is also a Second Vin called Le Différent de Châteaux de Ferrand), I decided that I liked 1999 the best, so that is the wine we are going to review today.

Hydraulic presses at Chateau de Ferrand (Grand Cru Classé)

As always, for my review I will use a simplified version of the ISA wine tasting protocol that we described in a previous post: should you have doubts as to any of the terms used below please refer to that post for a refresher.

Chateau de Ferrand, Saint Emilion Grand Cru AOC, 1999 ($35)


The wine tasting area of Chateau de Ferrand (Grand Cru Classé) with their resident sommelierThe wine was 13% ABV and the proportions of the blend were 83% Merlot, 14% Cabernet Franc and 3% Cabernet Sauvignon. In the U.S. it retails for about $35, while in France it retailed for €50. I decanted it for an hour before enjoying it.

In the glass, the wine was ruby red and viscous when swirled.

On the nose, its bouquet was intense and fine, although not particularly complex, with aromas of cherry, cocoa and black pepper.

In the mouth, the wine was dry, with medium ABV, silky smooth; still moderately acidic, with velvety tannins and tasty; it was medium-bodied and wonderfully balanced, with intense and fine mouth flavors of cherry, raspberry, licorice and dark chocolate. It had a long finish and its evolutionary state was mature, meaning to be enjoyed now as it will likely start declining if left to age longer.

Overall, the Chateau de Ferrand 1999 was a very good wine: despite its aromas being not particularly complex, the wine really won me over once it was in my mouth.  After 14 years of aging, its mouth flavors were still lively and elegant and the wine was perfectly integrated and cohesive, silky smooth and gently tannic, with still enough acidity to keep it alive and kicking – not for much longer though, so should you have a bottle in your cellar, I suggest you find a good reason to enjoy it now!

Rating: Very Good and Recommended Very Good – $$

(Explanation of our Rating and Pricing Systems)


The vineyards of Chateau de Ferrand (Grand Cru Classé)

Wine Spectator’s Top 100 Wines of 2013

StefanoA few days ago, Wine Spectator magazine has published the entire list of their Top 100 Wines of 2013… according to them, of course! :-)

Like last year, these are in a nutshell a few comments about their 2013 top 10 wines:

  • CVNE‘s Rioja Imperial Gran Reserva 2004 is Wine Spectator’s Wine of the Year 2013 (rated 95 points) as well as the first Spanish wine to date to earn top ranking in Wine Spectator’s Top 100 list: congratulations!
  • Five U.S. wines made it to the Top 10 (3 from California, 1 from Oregon and 1 from Washington State), up from three last year
  • Only one Italian wine made it to the Top 10 scoring sixth place and 95 points (Giuseppe Mascarello‘s Barolo “Monprivato” 2008 DOCG), same number as last year but better placement, up three spots
  • France put three of their wines in the Top 10, down from four last year
  • A wine from Bordeaux’s Right Bank was awarded second place (and 96 points) in the Top 10: Chateau Canon-La Gaffeliere 2010, a Saint Emilion Premier Grand Cru Classé B (for more information and a photograph of the Chateau, check out our previous post on the Saint Emilion appellations and wine classification)
  • For the presumable happiness of The Drunken Cyclist 😉 a Pinot Noir from Oregon scored third place in the Top 10: Domaine Serene‘s Pinot Noir Willamette Valley, Evenstad Reserve, 2010 (rated 95 points)
  • Just like in 2011 and 2012, 9 of the top 10 wines are red and only one is white, Kongsgaard‘s Chardonnay Napa Valley 2010 (fifth place, rated 95 points)
  • Four out of the top five wines are below the $100 price mark, with the Wine of the Year 2013 being the least expensive at $63 and confirming how much good value for money can be found in a Rioja, even a top of the line one like CVNE’s; on the other hand, all wines in sixth to tenth place are above $100

For more detailed information and access to the full Top 100 list, please refer to Wine Spectator’s Website.

Saint Emilion Chronicles #5: Saint Emilion and its Wine Appellations

Saint Emilion: 
Clos La Madeleine and its vineyards

Now, on previous posts we have talked about the town of Saint Emilion; one of its churchesSaint Emilion sweet treats (macarons and cannelés); and the place we stayed at during our Saint Emilion visit – it is about time that we start talking about wine. This post will provide a general overview of the area from a wine standpoint, while future posts will focus on a few chateaux.

Saint Emilion: old grape press and vineyards of Chateau Canon

As we said in the introductory post of this series, Saint Emilion is a town that is located in the Libournais area, on the right bank of the Dordogne River, not far from Bordeaux. From a wine standpoint, the area surrounding the town of Saint Emilion is divided into several different appellations (known as “AOC” – in French, “Appelation d’Origine Controléè“).

