If you go to Saint-Emilion, you have to do a wine tasting – it’s practically the law! And there are loads of lovely little restaurants dotted throughout the cobbled streets. All the hill climbing you’ll do in this famous wine town certainly gives you an excuse to indulge.
Where to do a wine tasting in Saint-Emilion
Within minutes of arriving in the town, determined to sight-see and take photos, I was sidetracked by a sign reading “Irish spoken here” at a pretty wine store. How could I resist?
The store is run by Paddy O’Flynn from Ballyhea in the county of Cork, Ireland and his wife Pilar, a wine maker from Spain. Paddy tempted me with a wine tasting as he told me how he came from the Emerald Isle to Saint-Emilion in 1992. He met the love of his life and set up The Wine Buff St-Emilion (2 rue du Marche), after 18 years in the wine business in Ireland. And, he has immersed himself in the world of wine. What he doesn’t know about the wines from this area probably isn’t worth knowing. In fact he’s writing a book about wine (“without the BS” he confides with a wink). Paddy is a witty, entertaining and affable host. He tells the most fun stories (he’s never lost his Irish accent) serves wines that tastes like nectar and adds real value to any visit to Saint-Emilion.
Wine is a serious business in Saint-Emilion
“Wine is a serious business here” says Paddy. “Pinch your nose, put a blindfold on and sip water, beer, Guinness or whisky – they’ll taste the same” he claims. “Not so with wine”. He’s passionate about wine, always looking for the best wine, some-thing special. “I drink a bottle a day I think, tasting, trying, comparing. But don’t tell anyone” he urges.
Paddy is in love with the wines of this area and particularly the organic, bio wines, which is what his shop specialises in. “I like wine that’s made in a vineyard not a laboratory. The most expensive wines don’t necessarily mean the best, especially if they have chemicals in” he says. Stop at The Wine Buff for a tasting and learn all about the wines of Saint-Emilion. Stay for a glass and a planchet (plate of food) made with the most delicious cheeses, meats and breads etc. Unbeatable with the wine.
You’ll come here as a customer and leave as a friend. You’ll also be able to shimmy up those hilly roads with renewed vigour!
Wine in the cloisters
Saint-Emilion can only be red wine, though there are white wine producers. Every 10 years there’s a contest to grant cru status – it’s the only wine that is subject to this rule, others are granted in perpetuity.
A truly lovely place for a glass of wine, especially in the evening, is Le Cloître des Cordeliers. The former 14th century monastery has an air of peacefulness and tranquillity. You can get a glass of local wine or bubbles – Crémant de Bordeaux is produced in the region. Enjoy it with snacks and sweet treats, or a picnic lunch in the shade of the ancient ruins. It’s romantic and incredibly atmospheric. Access is free.
There are loads of places to stop for a wine tasting in the town and in the surrounding vineyards and townships.
There’s also a wine trail and evening wine tours too. You can join a blending workshop, blind tasting, wine and food lunches, wine school and much more – this town really is a wine lovers paradise.
Pop into the tourist office (Place des Créneaux Le Doyenné) for details of wine tours available including by tuktuk, vineyard little train, segway, ebike, side car and more!
Where to eat out in Saint-Emilion
There are loads of restaurants in the town, but if you see somewhere you like the look of, try to book in advance. It gets very busy at peak visiting times.
Wine and dine: Without a doubt, the Michelin Starred restaurant Logis de la Cadène is magnificent. It’s one of the oldest restaurants in St-Emilion, founded in 1848. On a sunny day, sitting out on the terrace being served the most delicious dishes and fine wines is one of life’s greatest pleasures. My friend Emmeline from the tourist office and I sat here for a couple of hours, enjoying the food, wine, ambiance and the sight of walkers climbing the hill that runs alongside. Having nipped up the hill after the wine tasting I had done before, lunch, I was rather more sedate going down the hill, more of a tortoise than a goat.
Locals Love: La Terrasse Rouge on the oustkirts of the town in the vineyards with wonderful views from the dining room. It’s about a five minute drive from the centre. They offer a fabulous wine pairing menu and the food is absolutely delicious.
Specialities of Saint-Emilion
Macarons of Saint-Emilion. They’re different from the macarons you get in Paris – “much better!” say the locals. Made from sweet and bitter almonds, egg white and sugar. The recipe has been passed down from generation to generation from the time of the Ursuline Sisters who established a convent here in 1620. Here’s how to make St Emilion style macarons…
Local speciality: La lamproie à la Bordelaise. Nicknamed the “Vampire of the Sea”, the lamprey is an eel with 200 teeth. It’s a species that is at least 500 million years old. It makes its way from the Atlantic up the river Dordogne to spawn by biting into other fish going its way and hitching a lift. Which might make you feel better about the horrible ending these creatures get when it comes to the speciality dish. It’s basically boiled alive, skinned and the blood is let, which makes the sauce to go with the baked fish.
If you’re visiting from Bordeaux city, you can take a tour (book at the tourist office). Or take the train which is about a 45 minute journey. From Saint-Emilion station it’s a 20 minute walk into the town. It’s not too strenuous but it is up hill and takes you past the famous vineyards. There was an advert at the station for tuk-tuk rides to town but no timetable when I was there, so I hoofed it and loved the walk.
Take a tour of Bordeaux with Girls Guide to Paris…