One of our favourite events of the calendar is just around the corner, next Tuesday to be precise. It’s Saint Patrick’s Day, when everyone celebrates being Irish, whether or not we are! March 17th is an annual excuse to wear ridiculous green novelty hats and glasses, roll out our excruciatingly bad Irish accents and drink a pint or two of Guinness, wherever we are in the world.
That we pay homage to the patron saint of Ireland by drinking the country’s (even world’s) favourite malt beverage is hardly a surprise; after all, the Emerald Isle doesn’t exactly boast a thriving wine industry, does it? Yet, it made us wonder what saintly wines existed, so we did a bit of research. It turns out that the French may be the holiest of them all, with an impressive array of appellations (AOC’s) bearing a saintly name.
What are the first names that come to mind when you think of saintly wines? I bet that most people jump straight to the Bordeaux communes Saint-Emilion AOC and Saint-Julien AOC. After all, these are two of the most beloved names in red wine. Saint-Julien is found on the Cabernet-Sauvignon dominated left bank of the Garonne River and boasts properties from the famous 1855 classification including Châteaux Ducru-Beaucaillou and Château Léoville-Las Cases. Over on the Merlot dominated right bank, Saint-Emilion is a UNESCO world heritage site and the mere mention of wines made here from such properties as Château Ausone and Château Cheval Blanc sends wine lovers to a vinous utopia.
If we dig a little further, however, there are some little known saintly appellations which are great value discoveries. Burgundy is home to its fair share, such as the Côte de Beaune’s Saint-Aubin AOC, made using traditional Burgundian varieties Chardonnay and Pinot Noir for white and red wines. Further south in the Mâcon, Saint-Véran AOC is a purely white wine appellation also made entirely from Chardonnay. Yet, it’s to the north of Burgundy that one of the region’s quirkiest appellations can be found; Saint-Bris, famous for being the only AOC in Burgundy whose wines are made from Sauvignon Blanc, a very un-Burgundian grape variety!
Syrah (or Shiraz) is the king of the Northern Rhône vineyards, which thrive on the banks of the mighty Rhône River between Vienne and Montélimar. Whilst wines from appellations such as Côte-Rôtie and Crozes-Hermitage can command prices similar to top Bordeaux and Burgundy, for many the Saint-Joseph AOC offers consistently high quality and affordable access to the region’s renowned red wines. Yet there’s another lesser known wine from the Northern Rhône which also bears a saintly name; the Saint-Péray AOC. One of the earliest and smallest appellations in France, the production is mostly sparkling wine made from Marsanne and Roussanne. At the height of its popularity in the 19th century, it was even more highly regarded than Champagne!
In the Languedoc-Rouissillon, home to some of France’s most exciting wines and innovative wineries, Saint-Chinian AOC is the oldest vineyard of the region, dating from the Roman era, and is reputed for robust reds, crisp rosés and dry white wines. Further towards the Pyrenees, in Armagnac country, the Saint-Mont AOC is named for the 11th century Benedictine Monastery which carries the same name. Tannat, which has found fame as the great grape of Uruguay, is the main ingredient in a Saint-Mont red, whilst fruity whites and dry rosés are also produced. Even more obscure are the wines of Saint-Sardos AOC. Granted appellation status in 2011, this vineyard north of Toulouse may be of France’s newest, but it boasts a viticultural history dating from the Middle Ages and is the only appellation in France with Syrah and Tannat as the principle grape varieties.
Image credits: no_typographic_man and florriebassingbourn.
Chrissie McClatchie is an Australian freelance writer and wine specialist who has been living in France since 2008. You can follow her on Twitter @RivieraGrape as she explores the wines of the French Riviera and Italy's Liguria.