July 20, 2009 / 10:31 AM / 10 years ago

Sauternes maker aims to break 'dessert wine' mould

PARIS (Reuters Life!) - For many people, the sweet white Sauternes wine is served at the start of a dinner with ‘foie gras’ goose liver or at the end of the meal with dessert.

But for Berenice Lurton, owner of Chateau Climens and scion of a well-known Bordeaux wine-making dynasty, that has to end.

“Our aim is to liberate these wines of all these restrictive labels which have been stuck on them for decades,” she said.

“When I arrived at Climens almost 15 years ago, I realized that almost nobody (included me) knew anything about matching Sauternes with food. So I worked with a chef from Bordeaux, Michel Gautier, we have tried more and more experiences, and have realized there were almost no limits!”

Oriental influence, spices, audacious associations are now omnipresent in Grande Cuisine as well as in home cooking.

She said that along with seafood such as lobster, all white meats and lamb, Sauternes wines match with all kinds of vegetables, herbs and spices such as ginger and saffron.

“The complexity of both the cuisine and the wine are enhanced in harmony. They are also wonderful with cheeses and light desserts with seasonal or dry fruits,” Lurton said.

Sauternes wine making has a history going back to the 17th century when English and Dutch traders dominated the local wine business. The Dutch started planting grapes for white wines in the Bordeaux area and produced sweet wines. They selected the Sauternes area because it was a good place for whites.

The wines from Sauternes and Barsac use the Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc and Muscadelle grapes and their particularity is that makers let the grapes rot with the Botrytis cinerea fungus, which gives the wine their special taste.

The process is also used for Tokaj wine in Hungary.

The Sauternes vineyards, some 40 km (25 miles) southeast of Bordeaux along the Garonne river and its Ciron tributary, are moist with mist in the mornings, which is good for the fungus.

The Barsac wines are often drier and lighter than other Sautenes of which the best-known name is Chateau d’Yquiem.


Berenice Lurton has organized dinners that were entirely devoted to Climens wines. “People are baffled, and they feel like trying at home with their own recipes I don’t intend everybody to have Sauternes for a whole meal, but I wish to show how versatile these wines are.” She is the president of the classified wines of Sauternes and Barsac and they organized several dinners in Hong Kong and Shanghai. The next one will take place in New York at Vermilion.

The first “Culinary creativity award” will take place in Quebec in March 2010.

“Young and talented, but not yet celebrated chefs will compete to create the most original and harmonious food and wine match with our wines,” Lurton said.

“We also promote our wines to be served by the glass in restaurants and trendy bars and we’ve just started that in Bordeaux and hope to create a “nouvelle vague.”

The Lurton family traces its wine roots to 1650 when the Recapet family had vines in Saint-Emilion and later Branne.

In 1923, the sole heiress of the family, Denise Lecapet married Francois Lurton. Today, the Lurton family owns 1,300 hectares of vineyards and 27 domains.

It includes Pierre Lurton who runs Yquem and Cheval Blanc, or Gonzague who has Chateau Domeyne in Saint-Estephe and Durfort-Vivens at Margaux. Nestor Andre Lurton owns domains in Entre-Deux-Mers, Pessac-Leognan, Saint-Emilion and Margaux.

“I feel that the intense respect I have for the terroir

comes from my father,” she said, referring to Lucien Lurton.

“He really fell in love with the vineyard and wine-making, and specially terroirs...All his (10) children have naturally understood the value of the soil and the plant, and the fact that all the interactions of Nature are very complex and important, and that observation, adaptation and humility are the main qualities we need for this job,” she added.

Asked which of her wines she preferred, she said almost all vintages were good.

“If ever you find a bottle of 1929... it might bring you next to the gods for a few moments.”

Reporting by Marcel Michelson

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