Friday, September 23, 2011

St Emilion Wine-a-rama 22 Sept 2011

22 Sept 2011 St Emilion

We headed up to the little town early in the hope of getting it all done in half a day and then doing a bit of vineyard cycling in the afternoon, especially as the weather is still sunny and quite warm.

View from the church tower

This plan went out the window when we booked into the only English language tour of the monolith underground church at 2pm. So we ended up with 3 hours to waste in the village. It wasn't such a bad thing. We strolled around, looked at old buildings, poked our heads in the various shops and strolled some more. The Tour du Roy tower looks as though it should have John Cleese on the top, blowing raspberries at the English Kin-niggits.

As with every French tourist village, there are 20 shops all selling the same thing. In this case it is St Emilion wine. We encountered one bloke ina  very small shop who made a good joke... he spotted that I didn't speak French and said "You're the first one." He had an Asterix moustache.

After dismissing several touristy style restaurants (with only outside dining in the smoke) we went to a rather small place down the hill. Straight away the waitress spoke English, mainly because she was English herself and had only been in France for 2 months. She was a sommelier and her partner was a chef, they were making their way in the wine region. Our lunch was fab, I had foie gras on toast with cremant. We were seated near some nice English people who agreed not to smoke on us.
Mmm, foie gras

It's very close to harvest at this point, the vines are very heavy with purple grapes, there are lots of people out picking and the roads are full of little tiny one man tractors pulling trailers full of grapes.

The church tour was OK, rather credulous about the various micraculous claims of St Emilion. We were taken down to his hermit cave where a rock ledge was his bed and a chair carved in the wall is said to help with fertility. I sat on it in a skeptical manner.

We were also shown a 13th century church which still had some of its frescoes thanks to the protective smoke that occurred when it was used as a barrel cooperage after the revolution. We couldn't take a photo but one of them featured a "photobomber" underneath the image of the saint and patron (you can almost make it out in this pic, first fresco on the left).

The guide only gave us a short time in the catacomb and ossary which was frustrating as that bit is always interesting. There was a whole arm of it where she said "You may quickly look down it if you like" and that was the best bit... bloody guided tours.
Sneaky ossuary photo
The underground church was rather impressive but as it had been used as a gunpowder factory in the revolution it was light on for decoration. The "St George and the Dragon" carving high on the wall was impressive.

After wandering around in search of "le veritable macaroons" we encountered an Australian accent talking authoritivately about Merlot. Turns out a bloke from Adelaide gives tastings and sells Bordeaux wine in his own shop in St Emilion. We put the hard word on him for some info and a tasting and were thus treated to an hour of standing around tasting rather expensive Grand Cru wine. He did ignore us when a richer customer came in but he was nice enough.

The one thing we learned is that St Emilion has created a new class of wine, "Grand Cru Classe" which is given to wineries that consistently make good wine for 10 years in a row. This is an impressive improvement on the "Cru" concept which mainly relies on location and - I think - allows producers to be lazy and rest on their laurels.

We tasted wines from E15 to E59, the expensive one just tasted expensive. They were all mostly Merlot but there were great differences in taste and style. I liked the "L'essances"(?) because the impressive oaky smell was totally different from the subtle taste. We ended up buying a couple of bottles but we got a lot of entertainment out of the shop so might as well.

Ripe grapes ready to be picked
We found the authentic macaroon shop and they didn't sell singles which was no good as we couldn't be sure they wouldn't include the mysterious European stinkbug taste thatseems to find its way into some sweet things here. Instead I went back to a standard Macaroon shop and bought some which were normal and nice.

After a rest Luke and I retired to the mini golf course for a round of stupidity. Averaged a par of about 20 per hole, I suspect. Didn't help that half the fibreglass greens were on quite the angle but we had a lot of fun.

Dinner was the last of the pasta and bacon and sauce. We have a bit of leftover food, will just have to throw it all away, I guess.

Tomorrow we go to Chateau Merye for more wine tasting and then we're on the home stretch. I'm actually feeeling a bit homesick now, ready for my own bed and some steamed vegies.

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