Merlot dominates the area, followed by Cabernet Franc, for the limestone and clay soils and relatively cool climate favour these over the later-ripening Cabernet Sauvignon. The wines are generally well-structured without austerity and have plenty of fruit flavours and alcohol content. The best will improve greatly with age.
In 1955 the wines of St-Émilion were first classified. This was comprehensively undertaken with more seriousness than humility. A Grand Cru wine, for example, is of no great distinction. Grand Cru Classé wines are where they start to get good, and Premier Grand Cru Classé (itself split into two strata of quality) is the cream of the crop. Aside from the self-aggrandizement of the system, it is actually rather a good one because every 10 years the châteaux are re-evaluated and promotions and demotions are made. AOC St-Émilion is the very basic appellation.
Lussac, Montagne, Ouisseguin and St-Georges are communes on the northern slopes of St-Émilion and can attach that magical name to their appellation (i.e. Lussac-St-Émilion). The quality is considered to be inferior to St-Émilion, but the prices can be appealing.
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