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Ric visits Château Ausone

September 30, 2016

After our late morning visit to Château Pétrus on 19 September 2016, we slipped back into Saint-Émilion to make our last chateau visit in the Right Bank, traversing the narrow lanes of this beautiful wine country that circumvent its historic town centre, climbing higher and higher until we arrived at the plateau of the hill where the road finally ends at the entrance of an estate with a single word carved onto its stone pillar: AUSONE.dsc_9089

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King’s Tower, Saint Emilion, as seen from Ch Ausone

Château Ausone sits at the top of a limestone hill at just about the highest point of Saint-Émilion, truly befitting its Premier Grand Cru Classé A status as it offers the visitor a breathtaking view of the hills surrounding Saint Emilion, not to mention the old church as well as the King’s Tower. Immediately downslope from the château are rows of vines that produce the grand vin of Château Ausone, all 7 ha of it, as well as those of Château Moulin Saint-Georges (a.k.a. the poor man’s Ausone), also part of its stable. Another 40 ha of vines under the care of Château Ausone along the slopes are those of Château Simard, which was bought over by Alain Vauthier in 2008. Here and there, remnants of ancient Roman ruins are clearly visible and even the site of the château itself is built upon ancient Roman stone works, which are now the underground cellars of the château.

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Did the poet Decimius Ausonius live here in the 4th century?

We were greeted on our arrival by a pair of greyhounds guarding the property. I was reminded of Robert Parker’s hostile encounter with a dog at rival property Château Cheval Blanc years ago but these hounds at Château Ausone were non-threatening, announcing our arrival to the current proprietress and winemaker Mlle. Pauline Vauthier, who has taken over from her father Alain, epitomising the current wave of female oenologists who are increasingly running the show in Bordeaux.

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Gazing down from the edge of the hill, Pauline explained that the soil on the slopes comprises a mixture of limestone and clay, upon which the vines are planted at a density of 12,000 per ha, producing a mere 18,000 bottles (1500 cases) of the grand vin annually. Sitting high on the slopes, these vines are perfectly positioned to catch the morning light whilst allowing excellent drainage downslope in wet conditions. It is no surprise, therefore, that Château Ausone managed to avoid the debilitating frost of 1956 that badly affected other estates in Saint-Émilion.

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While the plantings used to be 50-50, nowadays there is more cabernet franc at 70% with the remainder merlot, not unlike Cheval Blanc, although in bottle, the blend is usually about 60-40 proportion. Another 5000-9000 bottles of its second label Chapelle d’Ausone is produced annually. The average age of the vines is 60 years with the oldest being planted in 1906 (cabernet franc). Viticulture is organic as far as possible and the chateau avoids pumping, preferring to move the wine into fermentation vats via gravity.

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Looking at the old town centre of Saint-Émilion from Château Ausone

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Château Moulin St-Georges yonder

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The cellars of Château Ausone are truly a sight to behold: dark, cavernous, naturally cool with walls that have been hewn and toiled for centuries by stonemasons who used to work in these limestone quarries. Housed within the small number of barrels there are the much-prized 2015 grand vin ageing away quietly, and I thanked my lucky stars to have landed a miniscule allocation of 3 bottles during the en primeur campaign earlier this year.

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Mlle. Pauline Vauthier explaining the vinification process

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We adjourned to an elegant drawing room decorated in the rococo style for tasting where we learnt that Château Ausone, given its unique heritage and the site’s long history, is a property protected nationally for conservation. We tasted first the 2009 Château Simard, a blend of 80% merlot and 20% cabernet franc, aged in concrete vats and totally unwooded, made for early drinking. Already sporting an evolved color, this wine displays a lovely earthy pungency with a forward balance of red fruits and wild berries with good concentration and acidity, producing a very clean feel though it finished on a stern note. Good for casual pour.

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There goes one precious bottle of 2015 Château Ausone

This was followed by the 2015 Château Ausone that’s still in barrel, a blend of 60% cabernet franc with 40% merlot. This wine displays a fabulous deep impenetrable ruby in the glass, exuding a gentle bouquet of dark roses, red fruits and wild berries of excellent ripeness and purity, not at all overdone. Yet to put on weight but this wine is already harmonious with a feminine character, displaying silky textures with highly supple tannins and great linearity all the way to its lasting finish.

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Look at the date on the label

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This represents only the fourth occasion where I have had the chance to drink Château Ausone, as the wine is expensive and difficult to source on the open market. Memories of a supremely elegant 1995 (tasted 2007) and a powerful, masculine but youthful 1998 came flooding back (tasted in 2010), as did a delicious elegant and decidedly feminine 1986 just three months ago. This visit wraps up a fabulous time spent at some of the most exalted properties of the Right Bank and certainly will not be forgotten. I must thank Mlle. Pauline Vauthier for taking care of us personally at Château Ausone, and to FICOFI for making this trip possible.

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