One slightly confusing thing to bear in mind is that Saint Emilion AOC and Saint Emilion Grand Cru AOC are two different appellations that for the most part comprise the same territory. However, the regulations of the latter are stricter than the former as they require lower production yields and a 12-month minimum aging period.

Map of the Libournais Area and Main Appellations - Courtesy of Janoueix Clos du Roy (click on map to visit website)

Map of the Libournais Area and Main Appellations – Courtesy of Janoueix Clos du Roy (click on map to visit website)

So, a bottle that is labeled “Saint Emilion Grand Cru” only indicates that it has been produced under the rules of that AOC, but not necessarily that it is one of the Grands Crus that are part of the Saint Emilion wine classification (more on this later), which instead are identified as Grands Crus Classés or Premiers Grands Crus Classés, depending on their ranking.

Saint Emilion: Chateau La Gaffeliere and its vineyards

The two largely overlapping appellations of Saint Emilion AOC and Saint Emilion Grand Cru AOC encompass a territory of, respectively, 5,600 and over 4,000 HA where the dominating grape variety is Merlot, beside Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon. The average annual production is in the ballpark of 235,000 HL for Saint Emilion AOC and 150,000 HL for Saint Emilion Grand Cru AOC.

Saint Emilion
: Chateau Lassegue and its vineyards

As we alluded to above, in 1954 the  Winemaking Syndicate of Saint Emilion decided to compile a classification of the best estates (or Chateaux) in the Saint Emilion Grand Cru AOC based on criteria such as quality, sales and renown: this classification was published in 1955 (which is why it is often referred to as the “1955 Classification“) and is supposed to be revised and updated every 10 years, although in fact the updates have been more frequent (since inception, it has been updated in 1959, 1969, 1986, 1996 and 2012).

Saint Emilion: 
Chateau Cheval Blanc and its vineyards

The 1955 Classification divided the estates that made the cut into the following three tiers (in parentheses you can find the number of chateaux in each tier, based on the 2012 revision of the 1955 Classification):

  1. Premier Grand Cru Classé A (4)
  2. Premier Grand Cru Classé B (14)
  3. Grand Cru Classé (64)

Originally, there were only two Chateaux in the first tier of the 1955 Classification: Chateau Ausone and Chateau Cheval Blanc, while two more estates have been promoted to the Olympus of the Saint Emilion wines in the context of the 2012 revision of the 1955 Classification: Chateau Angelus and Chateau Pavie.

Saint Emilion: Chateau Pavie and its vineyards

If you are interested in finding out more about the 1955 Classification, on this Website you can find the complete list of the estates comprised in each of the three tiers of the classification.

For completeness, bear in mind that in the Saint Emilion area there are also four satellite appellations, as follows: Saint-Georges-Saint-Emilion AOCMontagne-Saint-Emilion AOCPuisseguin-Saint-Emilion AOC and Lussac-Saint-Emilion AOC.

Saint Emilion: church emerging from the vineyards in Pomerol

Another famous appellation in the greater Saint Emilion area is the adjacent Pomerol AOC, a small 770 HA Merlot-centric appellation which is home (among other premium estates) of the world-famous, super-exclusive, very rare and über-pricey Petrus. The estates in the Pomerol AOC were not considered for the purposes of the 1955 Classification (which, as we said, was limited to those in the Saint Emilion Grand Cru AOC): this explains why Petrus is not part of it.

Chateau de Ferrand (Grand Cru Classé)

Saint Emilion Chronicles #4: His French Heaven

FRANCE, Montagne: Château Saint Jacques Calon, Stephane Gabart's wonderful B&B

After presenting a little bit of Saint Emilion in general, one of its magnificent churches and Saint Emilion’s sweet treats on previous posts, time has come to unveil the little “secret” about where we stayed during our visit: but of course, we had no hesitation to email fellow food blogger, cook, photographer and aesthete Stephane Gabbart, who authors the sleek and elegant blog “My French Heaven” and operates a wonderful B&B in the vicinities of Saint Emilion!

FRANCE, Montagne: The common areas at Château Saint Jacques Calon

Stephane’s family have been Bordeaux wine merchants for generations, but he decided to follow his own call and study cooking and Hotel Management in Lyon under uber-famous French Chef Paul Bocuse. After completing his studies, Stephane worked for 10 years for Ritz-Carlton at several of their locations in the US. Then in 2005 he headed back to France, where he started operating a B&B in his beautiful family property near Saint Emilion and later on he founded his wonderful blog, My French Heaven.

