Chablis. The great equalizer. A wine of gold and light, worth opening at every occasion, full of spirit, possessive of protracted acidity. With its capture of ancient geology, oceanic shells and Jurassic rocks, it’s alacrity flourishes with utmost consistency. The words Chablis and non-performer are disavowed of being uttered together. The history of customer satisfaction is written in stone.
In Ontario there are Petit Chablis and Chablis always available on the LCBO’s General List. At any given time there are more Chablis, Premier and Grand Cru floating about in various VINTAGES locations. Only one can be found on the VINTAGES Essentials list and yet it is arguably the most essential white wine. What’s up with that? Has anyone ever spent a moment of regret on a single Chablis purchase from an Ontario store?
Chablis is chardonnay for varietal purposes but only that links it to other chardonnay. Chablis is more than chardonnay, not existential as chardonnay and if you ask wiser men than me, is not chardonnay. And Chablis is getting inside people’s heads. I am not the only one who lives and breathes borne witness to the new Burgundy winds of change. It is of late that I have noticed (other) Bourgogne whites eerily coming closer and closer to smelling, tasting and acting like Chablis. Why would that be?
Part of the reason is certainly a response to the current rising trend of a global veering away from oak. But there has to be more to it than that. Who would refute the notion that producers in Beaune and the more southerly climes of Burgundy are looking north and thinking, dreaming, hoping to mimic Chablis. The idea is not so far-fetched. Wouldn’t it be fair to say that global warming has had an effect on Bourgogne and punches the stylistic meter towards Chablis? How many times have you recently read a tasting note in which a critic discussing a chardonnay style, an example say from Ontario, New Zealand or even Sonoma, as being comparable to Chablis? How many winemakers wouldn’t kill to have their chardonnay considered and reviewed with Chablis as the benchmark? Yes, it’s all Chablis to me.
Related – Chablis from Dauvissat to Vocoret
The first week of July excavated a head first, personal hermeneutic, all in to nothing but Chablis. Out the door from Charles de Gaulle into a taxi to Auxerre and then straight up the Premier Cru Côte de Léchet up on the Left Bank of the Serein. This with Au Coeur du Vin’s Chablis guru Eric Szablowski. A bottle of Brocard at Bar Le Quai in Auxerre. Early next morning to Domaine William Fèvre with Director Didier Séguier, then La Chablisienne with Oenologist Vincent Bartement, at Domaine Gérard Tremblay with Vincent Tremblay and finally the Domaine of Edouard Vocoret and Eleni Theodoropoulos. Days end with a Domaine François Raveneau Chablis Grand Cru Blanchot 2009 at Auxerre’s Restaurant Le Folie.
Related – Raveneau’s Grand Cru Blanchot 2009
Breakfast on day two in Chablis was spent tasting with Patrick Piuze, followed by Domaine René et Vincent Dauvissat, Lucie Thieblemont and Charly Nicolle and at Château de Béru with Athénaïs de Béru. And then, Auxerre’s Restaurant L’aspérule.
I met with Julien Brocard in front of the Abbaye de Sainte Claire at Domaine Jean-Marc Brocard, Benjamin Laroche at La Manufacture, Sébastien Dampt and Domaine Barat. In Auxerre I tasted with BIVB Chablis’ Jean-François Bordet of Domaine Séguinot-Bordet at Eric Gallet’s Le Bourgogne.
A final day began with winemaker Matthieu Mangenot at Domaine Long-Depaquit, then Romain Collet at Domaine Jean Collet et Fils, Cyril Testut of Domaine Testut, with Elodie Saudemont at Domaine Laroche and then Domaine Louis Moreau. Et finalement, a Domaine François Raveneau Chablis Premier Cru Montée de Tonnerre 2009 at Au Fil du Zinc in Chablis.
It was not until I ventured down the QEW two weeks later to attend my fourth consecutive International Cool Climate Chardonnay Conference that I put on my retrospective spectacles to see that what I had been tasting that entire week in France was in fact chardonnay. I mean I knew I was but never really stopped to think about it in such terms. It was simply at the time, in the moment, just Chablis. Even at i4c there were moments when my brain was churning in Chablis motives, machinations and emojis. Did you feel it too?
It helped that some friendships forged in Burgundy were furthered in Niagara because these folks came to spread the Pure Chablis gospel. Scripture that includes the sine qua non of gentle pressing, cold settling, Kimmeridgian, Portlandian and Calcaire soils, aging on fine lees and sometimes, but not always kissing a natural malolactic fermentation with a whisper of French oak. Sandrine Audegond of Domaine Laroche, Jean-François Bordet and Françoise Roure, Marketing and communication manager du Bureau Interprofessionnel des Vins de Bourgogne (Burgundy Wine Board) were on hand to help turn a chardonnay clambake into a quarry quorum. The word mineral was heard to be uttered on several occasions and no injuries were reported.
