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This post, by Wendy Narby, is a participant in the 2014 Great Wine Capitals guest bloggers' program.
All photos: Wendy Narby
The satellites, as their name implies, circulate around a star – the star being Saint Emilion.
Although these appellations carry the name of their illustrious neighbour they are also in its shadow. A shadow that hides many treasures in these 4 appellations well worth a visit, not only for the wines but also for the beautiful rolling countryside and the hospitality of the region and it’s winemakers.
Just to the North East of Saint Emilion the 4 Satellites of Saint Georges, Montagne, Puisseguin and Lussac together are smaller than Saint Emilion but benefit from similar soils of clay limestone with some sand and gravel thrown in and consequently the merlot dominates their blends.
Several key characteristics make this region worth another look.
Perhaps most important is the family ownership and small in size of the properties, an average of 8-9 hectares. Like the vast majority of Bordeaux properties, they have, more often than not been in the hands of the same family for many generations. Here is to be found a respect for the traditions and history of the region but interpreted by the latest generation of young, well educated wine makers whose openness to the new developments in vine growing, wine making and marketing makes for an exciting combination.
This family ownership and the responsibility of passing on their terroir generates an Eco responsibility for future generations with many properties managed in accordance with a sustainable, organic or biodynamic philosophy.
The family welcome at Chateau Guibot La Fourvieille
The wines remain accessible not only by price but by style. Merlot dominated, barrel aged, but not too much, the wines appeal to a market for early drinking with special cuvées showing ageing potential thanks judicious use of oak and the planting on the higher limestone outcrops. The beautiful rolling hillsides offer great sun exposure and excellent drainage. The church steps of Montagne are said to be on a level with the top of the bell tower of Saint Emilion and the importance of the height is clearly illustrated by the famous windmills on the Calon hill. Montagne also takes eco responsibility to the next level with a project known as ‘Des vignes Mellifères’ where the vineyards plant a special selection of wild flower in between and around the vines to encourage the bees.
Les Vignes Mellifêres de Montagne
It is difficult to select specific chateaux to look out for amongst the many on offer but here are a few of my favourites.
Chateau Chereau is a one-stop shop for the right bank, the family own and run vineyards in Lussac, Montagne and Pomerol. The Egerie is their top cuvee from Lussac, 70 merlot, 30 cabernet. Benefitting from a cold soak before fermentation and barrel aged gives a wine perfectly balanced between fruit and ageing potential.
In centre of the village of Lussac is the Chateau that bears its name. On a recent visit I had the opportunity to taste a vertical of the wines made since the new owners took over in 2000. Showing clearly the aptitude that these wines show for ageing. The owner, Griet Laviale, has also beautifully renovated the Chateau creating 4 en-suite bedrooms for guests.
A Vintage line-up at Chateau de Lussac
If you prefer a self-catering base to discover the region travel over to neighbouring Puisseguin to Chateau Guillebot La Fourvieille to another family property where, as well as tasting the wines Brigitte Destouet Bourlon will welcome you to their Gite and organic vineyard with spectacular views over the valley.
If you are interested in organic wine seek out Chateau La Maison Blanche where Nicolas Despagne, one of the most innovative wine makers in the area, farms 32 hectares certified organic since 2006 part of which is biodynamic. His natural wines are neither filtered nor fined and benefit from carafing before serving to enjoy their complexity. Whilst in Montagne have lunch at Clos Mirande hidden away in a small valley overlooking the sloping vineyards and try and find Chateau Roc du Calon hidden behind the windmills on the Calon hill – if you can’t find them, all is not lost, their delicious wine can be order from their web site.
The windmills of Calon
Saint Georges Saint Emilion is the smallest of the appellations, less than 180 ha and only 23 producers. Dominated by the beautiful Chateau Saint Georges it’s worth venturing to some of the smaller producers such at Chateau Belair Saint Georges to really appreciated how the south facing slopes with their views over towards the village of Saint Emilion benefit from this microclimate.
I hope this whets your appetite for the wines and the region the fact that they remain less well known than their illustrious neighbour makes them terrific value for money but the word will get out…….you saw it here first !