FRANCE, Montagne: Details of the common areas at Château Saint Jacques Calon

In case you are not following Stephane’s blog yet, do yourself a favor and check it out as it really is exceptional, in terms of both learning authentic, delicious French recipes and soothing your eye with Stephane’s outstanding food photography.

FRANCE, Montagne: The pool area at Château Saint Jacques Calon

FRANCE, Montagne: Details of the common areas at Château Saint Jacques CalonBut back to Stephane’s B&B and our stay: the property is called Château Saint-Jacques Calon and is located in the town of Montagne, a short 5 minute drive from Saint Emilion (for driving directions or reservations, check out the B&B’s Website). Montagne is a beautiful small town in its own right, as I will show you on a future post. The B&B is nothing short of phenomenal, inside and out, as you can tell from my photographs that illustrate this post. The chateau is a large family house with a beautiful front yard and a neatly manicured inner yard with a large swimming pool, right by which the most delicious continental breakfast is served in the mornings of the warmer months of the year.

FRANCE, Montagne: The common areas at Château Saint Jacques Calon

FRANCE, Montagne: Details of the common areas at Château Saint Jacques CalonStephane is the most gracious host and goes out of his way to personally ensure that your stay is as satisfactory and pleasant as possible. He even takes care of selecting the freshest ingredients for breakfast himself: that baguette… those fruit preserves… that fresh seasonal fruit… hmmmm… Everything was so wonderfully exquisite!

Beside that, Stephane is more than willing to help as necessary, including by recommending great restaurants and the best wine store in Saint Emilion (more on that on later posts) and getting to the point of escorting us on a mini-trip to visit the nearby Libourne food market! Of course, Stephane’s English is flawless and, I have to say, so are his map-drawing skills: he charted out our route to a local restaurant in a nearby village with Google-Earth precision! 😉

FRANCE, Montagne: The common areas at Château Saint Jacques Calon

To top it all of, Stephane is a real pleasure to spend time with, very personable and incredibly kind to all his guests. A true French gentleman. Plus, he offers fellow bloggers a discount off the regular B&B rates and, for those who may be interested, guests may also sign up for French cooking classes with him.

Thank you, Stephane, for making our stay in Saint Emilion so pleasant and productive! 🙂

Saint Emilion Chronicles #3: les macarons et les cannelés

Stuff We Like!Hello everyone!

This will be my contribution to our ongoing Saint Emilion series. This post is about food, so it naturally belongs to my expertise “department”. 🙂

So, picture it: Saint Emilion, July 2013. We were sitting in Patrick’s wine store, Stefano’s newest “wine friend” (more on Patrick and his wonderful wine store on Stefano’s future posts in this series) and, of course, we were tasting some wine. Getting slightly drunk and jumping from one subject to another, I ended up talking about food. Patrick asked me how I liked Saint Emilion’s macarons. I thought he was talking about those French round mini-cakes with a creamy filling, that the entire world has learned to know and love (by the way, I talked about “those” macarons on a previous post about Ladurée). It turned out I was mistaken, because Saint Emilion’s macarons have nothing to do with those paradisiac sweet sandwiches…

Saint Emilion Macarons

The recipe for Saint Emilion’s macarons was created by the nuns of a religious community founded in 1620. The recipe, which apparently is more secret than that of Coca Cola, has been passed on over the following centuries, eventually ending up in the hands of Madame Blanchez. Today, the only place where your can taste and buy “real” Saint Emilion macarons made according the nuns’ recipe is the Fabrique de Macarons, a store owned by Madame Nadia Fermigier, who is the “successor” of Madame Blanchez. And that store is exactly the place where I was heading to five minutes after Patrick told me the story of Madame Fermigier. 🙂

The store is small, yet incredibly charming. There was even a video showing how macarons are made. But what really struck me when I first got there was the smell. The smell was so outrageously good and inebriating that I had the impression to have stepped into a magical world where everything is alive. And then I saw them: the famous macarons. How can I describe their taste? That’s a tough one. They are delicious beyond words. Just to give you an idea, they reminded us of Italian amaretti – I beg our French readers not to get mad at me for this comparison! 😉

I searched the Web and I saw that there are some Saint Emilion macaron recipes out there. I doubt that you will find the original one, however. I’m pretty sure Madame Fermigier protects her recipe at all cost and swore all her employees to the utmost secrecy. Anyway, if you decide to go for one of the Internet recipes or you are lucky enough to buy the original macarons from Madame Fermigier, you can either taste these small pieces of heaven by themselves or use them to make a gorgeous chocolate-based dessert known as “Saint-Émilion au Chocolat“, the recipe for which has been kindly published by our lovely friend and fellow blogger B on her blog.