Wines that deliver a sense of place or, as we like to refer to it here in Ontario as “somewhereness,” always seem to stand out. The switchboard for the ideal is in Burgundy where the intrinsic reality is calculated in climats, that is, plots or blocks defined by the confluence of place, geology, slope, aspect and climate. Ancient somewhereness aside the current VINTAGES release includes some eerily Chablis-like “entry-level” white Burgundies, far from barrel-dominated and anything but entry-level. If to you climat, unadulterated chardonnay and respected producers mean anything at all, these wines are worth the price. We can’t all afford white Burgundy but here the quality far exceeds the cost.
The September and October releases are home to exemplary Premier Cru and looking back over the past several months I have found more Chablis, Premier Cru and Grand Cru wines that I had the opportunity to taste in Burgundy and remain available in VINTAGES. Looking for Chablis in Ontario? Look no further.
In VINTAGES September 3rd, 2016
This entry-level chardonnay is La Chablisienne’s away from Chablis foray into Bourgogne, or perhaps a combing and combining of the two. The nose is steely, flinty and smoky, the palate full of lemon zest, limoncello and lemon meringue pie. Touching in its tartness and nearly very impressive from its depth and for its length. Goes to show you can take the Chablisienne out of Chablis but you can’t take the Chablis out of Chablisienne. Drink 2016-2019. Tasted August 2016 #LaChablisienne @
Typically flinty and stony Chablis from Moreau of Portlandian influence and typically easy to get to know, as per the forward vintage. All good berries and the ease of ripening is here on display. Chablis never had it so good, easy and lazy. Drink up. Drink 2016-2017. Tasted August 2016
I rarely comment of a white Burgundy’s hue but this pours as pale as a Beaune ghost with villages transparency. Almost Chablis-like in its quiet sincerity, the calcaire is everything here. The vintage is a good one and the acidity works the wine with natural ease. Very fine example of “reserve” style entry-level Bourgogne. Drink 2016-2019. Tasted August 2016 @ @
The O. Leflaive basic Bourgogne has yet to cease its twitching and circulating with the mouth-watering cascades of its acidity. The freshness is alive and well, the vitality striking for and from the vintage. Ancient geology aside this chardonnay is also Chablis-like, far from wooden and so very struck rock tart. Acting as a scintillant of the lightning order, fruit is not an afterthought but it is relayed with metallurgy as its conduit. Easily worth the extra five bucks in comparison to most entry-level white Burgundies. Drink 2017-2022. Tasted August 2016 @
While all the Chablis climats enjoyed an ideal growing season in 2014 I have to say that the Premier Cru Beauroy made full use of its gifts. The parcel lacks the striking mineral underfoot of close neighbours Côte de Léchet and Vaillons but what it does have is roundness and depth of fruit. In 2014 those aspects converge with the Chablis mineral ethos to paint a picture who’s whole is both the sum and the accumulation of its parts. Hamelin makes full advantage of fruit, rock and vintage. The triumvirate is saddled with ideal and ripe acidity and the extract is second to none. A prime example and just about as good as it gets in the beautiful king’s climat. Drink 2016-2023. Tasted August 2016 #domainehamelin @
In VINTAGES September 17th, 2016
Straight ahead and 2014 focused Chablis from Jadot, tight and stony at first but then shimmies up to reveal richer fruit than some and equanimity in acidity-mineral undertones. A wide and all-encompassing no doubter of a wine that succeeds no matter the breadth of its fruit sourcing. Classy all the way. Drink 2016-2020. Tasted September 2016 @ @
This is a striking Chablis, drawn out of an atypical vintage and from the venerable Côte de Lechet Premier Cru, an angled Left Bank climat of necessitous Kimmerridgian soil. The rocks there may be my most favourite, craggy, ash blond chunks replete with ancient sea creatures embedded in the golden stratum. This teases with the gaseous and aerified aspects of the oxidative-evolved vintage but the picking and the treatment here are spot on and just in time, because just a day or two later and too stark would have been the result. Terrific weight, pitch perfect acidity and a grazing, elongated finish. Top, top quality ’13 not to be missed. Drink 2016-2020. Tasted September 2016 @ @
Always available on the LCBO General List
Tasted with winemaker Matthieu Mangenot at the Long-Depaquit domaine, this is Chablis raised 100 per cent in stainless steel. Gifts the immediacy of mineral and acidity, from Chichée to the south of Chablis and also the eastern areas of Beru and Viviers. Higher altitudes where snow and then frost at the end of April 2016 will mean a tiny harvest but for 2015 the acidity is top notch, despite the fat and easy vintage, with more mineral driven into the palate (with some perceived though feigning sweetness) and a real gelid glide down the backside. Drink 2016-2019. Tasted July 2016 @ #LongDepaquit
On the far opposite side of Chablis’ right bank, at the village of Viviers where it is a colder, morning sun terroir. An estate created by Louis’ father in 1965. A cooler and slightly herbal Chablis with a leaner profile. A good comparative to the Beines Chablis, where the shadows are not as long and the terroir does not make as many demands on your palate. Tasted July 2016.
