Clément 1970 is the impossibly deep shade of brown that finely polished copper takes on a few days after a patina begins to develop, or that a vintage rhum aged for more than two decades exhibits if well-tended.
I’m shaking while preparing to open Clément 1970, the most expensive bottle of rum ever purchased by the Rum Gallery. Life is short, however, and since I earned what this rhum cost me, I press on. Full of anticipation, I peel the foil cover from the cap; pull the cork, and … the aromas emanating from it alone are intoxicating.
In my glass, dozens of miniature leg droplets form at the top of the trace of swirled rhum, yet few fall, while most are content to linger until they evaporate; the ultimate sacrifice to my anticipation.
A woody bouquet of star anise greets my nose before heavier aromas of mild & sweet pipe tobacco smoke, charred wood and fresh oak. More subtle are aromas of butter and vanilla; but every nasal aspect of this vintage rhum is so gentle and finely meshed that critical organoleptic dissection misses the point: Clément 1970 trumps my olfactory skills. As if sniffing didn’t saturate with pleasure, initial tasting repeats all the flavors of the aromas, in the same measures, only each is more pronounced and BIGGER. How I love a rhum that keeps on giving. Clément 1970 sips so impeccably smooth that it’s easy to get lost in the rhum. Yet finally, the medium body is kind on the palate, with an encore that begins slightly dry but lingers well into an extremely smooth, sweet finish.
Packaging is a lesson in understated elegance. From the moment you behold the gray wooden box you become aware you are in the presence of something special. Gently pull against the resistance of a pair of neodymium magnets set into the box frame to swing the hinged front open, to reveal a bottle adorned with netting and baseband made of some kind of straw. Perhaps the designer’s intent was to remind us that rhum, after all, starts with a plant.
Clément’s 1970 is one of their most rare vintages. Surprisingly, the sugarcane harvest of 1970 was nothing particularly special at the estate, but certain rhums from that vintage were held longer after they were tasted. The rhum reviewed here was probably distilled at 68-70% ABV, and laid down at 60-63% to age in re-charred American oak ex-bourbon barrels then bottled in 1991 at 44% ABV.
Clément does not believe in aging rhum longer than necessary. According to Ben Melin-Jones, descendant of distillery’s founder Homére Clément: “The Celler Master Robert believes very strongly in not having ‘too much barrel’ but will continue to age rhums a while longer in special cases until he is certain they cannot mature and develop further. This is a classic case of rhum aging expert vs. meeting the market demands of the consumer who is exploring older vintage rhums.”
Ben Jones sheds more light: “At the time of the bottling, these vintage ‘library collections’ were the new experiment. The rums were taken out of barrels and put into bottles to stop the aging in wood process. Then the bottles were slowly released in very limited allocations to preserve ‘vintage releases’ for many years to come. We borrowed this strategy from Armagnac…”
Clément 1970 is the very essence of what an impressively pedigreed, vintage Martinique A.O.C. rhum agricole should be. After one deep sniff and a sip, I realize that I’m not worthy. Rhums as well produced and matured as Clément 1970 should not be rated at all. They are incomparable treasures. But like the rhum itself, I can’t resist, and you deserve to know. Yes, it’s worth every penny.
Reviewed: November 2012 at The Rum Gallery, USA. Bottle marked SIE DD No. 23263.