St Émilion & Bordeaux
The first traces of human activity in the vicinity of Saint-Émilion go back at least to the Upper Palaeolithic period (35,000 to 10,000 B.C.). The naturally formed caves, forests and generous water courses were very welcoming for the first peoples of the era. The Pierrefitte standing stone bears witness to their presence between 3,000 and 2,500 B.C.
However, to find the first amphorae of wine, it is necessary to jump forward in time to 56 B.C. The history of local winemaking started at this point, when the forest of Cumbis was cleared to plant the first vines. Grape varieties used around Massilia (Marseille) were grafted onto local vine stocks, vitis biturica. Proof of this can be found in the unearthed remains of villas, where sickles used for pruning or harvesting were discovered alongside the sites of presses and tanks.
In 97 A.D., the Roman Emperor Domitius decreed that the best way to ensure the success of Italy’s wines was to eliminate competition in its colonies.
As a result, many vines were torn out. This completely prevented any further expansion in Saint-Émilion, until the end of the 3rd century when the order was repealed by Probus.
When the Roman Empire fell in the 5th century, the spread of Christianity, which uses wine in its religious rituals, contributed to the survival and expansion of wine growing.
This Appellation, which was created in 1936, has the highest elevation (89 m) in the Saint-Emilion region. Its south and southeast exposure makes it a perfect winegrowing region; it has all the conditions necessary to ripen and produce healthy and concentrated grapes.
Although Puisseguin-Saint-Emilion is fairly hilly, the main component of its soils is the clay-limestone mix that is common to the region. But here it covers rocks from which the roots absorb the nutrition they require and sustain the vines during the hot and frequently dry summers.
Of all the satellite appellations, Puisseguin-Saint-Emilion has the strictest laws regarding the production of wine. The original legal document drawn up for the AOC classification states the individual plots of land where the appellation’s grapes must be grown.
The grape varieties permitted here are Merlot, Malbec, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon. Merlot is predominant, most often partnered with Cabernet Franc (known here as ‘Bouchet’). Cabernet Sauvignon is much less commonly planted in the cooler soils of the Saint-Emilion area in general, and only produces wines of reliable quality in very specific spots. The prevalence of Merlot (an early flowering variety) means that the appellation is susceptible to spring frosts and can lose the majority of its output in a cold year.
To qualify for the Puisseguin-Saint-Emilion appellation, wines must contain a minimum of 11% alcohol and come from vineyards planted to a density of less than 5500 vines per hectare. Wines made from hybrid vines or those under three years old do not qualify.
The four Saint-Emilion satellites are Saint-Georges-Saint-Emilion, Montagne-Saint-Emilion, Lussac-Saint-Emilion and Puisseguin-Saint-Emilion itself – all located to the north of Saint-Emilion town. Previously, Parsac-Saint-Emilion and Sables-Saint-Emilion were also valid appellations, but the four named above are those recognized in the early 21st century. They are known as satellites because the area’s more prestigious wine estates historically resented these supposedly inferior wines using the Saint-Emilion name. In the middle of the 20th century, several boundaries were changed and the villages of Lussac, Montagne, Puisseguin and Saint-Georges were granted their own independent Saint-Emilion appellations.
The Barbanne river, which runs roughly parallel to the Dordogne, marks the southern boundary of three of these appellations. The river is of particular significance here because it is the historical boundary between the ‘Langue d’oil’ and the ‘Langue d’oc’ – the northern and southern halves of old France respectively. It is from here that the Languedoc region derives its name.
Puisseguin wines generally have dense and deep colour. Not surprisingly, their nose includes notes of red berries (strawberry, raspberry) and even stone fruit such as plum or prune. But there are also hints of mint, fig, blackcurrant, liquorice and even calming sweet spices.
They are pleasing in the mouth, due to their fleshy and full texture that is never heavy. Delicately enveloped tannins are present and ensure a good potential for longevity.