A flint foot forward and step back balm of a Chablis with a settled raft of lees knick-knack and some willy-nilly resonance. Gains stature with citrus and spice as it fleshes in glass and mouth. Perhaps a stave or two of wood is making the play. Drink 2016-2019. Tasted January 2016
An all plots combed, 60 hectare extrapolative, best choices made cuvée in ode to the generous and convivial Roman officer and the monks who took his name and brought his relics to Chablis. Structure is at the heart and soul of the Saint Martin so it is a bit of hard to get at but highly recommended for slow, meditative assessment. Great compressed tart, all in terroir, soil and climate multi-interfaced chardonnay. Few ‘Chablis’ not specific of Premier or Grand Cru terroir can match its poise and precision. Drink 2017-2021. Tasted July 2016 @ @ @
The vintage is a ripe, accessible and easy to love one so this marks a 90 degree turn for the Saint Martin. This is Laroche’s most important cuvée, sold in 80 countries and collected from select plots across 60 hectares of vines. Structure will always direct this cuvée and so long as Sandrine Audegond is winemaker you can be sure that a taut entry will be joined by some subtle oak richness (in 2015, eight per cent in large, 25 year-old, 55 hL foudres). It’s just an aromatic hint but look forward with eyes closed and inculcate the texture addendum. Acids are soft and caressing. Drink 2017-2021. Tasted July 2016
In VINTAGES October 15th, 2016
The vineyards for Moreau’s Chablis gathering are located in the village of Beines on the Left Bank and interestingly enough are older than the Premier Cru. So here the fruit is pulled from vines 35-40 years of age. As much mineral layering as you are likely to find in a Chablis-designate cuvée and so well-rounded for 2015, with grace and style. The broadest of Chablis definition, reliable to tell the whole truth, for the copacetic vintage, the hills all around and the classic flinty, borne straight out of stone chardonnay. Some citrus of course and fine acidity if not the most striking of better than good Chablis vintages. Good terroir breeds good Chablis and with a touch of flint this brings it all together. Perfect, textbook, dictionary Chablis in a ripe and forthright style. Drink 2016-2019. Tasted twice, July and September 2016
Another side by side 2015 to 2014 comparison which is a brilliant play by Mr. Julien Brocard to offer up a sense of relativity which is essential for understanding not just his, but all Chablis. Great freshness and woven salinity, brine and umami, from the lieu-dit within the greater Montmains climat. Butteaux’s western Montmains locale is one of major importance and significance, stratified and magnified in the crazy good 2014 vintage. The fight concentration is quite remarkable and rendered into pure citrus honey in the hands of Brocard. Really fine and tactile Chablis, tapestry textured, dentil frieze entablature of feigning and palpability. Butteaux is a wine of sun, balance and elegance from which ancient geology is the catalyst to make it all happen. Essential Chablis right here. Drink 2017-2027. Tasted September 2016 @ @
In VINTAGES October 29th, 2016
As if handed off like a relay torch or baton from the Petit Chablis, the thread of elegance, purity and clarity continues in the Séguinot Bordet Chablis. Freshness floats in Chablis suspension, a liquid not so much viscous but one that acts as a cradling or a coddling. There is spice up on the aromatic front and it heads straight north to tease and tingle the olfactory senses. Deeper down it’s all inter-metallic compounds and alloys, a dimension that exists in a realm beyond chardonnay. Chablis. A circumambient capacity resistant to wood or nut but steals subtle aspects of both. Tasted with proprietor Jean-François Bordet in Auxerre he concludes, “my story is in memory.” Chablis by wrote. Drink 2016-2022. Tasted July and September 2016 @ @
Future VINTAGES releases
In many ways a carbon copy of the superb 2012, herbal, sharp and as predicted, saline and piquant. Vaillons is a special parcel, a climat with such linear reality and basic, factual raison d’être.￼￼ The Kimmeridgian, calcareous clay and limestone is presented, discussed and celebrated for good reason because it makes for perfect conditions in Vaillons.
