The Jurisdiction of Saint-Émilion is unusual in that, since 1984, it has had two Appellations d'Origine Controlées (AoC) each covering exactly the whole of the geographic area of the Jurisdiction: Appellation d'Origine Controlée Saint-Émilion and Appellation d'Origine Controlée Saint-Émilion Grand Cru.
Strictly speaking, from 1st August 2009, as a result of pan-European changes of wine laws, these have become Appellation d'Origine Protegée Saint-Émilion and Appellation d'Origine Protegée Saint-Émilion Grand Cru, Appellation d'Origine Protegée usually being shortened to AoP in the same way as the old AoC. It is however correct to say that the old terms are still in use not only in France but more generally. The AoC or AoP Grand Cru is also unusual in that the Appellation is not given to the terroir or the estate where grapes are grown but is decided each year. Subject to minimum density of vines, maximum permitted yields and minimum alcohol levels, any wine made from the approved varietals (merlot, cabernet franc or bouchet, cabernet sauvingnon, malbec and carmenère) grown in the Jurisdiction is entitled to the Appellation d'Origine Controlée or Protegée Saint-Émilion. For many years, subject to the relevant minimum density of vines, maximum permitted yields and minimum alcohol levels, a grower who made the wine in the Jurisdiction and thought it sufficiently good, could submit it to a tasting in the year after it was made for a certificate that it had the capacity to age. If that was granted, the wine had again to be submitted for further tasting in the following year and, if approved, that wine of that vintage was allowed to bear the higher Appellation of Grand Cru, subject to an obligation for it to be bottled at the Château.
Amongst all the AoCs/AoPs in France, only that of Saint-Émilion Grand Cru required such dual tasting. The rules have been more relaxed in recent years but the need for a tasting is being re-introduced so that this unique requirement will once again play its part in making the Jurisdiction stand out in its concern for quality.
The result of this system is that there is no fixed list of Grand Crus Châteaux – buyers need only to consult the bottle, not a book, to see which Appellation the wine enjoys but will then have the comfort of knowing that its quality is specific to that vintage.
It is, however, also well worth bearing in mind that some wine which would qualify as Grand Cru is not submitted for that Appellation because the grower does not wish to sell his wine as such. There is a number of examples of growers making two wines but not wishing both to be in the same category where they would compete against each other. There are also occasions when a grower of a classified growth – see here – may decide that he will not sell his wine as such in that year (avoiding it being judged as the classified wine at reclassification). It is still likely to be very good and offer even better value than other wines of the same technical description.
Equally there are wines grown in, but made outside, the Jurisdiction, or not bottled at the château, which do not qualify to be submitted for the Grand Cru Appellation but which are in every other way of similar quality to those which do qualify. Again these are often exceptionally good value for money for the consumer.
Click here to see details of the Classification system