Wine tasting in Saint-Émilion's regal Château Quintus.
It’s a two-hour high-speed train journey from Paris’ Gare Montparnasse to Bordeaux St-Jean train station in the heart of the historical town and winemaking region of Saint-Émilion.
Surrounded by vineyards, the medieval town sits at the crossroads of Bordeaux, Périgord and Saintonge, where two thousand years of wine history awaits; Saint-Émilion was named the first UNESCO-listed vineyard in 1999.
Saint-Émilion’s steep narrow streets are lined with charming restaurants, Romanesque churches, ancient ruins and, owing to its long and living history in winemaking, multiple specialist shops selling exceptional bottles of wine and related paraphernalia.
I was about to embark on a wine-tasting journey at Domaine Clarence Dillon’s beautiful Château Quintus in Saint-Émilion to learn about the history and craftsmanship involved in making their wines from grape to glass. Domaine Clarence Dillon produce Château Haut-Brion, Château Quintus, Château La Mission Haut-Brion and Clarendelle inspired by Haut-Brion.
The route from the town of Saint-Émilion to Château Quintus climbs a 62-metre-high limestone hillock through south-facing vineyards with stunning 360-degree views of the poplar trees.
Under a large tree at the edge of the terroir is a large and fearsome bronze dragon. Created by British sculptor Mark Coreth, the dragon represents protection and has become the symbol of Château Quintus, with their second wine, Le Dragon de Quintus, named after the statue.
His Royal Highness Prince Robert of Luxembourg is the Chairman and CEO of Domaine Clarence Dillon and the great-grandson of Clarence Dillon, who bought Château Haut-Brion in 1935.
In 2011, Domaine Clarence Dillon purchased a beautiful property in Saint-Émilion, now renamed Château Quintus. In 2013, Château Quintus acquired a neighbouring property, as well as a third one in 2021. These three properties now form a wine estate of 45 hectares that produces one of Saint-Émilion’s finest wines.
Prince Robert said, “In 2011, my family, our team and I expressed our ambitious goals, with our communicated desire to craft one of the very finest wines possible in Saint-Émilion. By assembling some of the most promising parcels and terroirs we would attempt to create a new star of the Right Bank: Quintus. After more than ten vintages, I am proud to say that our exceptional winemaking team are excelling at meeting this challenge.”
The Gallo-Romans, creators of the vineyards of Saint-Émilion, had the custom of naming their fifth child Quintus (meaning ‘fifth’). Domaine Clarence Dillon decided to pay homage to its predecessors by naming its fifth wine Château Quintus.
Sustainability and Biodiversity
Workers busied themselves in the vineyards, test-driving a new electric tractor. Here, vines are pruned with the ‘double Guyot’ technique, separating the shoots to ensure optimum sun and air exposure, and natural grass growth beneath each row.
Château Quintus lies in the Mediterranean Green Belt, a true haven of biodiversity. It owes its exceptional wine to the great diversity of its soil and microclimate; this association of terroirs provides ideal conditions for the nutrition and maturity of the different grape varieties.
Charmed by the picturesque Saint-Émilion countryside, my time here would be educational and enlightening while in the knowledgeable hands of estate manager, Mariette Veyssière.
Born in the Saint-Émilion region, Mariette Veyssière is from a long line (fifth generation) of family members working in the wine business. In her first ten years at Château Quintus, she implemented environmental procedures resulting in securing dual environmental certification for the estate: High Environmental Value (HEV) since 2018 and ISO 14001 since 2019. A promotion to vineyard manager was soon followed by another step up to estate manager.
The thriving natural hedgerows are full of birds and insects that act as natural predators for any parasites in the vineyards. Nesting boxes and insect hotels are installed throughout the property, providing shelter and overwintering habitats. Insecticides have not been used at the estate since 2017.
Seated at a table covered in wine glasses each identified by the wine within, and clutching a pen and wine notes diary, my wine tasting, guided by Mariette, commenced.
The property’s 30-year-old vines is represented by 66% Merlot, 26% Cabernet Franc and 8% Cabernet Sauvignon.
My wine-tasting experience started with Le Dragon de Quintus 2017 (87% Merlot and 13% Cabernet Franc grapes): intense on the nose with complex aromas and smooth on the palate, followed by a lighter and fruiter Le Dragon de Quintus 2018 (75/25). Then came the youngest and sharper Le Dragon de Quintus 2019 (86/14) with a dark red colour and intense fruity and refreshing black fruit aromas.
A Château Quintus 2017 followed: a deep dark-crimson colour, broad-based and full-bodied, which goes on to reveal fruity notes and a hint of spice (55/45).
My sensory journey ended over a Château Quintus 2016 (70/30), which was deep garnet-red in colour. The first impression on the nose is of ripeness, with fruity aromas, and is silky smooth on the palate. This was paired with a delectable lunch of oysters, smoked salmon and local cheeses while seated among rows of wine barrels.
The Hollywood Oscars 2023
Before joining the family business, Prince Robert of Luxembourg started his professional career as a screen writer in Los Angeles. For the 95th Oscars in 2023, he announced a partnership with the Oscars, and Domaine Clarence Dillon became the wine of choice at the awards ceremony at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood and the Governors Ball; Clarendelle, Quintus and Haut-Brion being the exclusive red and white wines poured. Domaine Clarence Dillon was also named the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures’ official wine partner in 2023.
There is no better place to sample the notes of Château Quintus wines, than the estate itself.
Visiting the estate is by appointment only: domaineclarencedillon.com