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A Resurgence in St. Emilion

Bordeaux is one of the most prestigious wine regions in the world. And some of the oldest vineyards here first got their start on the right bank of the Gironde River, in St. Emilion. Romans planted the first grapevines on the Gironde almost 2,000 years ago.

These ancient fields are producing some of the most exciting wines in France, says Robert Parker, whose ratings in the Wine Advocate can make or break a wine. That excitement comes from the soil types, which are more varied than other Bordeaux region, he says. These soil types produce wines which are incredibly diverse.

The limestone areas in St. Emilion produce very tannic, powerful, muscular wine, Parker says, while the sandy and gravelly soils produce very delicate, lighter, softer wines.

But people weren't always so pleased with St. Emilion, Parker says.

"Twenty years ago, St. Emilion was relatively disappointing, but a young generation, as well as the garagiste movement, has created a renaissance," Parker says. The garagiste movement encourages small-scale wine-making, as opposed to mass production.

Competition and young women, who are in charge of more estates in St. Emilion than in any other high-quality wine region in France, have also been influential. Parker believes young women may push the envelope further in a traditionally male-dominated field.

Some of these new estate owners have taken relatively obscure vineyards and adopted strict guidelines for cultivation and production. Others have used traditional winemaking techniques from Burgundy, east of Bordeaux, and applied them to St. Emilion wines.

Alder Yarrow, chief publisher of Vinography.Com, which was voted Best International Wine Blog of 2007, agrees that St. Emilion is worth exploring.

"You've got quite a variety of wines on your hands," Yarrow says. "Ausone and Cheval Blanc are the traditional benchmarks, and anyone wanting to seriously abuse their pocketbook for the sake of a nice wine can seek out a bottle of Pavie. For the more budget-conscious consumer, I recommend Quinault l'Enclos, Chateau Franc-Mayne, or Les Gravieres."

A bottle of Pavie can cost as much as $3,000, but you can find a bottle of one of these more budget-conscious wines for $25.

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Shannon Fowler