Ausone is undoubtedly one of the legendary properties in Bordeaux, its reputation supported as much by its rarity as by the exceptional quality of its wines. In 1996, the 7-hectare vineyard and its elegant chateau, which stands guard above the main approach to St Emilion from the valley of the Dordogne River, were bought in full by Alain Vauthier. His family had previously shared ownership with the Dubois-Challon family, and the arrangement had not been a happy one for the wines. For the last decade quality has been on the up and up, the chateau is nearing completion of a lengthy and extensive renovation and the goals of the quiet but devoted M. Vauthier are one by one being achieved, with considerale help from regisseur Pascal Delbeck. A sensational run of successes from 2000 onwards has whipped up international interest in this property which, for a while in the 1980s, had managed to retain a band of devout followers without igniting much broader demand. The vineyards are planted with 50% Merlot, 50% Cabernet Franc and have an average age of 50 years old. Harvest is manual and the wine is aged in 100% new oak for 18 months on average. Ausone offers ultra ripe fruit, huge richness, thick-set tannins in its youth and is generally one of the more powerful and ageworthy St Emilions. Production is limited to no more than 2000 cases.
St-Émilion is a very different region to those of the Médoc, dominated by small-holding farmers and estates rather than grand Châteaux. Merlot is widely planted as is Cabernet Franc in some parts. The wines are enormously variable in style depending on the terroir, the grape variety make-up and winemaking style. Loosely the region is divided between the limestone Côtes, Graves or gravelly limestone plateau or the sandy alluvial soils nearer the Dordogne. Traditionally Médoc wines were trade from Bordeaux and St Emilions from Libourne so they have their own classification system separate to that of 1855. The classification is revised every ten years and falls into four categories, St Emilion, St Emilion Grand Cru, St Emilion Grand Cru Classé and St Emilion Premier Grand Cru Classé
Most of the district's best properties are either on the steep, clay-limestone hillsides immediately below the town or on a gravelly section of the plateau west of St Emilion itself abutting Pomerol. There are several high profile estates in the region, including Cheval Blanc, Ausone, Figeac, Le Dôme, Valandraud and Pavie.