Story and grape photo by Manos Angelakis
Bottle photos courtesy of the producers
Sampling New to me Wines
Château Climens is one of the oldest and most respected wine producers in Barsac. In the 1855 classification, Château Climens was designated as a PREMIER CRU winery together with 10 other properties in the Sauternes-Barsac region, bested only by Château d’ Yquem.
At Château Climens the wines are created from Semillon grapevines at least 30-years old, and the entire vineyard was converted to biodynamic production in 2010. The first and second labels of the winery offer exceptional sweet wines, and the entire process is supervised by Bérénice Lurton, the owner, who has managed the estate since 1992; she is a member of a large, high quality wine-producing family with vineyards and facilities in many top regions of the world. If quality isn’t as expected in a certain vintage, the château won’t release a wine under its label.
A couple years ago, Bérénice decided to create a dry wine, also made from 100% Semillon grapes, but harvested from younger vines; I tasted an initial sample in 2019 during one of the vintner’s lunches she sponsors in New York City and really liked it, but up to now it was not widely available.
I’m very happy to report that the 2018 vintage of Asphodèle, as the wine is called, is now available in a much wider distribution. As mentioned above, Asphodèle is made from 100% Semillon and is fermented and aged in stainless steel tanks and aged on its lees for 8 months before bottling. Production is limited to an average of 1,000 cases per vintage.
Asphodèle, is the name of a Mediterranean flowering wild plant. According to ancient Greek mythology, Asphódelos (the Greek name) is the plant that covers the Elysium Fields, the flower-filled meadows of afterlife where the souls of heroes and other remarkable individuals rest and are rewarded with everlasting joy. In other words, according to Homer, Asphódelos flowers in the ancient Greek version of Paradise!
The Clemens Asphodèle is a slightly off-dry aromatic wine with a very distinct personality, imported by Vineyard Brands. The grapes are manually harvested and pressed without de-stemming. Several batches are fermented in small stainless tanks then blended for the final cuvée. The lack of wood allows this wine to exhibit freshness, grace and purity; it is a fleshy wine with distinct aromas of anise, pear and white peaches and notes of acacia and white spring flowers. The perfectly controlled acidity and balance will allow it to age gracefully for many years, but to be honest I enjoyed it on receipt, quite young -- 2018 vintage received May 2020. I rate it at 94/100 points.
Another group of sample bottles that I received recently were two Californian Cabernet Sauvignons. Stephanie Trotter Zacharia, the owner and winemaker of Trotter 1/16 Winery sounded so enthusiastic about her wines that I decided to try them.
I received two bottles: a 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon Flying J’s Vineyard and a 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon Oak Canyon Ranch, both from Coombsville in Napa Valley. Very limited production, fewer than 50 cases each.
I opened both the Flying J’s Vineyard and the Oak Canyon Ranch bottles to have with a traditional giouvetsi-style lamb roast. My roast is oven roasted lamb shoulder with orzo, a short pasta cooked with the lamb and tomato sauce. I’m very partial to this dish as it is very flavorful with aromas of mint and oregano, the two herbs that together with lemon juice are used on the roast. I also find it an excellent foil when tasting red wines, as you have the distinctive lamb taste and the herbal aromas that should work well with the wine but not overpower it, and neither should the wine overpower the taste and aromas of the lamb.
The wines were very similar, though each one had a distinct taste profile. When I say similar, it is because they both reminded me of Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon wines from the Cachapoal valley, but the Californians are 100% Cabernet and the Chileans are 90% Cabernet and 10% Merlot or Carménère; that softens the wine and mitigates some of the acidity. Both wines I tasted are sharper than the Chileans; spicy and full-bodied, bold and brimming with spice, cherry, oak and blackcurrant aromas and notes of chocolate, cedar, black tea and smoke. The palate is juicy and lively with a burst of acidity that makes these wines suitable for heavier dishes based on beef or venison. I rate the Oak Canyon Ranch bottle at 90/100 and the Flying J’s at 89/100.
To your health!
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