The 40-45 year-old Laroche parcel sucks it all in and don’t let anyone evince you away from or de-program you otherwise. Be the mineral. Vaillons of old vines (yes, they too work magic) that is precise, trenchant and miles beyond merely dependable. Treated to some battonage and very minimal oak. Examines the layered intensity of Laroche and the exceptionality of Vaillons. Tasted twice, at Domaine Laroche and at #i4c16. Drink 2018-2022. Tasted July 2016
This was tasted at #14c16. As with 2011 but in contrast to 2012, the limestone stands chalky and flinty up front because Pascal Bouchard has allowed it to do so. The site is windy, not so steep and a cooler sort of red clay mixed in terroir. Quite typically energetic 2013 with the mineral sharing the stage with thick air whiffing gassy and atmospheric. It’s a tang that comes from cool metals and it pours or rather oozes with a squeeze of preserved lemon. The Montmains is an open-minded Premier Cru and this Bouchard works with the climat’s malleability to be transformed in a vintage like ’13. Drink 2016-2019. Tasted July 2016
Beauroy is a south facing Premier Cru harvested earliest than most and also done so to preserve freshness, acidity and the most that can be gained from its subtle terroir. Fevre treats it with 15 per cent oak and the remainder goes into tank. Beauroy’s deference here is acquiescence, its character preserved, like lemon compressed in a jar or a curd slowly concentrated to the point of pure, glossy, silken texture. I find this typical of Fevre for 2014, consistent with the rich house style and yet may be the most elastic and restorative Premier Cru of the eight tasted. Impressive all around. Drink 2017-2021. Tasted July 2016 @ @
Tasted at the domaine, from three parcels, Montée de Tonnerre, Pied d’aloup and Côte de Chapelot, climats up on the hill on the right bank close to the town of Chablis. Rounder (with 10 per cent old oak) than Mont de Milieu but still of terrific 2014 acidity, though noticeable with more orchard fruit to mingle with the stones. The tension increases with some time spent with the M de T and like well-structured Premier Cru Chablis will want to do, it lingers with a combination of tension and amenability. Part gentille Alouette and part Kimmeridgian flinty, this is a terrific example of the co-habitable duality of great Chablis. It is also indicative of the transformative restoration and direction of Billaud-Simon under the auspices of winemaker Olivier Bailly. I will let this bird rest for a couple more years and then a promise. “Je te plumerai.” Drink 2018-2025. Tasted July 2016 @
Tasted with Oenologist Vincent Bartement at the domaine. The Grand Cru Grenouilles sits just above the D965 and the Serein River, with Les Clos and Valmur to its left, Bougros and Preuses to its right and Vaudésir above. It may be the least understood, least discussed and oft forgotten Grand Cru, in part because La Chablisienne farms and bottles a near exclusive (seven of the 9.5 hectares) quantity on the smallest of the Chablis Grand Cru. In a small horizontal (that included ’12, ’10, ’09 and ’05) when you travel back a year ahead of that cracking 2012 there emerges a clear olfactive difference. The self-effaced “neologism with cloudy contours” whiffs into more herbology and perhaps some crustaceous notes. Certainly a raised funky beat. The gustative sensation salvos to more glycerin and although not as much texture, the age is offering a minor oxidative, liquid maize drip into perceived honey. As a consequence length is not as pronounced and if this ’11 is (at this stage) the most awkward of the three (consecutive vintages), it is also the most tactile and the most astute. Drink 2016-2021. Tasted July 2016 #lachablisienne @
The Fèvre holdings are not so much a cornering of the market but more so, let’s say, are representative as existing out of the creator and chair of the exchange. The four hectares owned, farmed and produced of the largest of the (25 hectare) Grand Crus confirms Fèvre as the largest producer of Les Clos. Fifty per cent of the noble and lofty locale was planted by William’s father in the 1940’s, at the top of the hill. This 2014 is prodigious, ponderous and cracking, because it is a Fèvre, due to the house approach for this stand alone vintage and simply by virtue of that vintage. Here you have the richest Les Clos of them all, perhaps, but the puissance is dramatic. There is more pith and density here than any other. It is simply a wow Grand Cru expression, searing, intense, layered, compact, compressed and very, very long. This is the most gregarious, strutting peacock of Chablis. Tasted at the domaine with Director Didier Séguier. Drink 2020-2035. Tasted July 2016
Good to go!