The winding alleyways and cobbled streets of Saint-Emilion have made this medieval town a must-visit destination for tourists and wine lovers alike. Its limestone-rich plateau and slopes are coated in vines, encircling the town in a mass of green during the spring and summer months.
One of the appellation’s most illustrious wine estates, Château Ausone, is nestled on the edge of the town and it is here, at the top of its steep driveway, that one of the region’s finest wines is made in the cellars.
The winery is named after Roman Poet Ausonius, who is thought to have owned a villa on this illustrious site. Its current guardians, the Vauthier family, have been in full control of the estate since 1997, restoring its vineyards and wines to greatness.
Alain Vauthier manages the estate with his daughter Pauline and they can trace their family line to Ausone as far back as the 17th century. Alain has been making wine at Ausone since the 1970s and 2017 marked his 41st vintage. During en primeur week, Pauline compared the quality of their 2017 wine between 2014 and 2015. For me, it sits nearer to the more illustrious 2015 vintage.
The Ausone name is huge but the vineyard is tiny: there are just 7.25 hectares of vines. Chateau Ausone is a rare treat with just 23,000 bottles produced in 2017 and 5,500 bottles of second wine Chapelle d’Ausone.
The vineyard has been at the heart of improvements in the past two decades. The proportion of Cabernet Franc has steadily risen and has now represents around two-thirds of all plantings with Merlot and a small amount of Cabernet Sauvignon planted across its vineyards on the limestone plateau and the clay-limestone cotes. The vines have reached an average age of 50 years old; there are some Cabernet Franc vines that have been producing grapes here for more than a century.
The vines are densely planted at Ausone with 15% of the vineyard spaced at 12,600 vines per hectare, which makes the vines work hard for their water and nutrients, sending roots far below the surface. The other 85% of the vineyard will have its density increased over the coming decades to 12,600 plants per hectare while the Vauthiers have adopted organic and biodynamic principles.
These incremental changes continue to raise the bar at Ausone. It always seduces rather than overpowers. Its freshness and mineral spine have its origin in its limestone soils. Vintages in the 21st century are well worth having in your cellar.
It is inevitable that top quality Saint-Emilion produced in such small quantities comes at a price. However, there are a number of other wines produced by the Vauthier family such us my favourite Château Fonbel (unfortunately not produced in 2017 due to frost damage), Château Moulin Saint-Georges and La Clotte, more affordable siblings made by the Ausone stable.
2017 Chateau Moulin Saint-Georges, Saint-Emilion Grand Cru 2017 (80% Merlot / 20% CF)
A fragrant nose reminiscent of black cherry, red currant and raspberries. An earthy savouriness caress follows on the delicate yet juicy palate.
2017 Chateau La Clotte, Saint-Emilion Grand Cru (85% Merlot / 10% CS / 5% CF)
While juicy and soft on the mid-palate the finish is persistent and firm, with flavours reminiscent of black plums, pencil shavings, clove, and a fine mineral freshness.
2017 La Chappelle d’Ausone, Saint -Emilion Grand Cru (50% merlot / 40% CF / 10% CS)- 100% new oak
Pure and fruit forward offering redcurrant, raspberry, dried mint, pencil lead and integrated oaky spice. The palate feels soft and delicate, finely detailed and refreshing.
2017 Chateau Ausone, Saint-Emilion Grand Cru (55% CF / 45% Merlot) - 100% new oak
A combination of dark and red fruit come together, wrapped up by mineral spice and a delicate note of smoked herbs and graphite-like minerality. This is incredibly detailed and compact and the oak is superbly integrated giving a clove and all spice note. The palate is layered and well structured, clean and focused. A very pretty wine.