The Wineries Of Saint-Émilion

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Now that the East Coast has been tossed its inaugural coverlet of winter snow, is it time to start talking about holiday book gift ideas? Yes?

Good. Because Saint-Émilion: The Châteaux, Winemakers, and Landscapes of Bordeaux's Famed Region (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, $55) is the kind of volume that gives coffee table — make that wine cellar — books a good name. It has both good content and great beauty and would make a handsome holiday gift.

For those who have drunk the wines but not visited this famous Bordeaux region, Saint-Émilion provides a beautiful introduction that will make you want to jump on a plane next spring and go for a look around. For those of us who have been guests of some of the châteaux of St.-Émmy, the book is like going home again — except that home has become even more alluring than we remember it.

With a few exceptions, the châteaux in Saint-Émilion are less imposing than those of Médoc along the Left Bank of the river, more like ancestral country homes than architectural statements. And rather than being strung out for miles Médoc-style, these estates are mostly smaller as well, green jewels clustered on the plateau and hills ringing the small town that gives the region its name. Finally, the wines are also different in Saint-Émilion — more fruity and less tannic than those of the Médoc with much larger proportions of merlot and cabernet franc grapes.

What authors Béatrice Massenet, Emmanuelle Ponsan-Danton, and François Querre have done here give us an excellent, not-too-long introduction to the history of the region and its wines, followed by individual profiles of 14 great classified first growths followed by a few dozen great classified growths — more than 70 châteaux profiled in all. But it's the exquisite photography of Guillaume de Laubier that steals the show — shots of the vineyards and the landscape, of the outsides and insides of the châteaux, of the winemaking, and portraits of many of the owners, directors, and winemakers.

One notable absence is a profile of Château Ausone, the best of the region along with profiled Château Cheval Blanc, although it is mentioned in the text and in the listings of classified growths. Perhaps there was some disagreement with the authors, a fee for being included, or perhaps it was that the long-standing renovation of Ausone had not been completed.

But even with that omission, this is a very good book to peruse at leisure or to run to when you open a bottle of St.-Émmy and want to review again the place where it was made and the people who made it.