Who says sweet wines aren't sophisticated? Sauternes is in a class all by itself. Hailing from France's Bordeaux region, Sauternes is a luxurious old world white wine produced from grapes that have been affected by Noble Rot (Botrytis Cinerea); a fungus that decreases the water content of grapes but concentrates their complex sugary goodness. If you're not familiar with Sauternes, Château Climens is an exquisite introduction.
Bérénice Lurton has been at the helm of Château Climens since 1992. She describes producing Sauternes as being similar to dance - it may appear effortless but at the highest level it is extremely difficult.
Located in the Barsac appellation, only five families have owned the estate since the name Climens first appeared on a contract in 1547. Classified as a Premier Cru in 1855, early on Château Climens was hailed as the Lord of Barsac for the exceptional quality of their Sauternes. Planted only to Semillon, Château Climens is one of the region's rare single varietals. The property was acquired by Lucien Lurton in 1971 and his daughter Bérénice has been at the helm since 1992. In 2010, Bérénice implemented biodynamic viticulture methods that eliminated chemical sprays and implemented an array of natural techniques.
I recently had the pleasure of meeting Bérénice and sipping some of her family's exceptional wines. While many may relegate Sauternes to the dessert category, our lunch at Blue Hill at Stone Barns showed that Sauternes can pair beautifully with main courses. Sauternes also has incredible aging potential and we were lucky enough to taste vintages going back to 1976. You can find various vintages of Château Climens at several online retailers; including Total Wine, Millesima, and K&L Wine Merchants. Sauternes is not inexpensive but it is money well spent.
Château Climens also produces a lovely second label Sauternes called Cyprès de Climens that is less expensive but still superb. Our luncheon began with an amuse bouche of Pork Liver Terrine sandwiched between two dark chocolate wafers and paired with Cyprès de Climens 2013. It was absolutely divine and a playful riff on the classic pairing of Sauternes with foie gras. Cyprès is a totally unpretentious and pretty wine but still has great finesse - aromatic and vivacious with notes of citrus, white flowers, and apricot.
Blue Hill at Stone Barns' picturesque Winter Squash Salad with Golden Raisins, Strained Yogurt, and Toasted Almonds was a fantastic match with Château Climens 2011 & 2012. The Sauternes has rich flavors of apricot, acacia, honey, and toasted nuts that worked beautifully with the flavors of the salad. Yet, the wine has a vibrant acidity that keeps it from being cloying on the palate.
image courtesy of Millissime, Ltd.
Sauternes and pork was another inspired match. Stone Barns Berkshire Pig was paired with Château Climens 2005 & 2009. I especially loved the combination of the Sauternes with the rich and crispy pork belly - the flavors really came alive alongside the honey, vanilla, and spice flavors of the Sauternes and the wine's acidity balanced out the fabulous fattiness of the protein.
With Sauternes, I suggest avoiding a dessert that is too rich. This airy Honey Parfait with Beeswax Ice Cream echoed the honey and toasty notes of Château Climens 2002. The sublime Château Climens 1976 had complex honey, dried fruit, mint, and spice notes. Honestly, as delicious as this dessert was, I would have been perfectly fine just sipping sensational Château Climens Sauternes at the end of the meal.
If you're planning a trip to Bordeaux, Château Climens is about 40 minutes away. Visitors are welcome by appointment for tours and tastings. (Monday-Friday, 15 Euros).