Ausone: JJ Buckley and the Last Crusade

by Chuck Hayward

Ausone: JJ Buckley and the Last Crusade

Post by Neil Mechanic | April 8th, 2011

Our Pilgrimage to Ausone

For many, Saint Emilion (and the neighboring village of Pomerol) is the "Holy Grail" for merlot and cabernet franc, as there is nowhere else these two varietals reach such levels of greatness. Saint Émilion sits on the right bank of the Dordogne River and is dotted with Romanesque churches and ruins stretching along the narrow cobblestone streets. Walking through the village, the Romans’ involvement is evident in the architecture and the limestone terraced vineyards that dot the landscape.

Thus, our visit to Château Ausone, one of two grand cru classé estates, was more than just a was a historical and, dare I say, holy experience! In fact, the estate's chapel (Chapelle de la Madeleine) and its underground rotunda are dedicated to Mary Magdalene, one of Jesus' most infamous disciples. With so much to see, it was like being in a museum that just happens to make one of the greatest wines in the world!

On our visit, we had the pleasure of meeting Pauline Vauthier, daughter of Alain Vauthier, owner and general manager of the estate. The Vauthiers have owned the property since the early 1920's and purchased other properties in the 1950s and 60s. Therefore, the JJB staff had the opportunity to taste the two wines of Ausone, as well as the Vauthier portfolio of other Right Bank estates, including Château Simard, Château Fonbel, and Moulin St. Georges.

Waiting to Fill Our Cups

Of all the lineups that we tasted in both Saint Émilion and Pomerol, Ausone displayed a streak of elegance and balance that permeated my mouth for minutes after tasting. The bold fruit spectrum of crushed blackberry and cassis is tempered by precision-like minerality and wet stone. The aromatics of violet and other florals on both the “baby” Ausone (La Chapelle d'Ausone) and the Ausone were gorgeous…an ethereal experience beyond words. Partly due to great winemaking (Michel Rolland is the consulting enologist), the major factor is the physical relation between the vines and the limestone plateau where Ausone is situated.

When visiting the property, you can’t help but notice the limestone plateau that sits underneath the village center. But there is no better advantage point to experience this unique sub-strata than by taking the tour of the estate's catacomb caves ("Les Caves d'Ausone"). We had the honor of taking a quick tour with proprietor Alain Vauthier and realized another defining point for why Ausone is so great—perfect cellaring conditions.

Holy Cheese and Crackers, Batman!

Hands down, this was the most amazing cellar that I have visited in all of Western Europe. The caves were constructed back in the 4th century as a limestone quarry of sorts and there are three sections underneath the Château. The Ausone quarries bespeak five centuries of history and the deep bond between craftsmen and stone, which we pondered walking through these dark caverns full of hibernating bats, shell fossils enshrined in the rock and even mushroom cultivation.  It was the highlight of our visit.

Of course, the wines were spectacular, too. Between the amazing 2010 Ausone bottling and walking through this “holy land,” I was awestruck, to say the least!