"Jay-Jay-BEUC" does Ausone & Cheval Blanc
Post by Cory Gowan | Wednesday, March 31st
After our first real good night's sleep (6hrs) since arriving in Bordeaux, the JJ Buckley crew and I headed out from the town of Libourne on a sunny morning to the only two Premier Grand Cru Classe "A" châteaux in St. Emilion— Cheval Blanc and Ausone. What a way to start the day!
After a quick stop at a working man's bar (FYI the B.O. was all-encompassing, eclipsed, perhaps, only by the giant poster of Britney Spears adorning the walls) for a quick café (espresso) we were soon careening through the vineyards in our Renault, and arrived via the stately driveway of Cheval Blanc. Inside the grand tasting room with our negociant friends, we tasted the three wines of Cheval Blanc from the 2009 vintage— La Tour du Pin, Le Petit Cheval, and Cheval Blanc.
- Cheval & Snails
La Tour Du Pin is a newly acquired property adjacent to the château and is composed mostly of Merlot from vines around 35 years old. The wine showed a lot of freshness thanks to an early harvest date and featured a very long and silky finish. The Petit Cheval made up only 35% of the harvest in 2009, meaning a remarkable 65% of the crop made it into the Grand Vin. The 2009, typically a merlot dominant blend with cabernet franc, showcased the vintage's fresh, ripe qualities but also exhibited a remarkable level of restraint due to the strict harvesting date— a mere two days later and vine manager Nicolas Corporandy felt the wine could have verged on being overripe! The Grand Vin, an inky red at just under 14% alcohol, showed a fresh core of fruit without feeling heavy, impeccable structure and a velveteen finish to die for.
- Hey there, big spenders!
After a quick Team JJ Buckley (or "Jay-Jay-BEUC" as we have become know in Bordeaux) photo outside the château, we headed up through the breathtaking town of St. Emilion, a UNESCO world heritage site with Romanesque churches, ancient narrow streets (I did my best to not drive off a cliff), and western sloping vineyards. Château Ausone sits on the edge of town and looks west along spectacular views of the vineyards. Its cellars are literally carved into the limestone underneath the town of St. Emilion with vineyards growing on top! Alain Vauthier gave us a personal tour of the caves of the estate (click for video), where the barrels for the 2009 vintage are perched upon stone foundations also carved out of the floor of the caves. This is such a special place and standing in these caves talking to Mr. Vauthier was a highlight of the trip and something I will never forget.
- Church overtop the cellars at Ausone
Back in the château, we were treated to a private tasting of the six wines from the Vauthier family— Fonbel, Simard, Haut Simard, Moulin-Saint-Georges, Chapelle d'Ausone, and Ausone. The Moulin-Saint-Georges and the Haut Simard were personal favorites from the non-Ausone properties, with the Moulin-Saint-Georges showing incredibly fragrant aromas of blooming flowers and essence of fresh fruit with exceptional body and structure. This is the inaugural release of the 5 hectare vineyard of Haut Simard, a separate parcel from Château Simard which Vauthier felt featured exceptional fruit from the sandy clay soil. Comprised of 70% Merlot, it was a delicious wine with a core reminiscent of hard candy with fine tannins leading to a gorgeous finish. With 2,100 cases produced, I'm hoping a bottle (or two, or twelve) will work their way into my hands come 2012.
The Chapelle d'Ausone and the Grand Vin were both, in a word, astounding. We stood around the tasting room in awe, singing the praises of the wines in hushed voices and voraciously taking notes. The production is tiny, with only around 1300 cases of Ausone (and just 6000 bottles of the Chapelle) and both a blend of Cabernet Franc and Merlot, with the Chapelle made mostly from Merlot and the Ausone nearly equal parts of both varietals. At 14.5% alcohol (highest ever), the 2009 Ausone is a shapeshifter, featuring an inky red color with hints of purple (but not nearly as much as wines from the Left Bank) and a glorious nose, soft entry on the palate, spice, and utterly fine tannins carrying the finish well into next week. It is a wine (and experience) I will not soon forget, and looking at the town of St. Emilion with its churches, limestone, and ruins in my rear view mirror on the drive back to Libourne I was truly thankful that I'll always have its wines to remind me of this immense sense of place. Now that's terroir.