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Ric re-visits Château Ausone

July 3, 2019

I had the distinct privilege of visiting Château Ausone again on the very warm afternoon of 24 June 2019 where Saint-Emilion was bathed in glaring sunshine with ambient temperatures exceeding 30 degrees Celsius. For many, Chateau Ausone is the Premier Grand Cru Classé “A” even though there are three other illustrious estates bearing the same exalted status. Consider this: which chateau is perched at the highest point of Saint-Emilion right within the core limestone terroir, and which chateau produces only 15,000 bottles of its grand vin per annum with even less numbers of its second wine (only up to 9,000 bottles)? No prizes for guessing. Memories of my previous visit in 2016 came flooding back as K and myself pulled in to its gravelly driveway. The greyhound (there were two previously) was still there but looking considerably older and far quieter, no longer its boisterous self. We thought we were a good half hour ahead of our appointment but a young gentleman approached us right away, exchanging warm greetings in excellent English as he verified that we were, indeed, the expected guests. “Have you met my sister Pauline?”, he asked. I was stunned: he was none other than Edouard Vauthier! Working together with Pauline Vauthier, they have taken over the reins from their father Alain, overseeing the entire winemaking business from viticulture to vinification to marketing. Of course, Pauline had hosted my visit back in 2016 but, this time, it was Edouard’s turn although his sister could be seen busy tending to the vines in the punishing heat. Is this sudden spike in temperature this week worrying, for we have not even gone into July? Will 2019 prove to be the hottest since 2003? Edouard, however, was not worried, for the climate trend so far has been par for the course. Reassuringly, the nights were still cool. The 40-50 year-old vines at Chateau Ausone are amongst the few which are planted on a steep slope on what is probably the loveliest part of Saint-Emilion, overlooking the more extensive vines of Ch Moulin Saint-Georges and Ch Simard beyond the road, both also under the Vauthier portfolio, with the King’s Tower a little yonder. Chateau Ausone has been certified biodynamic for some time and the team is dead serious about doing things according to the moon phases. A simple row of wooden vats complete the functional-looking chai for these are all that are needed to vinify the seven hectares of vines.

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Stepping into the familiar rococo-styled tasting room, Edouard had prepared a couple of wines for us. The 2016 Chapelle d’Ausone, displaying a brilliant purple, was  still cloaked in vanillin although this cannot hide the rich layering of raspberries and red fruits on the palate, still tightly coiled with a healthy tone of earthy minerals, very finely nuanced with excellent acidity, just a tad stern at the finish. In contrast, the 2008 Ch Ausone, which had been considerably aired in bottle prior to our arrival, exuded generous tones of red fruits, red plums and gentle cherries from its ruby depths, displaying some early complexity with smoked characters, fleshy and rounded with good inner detail and fine balance, distinctly feminine. Here, Edouard shared that the style of Ausone has shifted into a more feminine expression since Pauline became involved in the winemaking in 2005, with the fabulous 2010 being her formal inaugural vintage.

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We then trooped over to the estate’s cavernous cellars, bumping into M. Alain Vauthier himself on the way, a mellow courteous gentleman who prefers to let his children run the show. I have always marvelled at how the whole thing had been hewn out of solid limestone by stonemasons of yesteryears. A blast of cold air greeted us as we stepped in, a most welcome relief from the scorching heat outside. In here, the temperature is always consistently between 11-14 degree Celsius. The few rows of vines for Chapelle d’Ausone are grown right above these cellars, and I’m amazed that the roots do not penetrate through the roof of the caves, meaning the roots must have spread laterally in search of nutrients. In this vast space, the limited number of barrels resting there drove home the highly-limited quantity of grand vin available. Nevertheless, Edouard proceeded to aspirate a generous dollop of the 2018 Ch Ausone (we even had second helpings!). Showing a brilliant deep purple, this unfinished wine proffered a distinct note of rye that imparted a feel of dry heated gravel on the nose, richly layered with raspberries, dark cherries and red currants that imparted wonderful ripeness and purity of fruit, rounded with striking acidity and beautifully integrated and balanced, never for once yielding its subtle power as it finished with excellent lineraity and persistence. Most lovely. When it is already so complete barely six months in barrel, the bottled result in 2021 will be even more stunning. Outstanding!

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I must thank Edouard for generously spending so much time with us and to FICOFI too for the impeccable arrangements.

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Very old vines of Ch Ausone located above the caves

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