Nadia Fermigier's famous pastry shop in Saint Emilion

But this is not all: the other sweet masterpiece that Patrick unveiled to me is the cannelés.

Cannelés are little French cakes with a dark, thick caramelized crust and a moist custard inside. There exist a few different legends about their creation. Of course, one of those legends has the nuns of a convent as its main characters – these French nuns were a hell of a baker, I say!!! 😉 Anyway, the only sure thing is that the recipe was created in the French region of Bordeaux. Indeed, according to some, the Bordeaux winemakers used to clarify their wine with egg whites (Stefano tells me that some still use egg whites as a fining agent today!) and the cannelés were created as a way to utilize the egg yolks.

When I was in Madame Fermigier’s store, I bought (for a small fortune, I might add…) the gorgeous copper molds the French bakers use to make cannelés. The only thing I’m missing now is the right recipe! 😉 I searched the Web and I went through a few of the recipes that I found. However, I would prefer to first try a recipe coming from a “friendly source”. So if any of you, dear readers, has a recipe for cannelés and is willing to share it or has already made a post about it, I would love to hear from you! 🙂

Saint Emilion Cannelé

Well, that’s all for today: I hope you enjoyed this Saint Emilion pastry excursion! Back to you Stefano for the rest of the series and… à bientôt!  😉

Saint Emilion Chronicles #2: Collegiate Church & Cloisters

This is the second post in our series about our trip to Saint Emilion (in the Bordeaux wine region of France) and its beautiful surroundings. In case you missed it, you can find the first post (about the town of Saint Emilion) here.

On this post, we will briefly focus on a beautiful church-clositers complex in Saint Emilion: the Collegiate Church (Eglise Collégiale) and its cloisters.

The Collegiate Church is an imposing Romanesque building that was built between the XII and XV centuries and is considered one of the most impressive churches in the Gironde region.

Saint Emilion
: the cloister of the Eglise Collegiale

Saint Emilion: 
the stained glass windows of the Eglise Collegiale

Supposedly, Arnaud Guiraud de Cabanac gave impulse to start building the Collegiate Church in 1110, even if the church plans were repeatedly modified over time. While the nave was completed in the XII century, the remainder of the Collegiate Church blends together different styles from the XIII to the XVI century.

The facade and main portal of the Collegiate Church are in a beautiful, sober Romanesque style. In addition, a beautiful XIV century Gothic portal on the left flank of the church provides another entrance from Place Pioceau, on the northern side of the XIV century chancel that houses a magnificent listed organ built in 1892 by Gabriel Cavaillé-Colle and XV century carved stalls.

Saint Emilion: 
The cloister of the Eglise Collegiale

Saint Emilion: 
facade of the Eglise Collegiale (XII-XV century)

Inside the church, the Romanesque nave is adorned with nicely restored XII century wall paintings and amazing Gothic stained glass windows, while the statues of the Apostles on the tympanum were partly destroyed in the XVIII century during the French Revolution.

The Gothic cloisters, which impress the visitor due to their architectural elegance, were built on the southern side of the church during the XIII and XIV century, and remodeled during the XV and XVI century.

Saint Emilion: Statue in the Eglise Collegiale (XII-XV century)

The cloisters were built in the shape of a square, with each of the four covered walkways being 98.5 ft/30 mt long and 14.7 ft/4.5 mt wide: elegant arcades support the inner side of the four walkways, which encase a peaceful garden with a cross in the middle, symbolizing the Eden (or Paradise).

The Collegiate Church once hosted Augustinian canons who stayed in the monastery until the end of the French Revolution.

SourcesTravel France Online and Saint-Emilion.pro.

I hope that you enjoyed this second installment of our virtual trip to Saint Emilion… until the next chapter!

Chronicle of a French Wine Country Trip: Saint Emilion

Saint Emilion
: View of the town

Saint Emilion: the bell tower of the Monolithic ChurchFrancesca and I have recently spent a few days in France, at Saint Emilion, in the heart of one of the most renowned among the Bordeaux wine districts and appellations. There we have enjoyed the courteous hospitality of a fellow blogger (more on that later, on a dedicated post), the culture and the beauty of those places, a lot of good food and wine and of course the magic of the Bordeaux wine country and its multitude of Chateaux.

This post is the first in a series that will take you with us, if only virtually, to visit Saint Emilion and its surroundings and discover some of the attractions that such area has to offer.

