On the Trail

Historic Saint-Émilion

David Driscoll

The ancient town of Saint-Émilion dates back thousands of years and it's believed that the Romans were planting vineyards on the hillsides as early as the second century. Today it's an UNESCO World Heritage site and the historic stone-built streets weave up and down the steep slopes of the picturesque center. I've only been here for two days, but I'm already completely enamored with the region. The old rock walls line the streets that lead away from the monolithic church and out into the stunning vineyard sites; towards famous properties like Ausone, Angélus, and Pavie. I'm not of those people who can separate wine from the place in which it is made, nor am I someone who thinks we should try to. The atmosphere, the imagery, and the feeling you get in St. Émilion all have a direct correlation to the enjoyment I derive from its merlot and cabernet franc-based wines. This town is the epitome of French romanticism. It's what American tourists dream of when they envision traveling to old Europe.

As we entered the city limits amidst the dreary morning conditions, we followed the ancient barrier until reaching the gates of Château Canon, the tower of the church shrouded by a light fog in the distance. The buzz around Canon's 2015 vintage is already permeating the furthest reaches of the wine trade, stemming from a few early reviews that verge on the orgasmic. Personally, I am a huge fan of the producer. I bought a half-case of the 2012 vintage after tasting it with Clyde back in 2015 and I sold every last bottle we had to my best Bordeaux-loving customers soon after. I've been purchasing back vintages from the property ever since. The walled vineyards neighbor the estates of Châteaux Magdelaine, La Gafflière, and Ausone respectively and since being purchased by Chanel in 1996 the entire estate has undergone a complete renovation. Today the wines are absolutely world class and I was very excited for our visit.

The vines have been growing into the hills around Château Canon for more than 500 years, a fossil-rich limestone-heavy soil that produces wines with great elegance. What I love about Canon's wines is that they taste distinctive. You can spot a common thread throughout all of the modern vintages—a mineral note that stands tall and firm against the delicate and balanced fruit character. We all had a little jump in our step walking into the property. It's a gorgeous building with impeccable gardens and a tasteful decor. But, of course, what else would you expect from Chanel?

There to meet us was Canon's brand ambassador Andréane Gornard, who we'd previously met at San Francisco's UGC tasting event earlier in the year. She was armed with several different vintages of Château Canon, including the heavily-hyped 2015. The en primeur offering was elegant and restrained with the power of the cabernet franc providing tension against the ripeness of the merlot. The minerality was there on the finish with the sweetness of the fruit simply highlighting the core of structure. To contrast the recent vintage and offer a better perspective, Andréane poured us Canon from 2006, 2007, 2009, and 2012, all of which were beautiful in their own way. No matter what the year, the inner workings of the wine always revealed themselves clearly; there was the consistent presence of refined finesse and a real expression of terroir, not just the simplicity of ample ripeness.

The rest of the château was as tasteful as the wines and Andréane herself. Stylish, sophisticated, and chic—that's how I would sum up my impression of Château Canon. It's always wonderful when your expectations live up to your actual experience. I'm already looking forward to coming home and sharing my passion for the Canon wines with our customers (so long as we can secure more allocations!). 

Walking through the streets in the evening was like something out of a fairy tale. St. Emilion is one of the most beautiful old towns I've ever visited, up there with Dubrovnik in its ability to completely envelop your sense of direction.  

There was a protégé of Paul Bocuse cooking in town that evening at the Logis de la Cadène. One of Bocuse’s classic dishes was part of the menu: the soupe aux truffes noires VGE that was first prepared for the president of France back in 1975. It’s a savory broth simmered with fois gras and black truffles, served with a puff pastry style of bread baked over the top. You use your spoon the break the crust down into the soup so that it soaks up all that earthy goodness. Nothing decadent, really. Just a little light affair.

-David Driscoll