Located on the left bank of the Bordeaux region, the Saint-Julien appellation takes up 5.5% of the Médoc region between the municipalities of Saint-Julien-de-Beychevelle, Cussac-Fort-Médoc and...Read More
For savvy Bordeaux lovers seeking sleek, wholesome and consistently age-worthy claret, Saint-Julien seems to be the go-to profile. While it is the smallest of the Medoc appellations, it is also the most quality-concentrated with 85% of its total vineyard land designated Grand Cru Classé. And while variations in terroir and winemaking across the appellation inevitably translate to nuanced variations in style, the wines of Saint-Julien seem to have in common a certain balance, combining the elegance and refinement of Margaux with the power and substance of Pauillac.
These are reliable, sure-bet Bordeaux to add to your cellar, gift to a loved one or share at your next special meal, beguiling even the choosiest wine lover with lavish aromas of black fruit, licorice, cedar and cigar box.
The Saint-Julien appellation (or St.-Julien for short) is situated in the Medoc wine region on the Left Bank of Bordeaux in southwestern France, between the appellations of Pauillac and Margaux. Just as its neighboring Medoc appellations, it was granted AOC status in 1936.
With only 910 hectares (2,250 acres) dedicated to winemaking, St-Julien is the smallest of the Medoc wine appellations. Nevertheless, it has one of the highest percentages of vineyard land classified Grand Cru. Roughly 85% of its vineyards belong to its 11 Classified Growths, which account for roughly 75% of the appellation’s total production. And while Saint-Julien is not home to any of the First Growths of the 1855 Classification, it is home to more Classified Second Growths than any other Bordeaux appellation or 5 of the 15 total Classified Second Growths: Chateau Leoville Las Cases, Chateau Leoville Poyferre, Chateau Leoville Barton, Chateau Gruaud-Larose and Chateau Ducru-Beaucaillou. Out of these, the first three were historically part of the same estate, Le Domaine de Leoville, one of the oldest in the Medoc region.
Saint-Julien is home to the Classified Third Growth Chateau Lagrange, which is the largest of all Medoc Grand Cru estates with 125 hectares (308 acres) planted to vines. The other Saint Julien Third Growth is Chateau Langoa Barton, the sister estate of Chateau Leoville Barton. Saint-Julien is also home to four Classified Fouth Growths: Chateau Saint-Pierre, Chateau Talbot, Chateau Branaire-Ducru and Chateau Beychevelle. Finally, there are also some excellent non-classified Saint-Julien properties, such as the highly sought-after Chateau Gloria.
Situated on the Left Bank of the Gironde estuary in the Bordeaux region, the Saint-Julien appellation is rectangular in shape, roughly 4 kilometers wide and 6 kilometers long. Most of the appellation’s vineyards are situated on a rectangular terrace of Gunzian gravel deposited in this area during the Gunz Glacial Stage of the Pleistocene era.
The Saint-Julien landscape is home to two distinct mounds of well-draining gravel, one between 15 to 20 meters high in the south (home to the vineyards of Gruaud-Larose, Branaire-Ducru, and Lagrange) and one between 10 and 26 meters high in the east overlooking the estuary (home to the vineyards of Ducru-Beaucaillou, Beychevelle, Leoville Las Cases, Leoville Barton, Leoville Poyferre and Langoa Barton). Near the estuary, the Gironde creates a distinctive microclimate, helping moderate temperature in the winter and summer. To the west of the commune, a large plateau reaching an elevation of 20 meters above sea level is home to some of the vineyards of Chateau Talbot.
Gravel is the key soil type in the Saint-Julien appellation, characterized by great natural water drainage, reflecting sunshine and conducting heat to the vines, allowing the roots to dig in deep. These gravel soils create the perfect environment for the cultivation of Cabernet Sauvignon, the flagship grape variety of the Medoc region. Making up roughly 60-70% of the classic blend, Saint-Julien Cabernet Sauvignon produces rich wines with bold aromas of cedar and tobacco.
Gravel is complemented by clay, limestone and sandy soils in different proportions in various areas of the appellation. Along with Cabernet Sauvignon, the Saint-Julien appellation cultivates Merlot, which represents roughly 20-30% of the classic blend, lending a certain softness and roundness to this Bordeaux wine. Cabernet Franc is added to the Saint-Julien blend to lend it certain aromas and a characteristic finesse, while Petit Verdot is used in small quantities to adjust the structure of the wine. Saint-Julien produces roughly 450,000 cases of wine per vintage, depending on the year.
The most typical Saint-Julien wine tends to be all about balance, combining the elegance and refinement of Margaux with the substance and power of Pauillac in a blend dominated by Cabernet Sauvignon, complemented by Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. Saint-Julien wines are often lauded by wine critics around the world for their consistently high quality (which is not surprising, considering that 85% of the vineyards are designated Classified Growths). On the nose, these wines exude intense aromas of blueberries, cassis, blackberries and prunes, along with licorice and signature touches of cedar and cigar box. On the palate, the wines of Saint-Julien tend to reveal, with a bit of age, velvety smooth tannins on a generous, rich texture.
Despite a certain homogeneity in quality, Saint-Julien produces wines in a wide range of styles depending on where exactly in the appellation the estates are located. For example, the wines of Leoville Las Cases in the northeastern part of the appellation are known to be richer in texture with more powerful tannins (closer in style to Pauillac), while those of Chateau Beychevelle in the south focus on structure with a certain Margaux-esque delicate finesse. Merlot tends to ripen more easily in the sandier soils of western Saint-Julien than in the vineyards near the estuary, leading to a higher percentage of this grape variety in the blend and a more ripe, soft profile overall. Also, while some Saint-Julien producers rely strictly on traditional winemaking practices, others have accepted a more modern approach.
Some of the best recent vintages of Saint-Julien wine are 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2012, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2006, 2005, 2003 and 2000, though quality depends largely on each producing estate. Typically, these wines need roughly 10 years to open and express themselves to the fullest, though they will keep evolving over 50-60 years spent aging in bottle. These Bordeaux red wines should be served at a temperature between 15 and 17°C (59 to 62 °F)
The nuanced aromas and smooth tannin of Saint-Julien wines make them fantastic food-pairing wines, especially with a bit of age on them. As most Left Bank Bordeaux, these red wines will pair perfectly with a wide range of meat dishes, among them duck, game birds, lamb and grilled beef. They will also go with dishes that have an earthy flavor profile, including roasted and braised meats or risotto with mushrooms and truffles. We recommend pairing a nice bottle of Saint-Julien with a classic Entrecote a la Bordelaise.