A visit to meet the late Denis Durantou (1957 – 2020) was never a swift affair. You call in on Olivier Berrouet at Petrus to taste the latest vintage and you are presented with one lonely bottle, albeit a very famous bottle with an alluring label and a wine to make even the steadiest of heartbeats momentarily fibrillate. Just down the road at Château L’Église-Clinet, however, Denis would pour an entire portfolio of wines, building up to his equally heart-fluttering grand vin, its label no less alluring. These other wines would include examples from often overlooked appellations of the right bank, such as Château Montlandrie in Castillon Côtes de Bordeaux and Château Les Cruzelles in Lalande-de-Pomerol.
I always admired Denis’s willingness to explore the wonderful under-exploited terroirs on his doorstep, the wines he makes from these other vineyards so flavoursome, so poised, and they are also such great value. One of these ‘entry-level’ wines is Saintayme, or occasionally Saintem (I will explain why this wine goes by several names in a moment), which hails not from any of the aforementioned appellations, nor from Pomerol, but the neighbouring appellation of St Emilion.
St Emilion is hardly an overlooked appellation, of course, although I would argue that there are still many under-exploited terroirs (you could perhaps say that some of them are over-exploited, depending on the approach taken in the cellars). Many of these under-appreciated vineyards are found in the more peripheral corners of the appellation. It was in one such corner that the late Denis Durantou (pictured above) worked with a small parcel of Merlot, the fruit of which he fashioned into his Saintayme cuvée.