Story and photos by Manos Angelakis
Some of the most delectable sweet white wines are produced in Bordeaux’s Sauternes-Barsac region.
They are honey-drenched, and the better producers create wines that have enough heft and acidity to pair well with some of the most complex salty and fatty dishes of world cuisine. In Sauternes wines, it’s usual to find aromas and tastes of pineapple, peaches, pears, apricots, nectarines, orange, vanilla and especially honey. Before the phylloxera epidemic, Sauvignon Blanc was the key grape planted in Sauternes; today, it is predominantly Semillon.
It is surprising to find that even though they are called “dessert” wines, because they are sweet, they very rarely pair well with desserts, perhaps with the exception of high-cocoa content bitter chocolate creations. The idea is that the food should be less sweet than the wine it is paired with. Sauternes and oysters on the half shell are a great wine and food pairing. Foie gras and Sauternes, with its natural sweet and savory characteristics is also a classic pairing. And of course, salty hard blue cheeses with high mineral content and flavor also pair beautifully with the honeyed wines. Sweet Sauternes wines make for an almost perfect pairing when served with spicy and salty Asian dishes that have become so much a part of the US West Coast table.
One of the most prominent producers of Sauternes-Barsac wines is Château Climens (Premier Cru Classé Barsac) one of the very few certified biodynamic Grand Cru wineries in Bordeaux.
A few days ago, I and a few other select writers had lunch with Bérénice Lurton, the guiding light behind Château Climens. Bérénice is a member of the Lurton family, one of Bordeaux's most influential wine dynasties with wineries in Bordeaux and the Languedoc, Portugal, Spain, Chile, Argentina, Uruguay and Australia. Altogether, the family owns and operates 27 properties that have 1,300 hectares of vineyards. The Lurtons now run everything from renowned châteaux (Cheval Blanc, Brane-Cantenac, Climens) to a regional farmers' union.
I have known her cousin, François Lurton – the Flying Winemaker -- for a number of years and highly respect his red wines made in Chile’s Colchagua Valley at Hacienda Araucano and in Argentina’s Alto Uco Valley in Mendoza (I keep a couple verticals of Araucano in my cellar). But I enjoy the exceptional wines of Bérénice’s Château Climens and the possibility of tasting a long vertical was uppermost in my mind.
Chateau Climens has a long history in Bordeaux dating back to 1547. Currently, 26 hectares of Château Climens’ 30 hectares (total area) are in production, with the oldest vines being about 70 years old. The district has been under vine since the middle Ages. What Bérénice hopes to achieve with biodynamic cultivation is sweet wines with considerable more elegance.
We started our lunch with well-chilled glasses of 2013 Cyprès de Climens, the château’s second label. Cyprès de Climens shows many of the characteristics of the Grand Vin but is much more approachable in its youth. This is a fruity wine, refreshing, not as full bodied as the Grand Vin, with white flowers and tropical fruits on the nose and a beautiful palate showing great depth, richness and plenty of acidity. It worked very well with the pass-around appetizers, most notably the Parmesan Pops on sticks, a crispy, rather salty Parmesan tuile dipped in dried tomato dust. Considering the fact that Cyprés is a second label, the price to quality ratio is exceptional.
We sad down to table and the first two wines to be poured were the Climens 2011 and 2012, the Château’s most recent vintages, with the amuse bouche, a Pork Liver Terrine served between two salty/bitter chocolate sheets, as well as the salad course. The 2012 was young, flowery, with good acidity; what a new Sauternes wine should be. The 2011 was much closer to a classic Sauternes with aromas of white flowers, white peaches and pears, vanilla and honey. On the palate it was full bodied, with enough heft to pair well with the pickled squash and raisins that were part of the salad. I thought that a couple years in cellar would only improve the 2011 making it a worthy representative of one of the better Sauternes wines we have seen in the new century.
The main course might have been a challenge for the kitchen, but the final result paired exceptionally well with the 2005 and 2009 Climens wines. The description on the menu was Berkshire pig prepared three ways: loin, boneless blade roast and pork belly served with mashed rutabaga, date, barley and cooked fresh spinach in a charcuterie sauce. I don’t know exactly what the ingredients of the light bodied sauce were, but it gave the meat an almost Asian tamari/smokey/salty-with-a-hint-of-camphor taste! The dish was very original and readily pairing with the older sweet wines that had started exhibiting much more tropical fruit – apricot, pineapple, vanilla -- nuances. This kitchen was definitely thinking out of the box in preparing such a dish!
Dessert, the course often associated with Sauternes wines even though it is the hardest pairing of all, was particularly successful because it played well with the sweetness of the wine without adding any cloying syrupiness; the Honey Parfait was refreshing combined with a soft beeswax ice cream. Together with the beautifully lively 2002 vintage wine; the combination was heavenly.
And then came the pièce de résistance, bottles of 1976 Château Climens, a legendary vintage made when Bérénice was a little girl. As the oldest of the wines at the lunch, it had acquired the beauty of age: 18 karat old-gold color, heady aromas of toffee, butterscotch, candied citrus and a very faint hint of dark honey and caramel. Absolutely gorgeous! I could have used a piece of farmhouse Stilton, and, with a slice of fresh baguette, it would have been the most exceptional pairing. But the restaurant did not think of this heavenly combination.
Thank you Bérénice and Pamela Wittmann for including me in this perfect Sauternes lunch!
© April 2016 LuxuryWeb Magazine. All rights reserved.