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Château Climens 1981

After last week's focus on Loire fizz, with the 2010 Saphir from Bouvet-Ladubay, I was up for writing about a very similar style of wine this week. After all, on Friday I particularly enjoyed working my way through a bottle of the latest release of Bulles de Roche, from Thierry Germain (of Domaine des Roches Neuves) and Michel Chevré. Two things, however, conspired in order to change my mind. First, although my Monday selection isn't meant to be a 'buying recommendation', I still think it's more useful if I can actually communicate exactly what I'm drinking, and with Bulles de Roche that's very difficult. It's a non-vintage cuvée, with no difference in labelling from one vintage/bottling to the next. With earlier releases the image on the label changed, which at last gave us all a hint, but more recently this has not been the case. Indeed, the only clue to me (affirmed by tasting - this was a deliciously different bottling) that this was a new release was a new style of foil atop the bottle.

The second event that persuaded me to leave the Bulles de Roche to one side was the sudden appearance of this wine from Château Climens. As regular readers will have noticed, there has been a lot of Sauternes and Barsac 'activity' on Winedoctor this year, with all my pre-existing profiles updates, as well as completely new reports on Château d'Arche, Château Broustet, Château Caillou, Château Cantegril, Château Doisy-Dubroca, Château Haut-Bergeron, Château Lamothe, Château Liot, Château de Malle and Château Rabaud-Promis. With that in mind I have been tasting and drinking a lot of Sauternes recently, but most of the wines in my cellar hail from the 2001 vintage, with some representation from 2003, 2005, 2007 and the more recent successes of 2009, 2010 and 2011 (the latter vintages only 'in my cellar' in a metaphorical sense of course; they have yet to be bottled and delivered). So it's informative to look back to an older vintage, in this case 1981.

Château Climens 1981

Château Climens needs no introduction; it is perhaps a class apart in the Sauternes and Barsac hierarchy, not quite at the level of Yquem, but certainly ahead of much of the rest of the pack, although I find Coutet to be on the same level in some recent vintages. It is an estate I am not as familiar with as I would like, as I have never been able to find the time to taste there during the primeurs, when instead of presenting a blended sample proprietor Bérénice Lurton ploughs her own furrow with a barrel-by-barrel tasting of the potential components. This is not the only feature that sets Climens apart, however, as this is the most highly ranked biodynamic estate in Bordeaux. While the conversion of fifth growth Pontet-Canet seems to have brought masses of publicity, the introduction of biodynamics at Climens, a first growth within the 1855 classification of Sauternes and Barsac, with certification achieved in 2011, seems to have gone through with hardly a murmur from Bérénice or from the wine press. This strikes me as something of a missed opportunity for the estate, and for raising the profile of the appellation.

This week's wine, however, naturally harks back to a pre-biodynamic era, before even Nicolas Joly had received his metaphysical epiphany. The 1981 vintage is not one of great repute when it comes to Sauternes; there was a very hot August, then very wet weather during the next two months, and although drier weather returned it does not seem to have achieved the concentration in the botrytis we should look for. In the glass the 1981 Château Climens has a clean, golden hue, on the paler side considering its age it has to be said. The nose is fresh and bright, with richer nuances suggestive of subtle botrytis, orange and apricot, and also a little almond paste and lemon meringue. It is mainly the sweet and scented fruit that dominates though, the firmly citrus-dominated character even nuanced by a little peach juice. The palate has a very fine, supple, gentle character, with some good bite to it but the overall impression is one of refined and subtle elegance rather than exuberance or impressive concentration. There is a little sense of cream at the beginning, although this does fade through the midpalate, which is not exceptionally rich, and towards the finish it begins to dry out and is indeed a little bitter too. There is an appealing albeit light acidity, and a little grip running into the finish to give it structure. Thankfully the slightly dry finish is not too detracting but it does suggest to me that, despite the handsome preserving qualities of the acidity and the great freshness of fruit this wine possesses, this wine will dry out before the flavours develop any greater interest. I don't think the residual sugar was particularly high from the outset. One for drinking sooner rather than later, I think. 16/20 (10/12/12)

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