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The St Emilion Fair at The Phoenicia organised by official Saint Emilion wines ambassador Michael Tabone, showcased the diversity of one of France’s most historic wine regions typified by small, high-quality family run estates.

A nice touch for the evening was the provision of a tasting booklet to every guest and a pencil for making notes next to photos and factual information about each wine. Copious amounts of water for cleansing the palate were stationed all around The Phoenicia’s Grand Ballroom, a fitting location for an evening enjoying the subtleties of one of the wine world’s enduring stars. St. Emilion as a region is slightly larger than Malta, being about 45 kilometres long and 10 kilometres wide. Coupled to ancient traditions and recent innovations, the 800 winemakers of Saint-Emilion, Saint- Emilion Grand Cru, Lussac Saint-Emilion and Puisseguin Saint-Emilion make miracles from their average vineyards
of about 7 to 10 hectares.

We meet the amiable Luc d’Arfeuille owner-winemaker at Chateau La Serre, who purchased the property from his nephew 20 years ago. Luc explains that ‘La Serre’ is a reference to the greenhouse, a nickname for the Chateau’s cloistered south-facing vineyards that trap and soak up the sun to produce aromatic, fruity and lingering wine. The unique taste, character and style of Chateau La Serre is embelmatic of the entire St. Emilion Fair, a blend dominated by merlot, in a classic 70% merlot, 30% cabernet franc pairing. This is the kind of wine probably most people think of when talking about the taste of Saint Emilion wine.

Our next visit is to Chateau La Tour Figeac, run by Otto Rettenmaier, whose parents bought the winery 45 years ago. Otto studied economics and was deeply involved in his family industrial business in Rosenberg, Germany before switching to the wine industry. A biodynamic estate on the edge of the famous Pomerol commune which is just a stone’s throw from this long-established St. Emilion plot, the vineyards extend 36 acres with a grape profile of 60% merlot and 40% cabernet franc. Otto outlines what Chateau La Tour Figeac does to create balanced, perfumed and sophisticated wines, balancing acid fruit, sweetness and tannins. Otto says decanting up to 2 hours before drinking lets all the bright flavours release and help the wine soften a little.

Sophie Merzeaud at Chateau Laroze is the assistant to the winemaker Guy Meslin and their 2011 Grand Cru Classe, like all the others from the evening, packs a punch of mid-palate fruits in a ripe and polished wine that improves with time spent in the glass. It’s a refreshing wine with a lovely structure, phenolic maturity that cuts through cheese and makes those little roast beef sandwiches zing with delight. The bouquet is full of spice and fruit, delicious as yet another silver platter floats by offering tempting accompaniments to the full-bodied wine.

Next stop is at Chateau Ripeau, which surely won the prize on the evening for having the most beautiful label. Winemaker Cyril Gregoire bought the 18th century estate Chateau Ripeau in 2015, with16 hectares of terroir which is hand-harvested, Cyril also has a Bordeaux Superieur estate of 27 hectares and has been making wine for 26 years. Cyril says he is crafting a “new Ripeau”, one that has his family’s signature winemaking style and is a faithful expression of the outstanding terroir. We try both the 2015 and 2016 vintages backto- back, the 2015 is full of sunny promise will be at its best from 2022 to around 2027. This is wine that needs patience to leave it to mature. The 2016 is sweet, savoury, rounded and fleshy, 90% merlot and quite dark in colour; a reflection of harsh weather conditions, Chateau Ripeau is aged in all new wood, with the toast level adapted to each batch.

We arrive finally to Chateau Dassault for the 2010 vintage, silky, opulent, decadent even, winemaker Laurence Brun has created a cherry black wine with a purple rim, that is dense, concentrated and powerful. These big flavours continue long into the finish, making this 2010 expression a stunner. Family owned since 1955, we also try Dassault’s Chateau Faurie Souchard 2011, rich, creamy and fleshy, it’s a fitting final sip.

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