Saint Emilion: The Monolithic Church and its bell tower

Saint Emilion: 
La Porte de la Cadene (the Door of the Chain)

We will start by showing you the town of Saint Emilion and telling you something about its rich history on this post, then on future posts we will show you one of its churches, we will talk about the wine country and the Saint Emilion wine classification system, we will take you to a beautiful nearby village and to a full-blown visit of our gracious host’s residence, we will make you visit a lively food market, we will take you food and wine shopping in Saint Emilion, and of course we will visit a few Chateaux and talk about their wines… Yes, it will be a fairly extensive trip, but don’t worry, we will take a break here and there with posts on different subjects, but we think it will be worth your time! 😉

Saint Emilion: 
La Maison du Vin and the bell tower of the Monolithic Church

Saint Emilion: The bell tower of the Monolithic Church

Now, without further ado let’s talk a bit about the town of Saint Emilion.

Saint Emilion is a beautiful, elegant small town located in the Libournais area, on the right bank of the Dordogne River, not far from Bordeaux. Saint Emilion’s long history goes back to the Roman times, and precisely to the IV century when the Roman ruler Decimus Magnus Ausonius (after whom the famous Chateau Ausone, one of the four Premier Grand Cru Classé “A” wineries, was named) erected a property there, where he eventually retired. Incidentally, it was the Romans who got the long-standing Saint Emilion wine tradition started by introducing viticulture to the region.

The beauty of the Saint Emilion landscape and its wine-making history have won the area UNESCO status of World Heritage Site for its being an “outstanding example of an historic vineyard landscape that has survived intact and in activity to the present day”.

Saint Emilion: Les Grandes Murailles (the Big Wall) and the vineyards of Chateau Les Grandes Murailles

Saint Emilion: 
a "tertre" (steep alley) and a pastry shop

Saint Emilion is a town of steep alleys known as “tertres, winding narrow streets, pleasant squares dotted by bistros as well as several food and wine stores, beautiful Medieval buildings and ancient churches built in the yellowish local limestone, and hectares and hectares of lush vineyards.

Probably the focal point of the town revolves around the central Place de l’Eglise Monolithe: this square borrows its name from the homonymous Monolithic Church, the largest underground church in Europe, that was dug out of Saint Emilion’s limestone rock walls by Benedictine monks between the IX and the XII century. The Monolithic Church’s finely sculpted portal dates back to the XIV century and presents scenes inspired by the Last Judgment and the resurrection.

Saint Emilion: 
ancient buildings in town

Saint Emilion: detail of the Place de l'Eglise Monolithe and portal of the Monolithic ChurchUnderneath the Monolithic Church lie the Benedictine catacombs and the Hermitage, an underground cave where Saint Emilion himself (an VIII century Benidctine monk called Emilian, who became the town’s patron saint) is believed to have spent the last years of his life, from 750 to 767. There visitors can see an underground spring that was used for baptismal water, a bed and meditation seat both carved in rock, and graffiti reportedly dating back to the French Revolution. Above the Monolithic Church stands an imposing 53 mt/174 ft tall bell tower that was built between the XII and the XV century, while to the side of the church is the XIII century Chapelle de la Trinité (Trinity Chapel) hosting well preserved frescoes on the walls of its apse.

Saint Emilion: The Eglise Collegiale and the bell tower of the Monolithic Church

Saint Emilion: La Maison de la Cadene (House of the Chain) and la Porte de la Cadene (Door of the Chain)The inside of the Monolithic Church and the complex comprising the catacombs, the Hermitage and the Trinity Chapel can only be accessed and visited through a guided tour operated by the tourist office and, unfortunately, photography is not permitted anywhere within the complex – so here you will only be able to see images of the outside of the complex.

Other notable monuments in Saint Emilion are the Romanesque Eglise Collegiale (Collegiate Church) and its XIV century cloister (this will be the subject of another post), the complex of the Maison de la Cadene and the Porte de la Cadene (House of the Chain and Door of the Chain) located at the top of a steep tertre and dating back to the XVI century, and Les Grandes Murailles (the Big Wall) which are the last remains of what used to be a XIII century Benedictine monastery that collapsed for the most part and are now immersed in the vineyards of the homonymous Chateau Les Grandes Murailles, one of the 63 Grand Cru Classé wineries in the Saint Emilion wine classification.

Saint Emilion: 
elegant building in Rue des Ecoles

Saint Emilion: the bell tower of the Monolithic ChurchTypical of Saint Emilion are also several pastry shops selling two local specialties: the Macarons (delicious almond-based cookies) and the Canelé (small, chewy sweets with a caramelized sugar outside and a core of rum-infused custard).

Enough for today: I hope you enjoyed this first stop in our Saint Emilion trip and our general overview of the town – stay tuned for the next chapters of our chronicle! 🙂

Saint Emilion: Restaurant tables at Place de l'Eglise Monolithe