Kicking Off A New Year With Chablis
A review of some of the excellent white wines produced in Chablis.
By Louis Marmon
Gazette Newspapers January 23, 2013
It is always an excellent time to become acquainted with Chablis. Located nearly 100 miles south of Paris, Chablis is the northernmost aspect of the renowned Burgundy region although the vineyards are actually closer to Champagne than to the rest of the Burgundy. Relatively isolated with a limestone and clay soil containing fossilized seashells that is planted exclusively with Chardonnay, Chablis was once the largest vineyard area of the country and reigned as the premier white wine of Parisian bistros. The area is prone to harsh weather including devastating frosts that reduce crops. Combined with competition from other winemaking areas such as Bordeaux, Chablis plantings dramatically decreased despite its prominent name recognition.
The name has actually been part of the problem. To the public, Chablis meant white wine and as wine appreciation spread around the globe, Chablis became synonymous with a dry, white wine regardless of its place of origin. The appearance of “Chablis” on the label of mediocre jug wines from California and elsewhere was not a positive development.
Paradoxically, another issue is the popularity of Chardonnay. Found in nearly every wine producing region, Chardonnay is very flavor neutral whose profile changes depending upon where and how it is grown, fermented and handled in the winery including the use of oak. For a long time the most popular styles were big, buttery often voluptuous Chardonnays with pronounced vanilla oakiness.
The wines of Chablis are completely different. Most rarely, if ever, see any oak with most fermented in neutral wood or stainless steel tanks. Focused, steely with a marked minerality, and even a “gunflint” quality, Chablis has a brightness that is a direct contrast to the expectations of most Chardonnay drinkers. But that is the nature of their charm. Their fruit flavors are more subtle than other Chards with balanced acidity that make them perfect food-friendly wines or for sipping solo with some delicate cheeses.
As in other regions in France, the wines are classified according to the quality of the vineyards. There are seven Chablis Grand Cru vineyards whose wines tend to be multifaceted, richer and more expensive. The seventeen Premier Crus offer the best value-quality relationship for a white Burgundy, especially in the 2010 vintage. The year was marked with a smaller yields and a return to the characteristic minerality that marks the best Chablis.
The Domaine William Fevre Vignoble de Vaulorent Fourchaume Premier Cru Chablis 2010 ($44) is produced from a vineyard next to two Grand Cru sites and the result is a refined and complex grapefruit and peach flavored beauty with ideal balance and racy acidity marked with minerals, herbs and accents of tropical fruits at the finish.
Made from younger vines, their Domaine William Fevre Fourchaume Premier Cru Chablis 2010 ($40) is nearly as complex displaying grapefruit, green apples and pears in an elegant, mineral frame. The precisely styled Domaine Drouhin Vaudon Vaillons Premier Cru Chablis 2010 ($30) has everything a top-tier Chablis should possess including racy acidity on a mineral backbone flavored with citrus and stone fruits. It opens with floral aromas that meld seamlessly into lime, grapefruit, pineapples and pears that linger.
A bit broader in style is the Domaine Faiverley Fourchaume Premier Cru Chablis 2010 ($40) that stays true to its terroir with minerals and acidity but also has pleasant oak flavors along with apples, spice and citrus notes.
Apricots, honey and lemons are prominent in the fruity Louis Michel & Fils Les Forets Premier Cru Chablis ($35) along with mango, citrus and spice flavors reaching into the long mineral infused finish.