Vineyards of Saint Émilion
This area has some of the most diverse soils of any wine region in Bordeaux. Many of the best vineyards are located on the plateau where the soils are rich in limestone, and on the slopes around the plateau, comprised of limestone and clay. At the very western end of the appellation, near Pomerol, gravel soils predominate. In addition, across the plain to the west of Saint-Émilion itself, sand lies over the limestone subsoils. Merlot is the king of grapes in Saint-Émilion, followed by Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon in importance. Merlot, a fleshier grape than the Cabernets and more rapidly maturing, usually gives wines that are more supple in their youth than those of the left bank.
Saint-Émilion was not included in the 1855 Bordeaux classification. Yet unlike the 1855 classification, it is regularly revised. In 1955 the wines of Saint-Émilion were classified for the first time. The list was updated in 1969, 1986, 1996 and most recently in 2006. This recent 2006 classification, however, was declared invalid following a series of legal actions, and the 1996 version of the classification has been reinstated for the vintages from 2006 to 2009.
Saint-Émilion Grand Cru
The appellation regulations also allow for a grand cru designation based on details of the harvest, including a maximum of 40 hl/ha rather than 45 hl/ha for basic Saint-Émilion, and a minimum alcoholic strength of 11%. Therefore the distinctions between Saint-Émilion and Saint-Émilion Grand Cru are not as large as one might expect, but something like the difference between basic Bordeaux and Bordeaux Supérieur. 40% of the wines from this region, in fact, qualify for Saint-Émilion Grand Cru certification.