The List




The List


Chateau Ausone

There is an oft touted theory with claret that the right bank wines from Saint Emilion and Pomerol are softer and more approachable in their youth than the serious minded, cabernet sauvingnon-dominated left bank wines of Margaux, Pauillac, et al.

Whilst there might be some truth to this generalisation, like most sweeping statements it is easily contradicted. And no wine could offer a more sublime foil to this theory than Chateau Ausone, which remains so resolutely austere and ungiving in its youth that it makes one question whether it is in fact a mis-labelled Saint Estephe, yet whose character, after sufficient bottle age, develops into an intoxicating and distinctive mix of power and finesse.

Occupying the exalted position, shared only with Cheval Blanc, of being a Premier Grand Cru Classe A Saint Emilion, Ausone is situated on steep, south facing slopes with consistent limestone soils. Unusually, there is no cabernet sauvignon planted; just an even split of merlot and cabernet franc vines, with an average age of around fifty years, which are harvested by hand, before the resulting wine is aged in 100% new barrels for a period of at least eighteen months.

Unlike Cheval Blanc, which has achieved a more or less consistently high level of quality for much of the last hundred years, Ausone’s reputation declined considerably towards the middle of the twentieth century. It wasn’t until the arrival of Pascal Delbeck in the 1970s that this downward trend was reversed, but subsequent years saw the chateau rapidly reacquire its old status as a claret sans pareil.

In more recent years, the estate has come under the control of Alain Vauthier, commonly described as a perfectionist, and the man who was at least partly responsible for our preferred vintage - the 2003. Now, we hesitate to recommend such a young wine, especially one as robust and hard-edged as Ausone, and the rather morbid caveat here is that this is not a wine for those of you who do not expect to see out another twenty years or so. But for the extremely patient, young and healthy among you, we would struggle to think of a wine that will so deeply reward sheer commitment.

The nose is an extraordinary amalgam of fresh flowers, summer fruits, purple violets (?) and cherries. There is richness and concentration to the fruit, yet also an unexpected lightness that even the young tannins cannot mask. Whilst lightness and richness may seem to be binary oppositions, think of the qualities of a perfectly prepared Belgian chocolate mousse and you will be somewhere near the mark, in conceptual terms at least. Complementing these qualities is an underlying savouriness – perhaps even a hint of herbs, such as thyme.

It is a certainly a serious wine, as exemplified, amongst other things, by the sheer length of the finish, but it exhibits a femininity that is wholly different from the left bank Grand Premier Crus.

We can only wonder what delights will emerge twenty years from now.