One can’t help but be impressed by Château Ausone, set at the top of a tortuously twisted road, with its caves and chapelle dug into the limestone cliff. It is a fittingly romantic location for one of the world’s greatest wines. A blend of 55% Cabernet Franc and 45% Merlot, this is dark and brooding in the glass. The nose is exceedingly rich and dense, with attractive black cherry and bramble fruit characters. The tannins are firm and structured, yet ripe and well integrated with the rich core of dark cherry, cassis and damson fruit. A stony minerality and a dart of refreshing acidity reflect the terroir and lend backbone to the rich succulent fruit. The balance of this wine is so finely honed that even though it has many years ahead of it, you feel like you could almost approach it now! 2014 to 2025.
Bordeaux is France's largest quality wine region, indeed producing almost as much wine as Australia. Its westerly position ensures a mild maritime climate, a long growing season and mild summers; rains in the autumn are the primary threat to the harvest, dampening expectations in around one year in three. Red wine predominates - indeed many white wine vines are being uprooted today - with Merlot the dominant variety. The region is dissected by the Gironde estuary, with on the Left Bank the district appellations of the Médoc and the Graves and on the Right Bank, those of Saint-Emilion and Pomerol amongst others. Sauternes is made in the south of the region. The notable red and sweet wines were classified in 1855 according to their then status. At that time not a single Pomerol or Saint-Emilion was deemed worthy despite their historic traditions, and only a single Graves wine. In the last few decades first Saint-Emilion and then Pomerol have become intensely fashionable, their usually small production guaranteeing a premium for scarcity.
2006 - Bordeaux
The 2006 growing season started brightly enough with a successful flowering and fruit set and a warm, sunny and settled June and July. Early optimism turned to concern when August, the month which is so crucial to eventual quality, was dreary with below average temperatures. Several proprietors described it as a month of 'poor quality light’. A blazing sun with heatwave temperatures greeted September and this fine spell continued for two weeks, during which time the vines made up the ground that they lost in August. It was this fortnight that turned a potentially mediocre vintage into one of good quality. The picking of Sauvignon Blancs and Right Bank Merlots began as barometric pressure fell. The onset of heavy rains which followed resulted in a rapid increase in berry size and a fall in sugar levels.
The timing of the picking has never been more crucial and it is clear that estates that picked ripe Merlots before or as soon as the weather broke, fared well. Pomerol Merlots tend to ripen a few days earlier than elsewhere in the region and we found the greatest quality consistency in this Right Bank commune.
A grape which has become immensely popular around the world in the last 20 years, initially as a purveyor of the flavours of claret in a fleshy, accessible and inexpensive form. Subsequently it has developed a following as a varietal in its own right and often finds itself the recipient of lavish winemaker attention. Most celebrated as the principal 'Right Bank' grape, underpinning most Pomerols and Saint Emilions with its sweet plum and currant fruit and fleshy, soft textures. These qualities have proved ideal as a foil to the drier, more astringent Cabernet Sauvignon and in the rest of Bordeaux, notably the Médoc, it is a contributor to the blend. Indeed so well does it 'round off' Cabernet Sauvignon that it is now rare to find a single Cabernet, even where marked only as such on the label, which does not include a small percentage of Merlot as compensation. The compliment is played the other way round and many varietal Merlots today are seasoned with a little Cabernet to give backbone. Merlot is a major player in Chilean wines, and plantings have overtaken those of Cabernet in California and indeed in Bordeaux, such is the popularity of this easy to admire variety.
A grape variety of growing importance, Cabernet Franc is today found throughout the world. It is best known as a contributor to most Bordeaux blends from the Médoc to Pomerol. Normally a minor element bringing keen scents and a herbal twist, it provides backbone to the fleshier Merlot in many a Right Bank wine. For small number of top Saint-Émilion Châteaux it is the heart of the blend. In the Loire, Cabernet Franc is the sole variety for such wines as Saumur-Champigny, Bourgueil, Chinon and Anjou-Villages. It is also found as a varietal further afield, in Italy and in the New World; it has found a home in the cool coastal regions of North America and Canada and, more recently, in South Africa and New Zealand. Cabernet Franc produces lighter and less tannic wines than its cousin Cabernet sauvignon, with subtler fruit, herbaceous and spicy characteristics and, especially in the Loire, can smell of pencil shavings!