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Touring the Right Bank with the Winemaker of Chateau Ausone

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In May 2009, I organized a tour of the Right Bank for the visiting faculty and students of the Wine School of Philadelphia. The visit was an opportunity to tour and taste a couple of very special winemaker projects under the guidance of Philippe Baillarguet, winemaker of Chateau Ausone.

Philippe is vinifying two wines, one in Saint-Emilion in a vineyard downslope from Pavie hill, and the other in Pomerol on the plateau, close to the church. Our guide is Bruno Baillarguet, owner of Vignobles & Chateaux wine store and school, in the heart of Saint-Emilion. It was very easy to spend time with these two twin brothers!

After visiting the vineyards in Saint-Emilion and Pomerol, Bruno led the group through a tasting of Clos Payrol, Pomerol, and Clos des Baies, Saint-Emilion, including barrel samples of the 2008 vintage (which is very good on the Right Bank, by the way!)

Our timing was fortuitous in another way -- a hailstorm hit Saint-Emilion that very morning! You will learn and see the lasting devastation that hail causes when it hits at precisely the worst moment.

Barrel Samples  
The 2008 vintage on the Right Bank was nearly a wash-out, but a late and long-lasting stretch of calm weather saved the vintage. Right Bank Merlot-based wines showed very well at Primeur, and I personally am encouraged by what I tasted in many chateaux in Saint Emilion and Pomerol. And the prices were much better than anything since 2004. All in all, you can find good wines at very good prices from 2008, so watch for them on the shelves next year.

These two wines are, by definition, small batch production, just a few barrels of each. However, they are priced fairly, in the 25-30EU range on futures. Check with Vignobles & Chateaux on their website if interested. I'm not sure what is still available as of February 2010. One thing is certain: you won't find any wines under 30EU that have the touch of the winemaker of Ausone, and that's not such a bad way to try a new label!
  • 2008 Clos des Baies - France, Bordeaux, Libournais, St. Emilion Grand Cru
    Project of the young winemaker from Chateau Ausone, who owns the vineyard and makes the wine. 
    Clos des Baies is a St Emilion Grand Cru -- 95-98% Merlot, the balance Cabernet Franc -- produced from a small plot of vines (0.3HA) located near the vineyards of Chateau Pavie & Pavie Decesse. While the plot is not situated directly on the limestone plateau as are its Premier Grand Cru Classe B neighbors, the soil composition of the Clos de Baies vineyard is a mix of chalk, clay, and sand. The vines are 30 years old on average, planted to a density of 6,666 per HA. Yield is 35 HL/HA. The wine is made by Mr. Philippe Baillarguet, the young wine maker of Chateau Ausone. This is his personal project, one of two we visited in May 2009. As Ausone is 55% Cabernet Franc, this wine is not comparable in either terroir or composition, however Philippe has interest in supplementing the blend with more Cab Franc in the future should a plot become available. But, for now the wine is predominately Merlot. Fermentation is in 1 38L tank, with Malolactic fermentation in new oak. Wine will be aged 16-18 months in new oak on the lees, with traditional racking. 1,500 bottles (5 barrels). About 25EU Futures, plus VAT.

    2008 Barrel Sample. Dark red vibrant color. The nose is cherry, violets, and a touch of butter from the quality barrels showing their early participation. Palate is structured, with very high quality dark red fruit, and a touch of minerality. Velvety mouthfeel. Long finish, and a disposition that should age at least 12-15 years. Also tasted 2006 from bottle, which was more drying and tannic. The '08 is a cut above. 89-91 Points.

    Philippe Baillarguet has made the wine at Ausone since 1997. He also has another plot in Pomerol from which he makes Clos Payrol. His twin brother, Bruno, runs Vignobles & Chateaux wine shop in St Emilion.
  • 2008 Clos Payrol - France, Bordeaux, Libournais, Pomerol
    Project of winemaker from Chateau Ausone, Mr. Philippe Baillarguet. The owners of this vineyard is Pascal eand Roger Laguerre.
    Clos Payrol is a Merlot wine made from a tiny plot that is in the heart of quality Pomerol vineyards near Petrus, L'Evangile, and Le Constelliante and Vieux Chateau Certan, and close to the tolling church in the village. The soil composition on this gradually sloping plateau is clay and gravel, with the iron subsoil componentry that gives Pomerol its unique character profile of violets, and is thought to be a factor in the long ageing potential of wines from this area. The 0.36HA plot of 100% Merlot planted to a density of 7,000 vines per hectare, 35-50 years old, and a yield of 35 HL/HA. One stainless steel tank is used for first fermentation. Malo is 100% in new oak barrels. When asked about this choice (rather than malolactic fermentation in tank, which Petrus uses with their near-100% Merlot vinifications), Philippe indicated that Malo in Barrel gives better stability of the color, and the flavor from oak and fruits give a better personality, and the wines are more typical of the authenticity of the vineyards. He also indicated that the wine can remain stable and without need for sulfites from January through May without risk of oxidation. The wine will be aged in new barrels for 16-18 months, matured on the lees and racked. Just 3 barrels are produced (900 bottles, about 75 cases). About 29EU plus VAT on Futures.

    2008 Barrel Sample: Very dark color, blue streaks. Big bouquet of flowers on the nose. A rich mouth-filling wine, with nicer fruit quality than the 2006 we also sampled. The oak seems in retreat. Drying, big and tannic at this early stage. One to watch. Wonderful effort. 90-92 points.
A video highlight of this event is found on under Podcasts.
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Year, Name, Varietal, Country, Region, Appellation, Color Drink dates Score(s)  
Clos des Baies
2008 Clos des Baies
Red Bordeaux Blend
France - Bordeaux - St Emilion
IWC ...
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Clos Payrol
2008 Clos Payrol
Red Merlot
France - Bordeaux - Pomerol
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