Tuesday, July 27, 2010
For the last wine club of the season before I take off for California on Sunday (yay!!) and Italy shuts down until September, we ended on a particularly delicious note. We had another big group (19 people were expected) so the budget allowed for us to spend a little bit more. That usually mean I'll take advantage of the chance to taste wine from France, as it is all too easy to get too used to the taste of Italian wine. When we only taste one kind of wine, we can start to think that all wine is supposed to taste that way, which is never a good thing for a wine lover.
I had thought of trying a few different white Burgundies, but in the end I decided to showcase just Chablis, a subzone in the most northern vineyards of Burgundy. It is so far north, in fact, that it is much closer to Champagne than the rest of Burgundy, and indeed shares the same often extreme climate with that region. All fine white Burgundy comes from the Chardonnay grape, and Chablis is no exception. The cold climate and most of all the soils make these wines quite unique to their cousins from farther south. The best wines come from Kimmeridgean soils, a mixture of limestone and clay with tiny fossilized oyster shells. The lesser vineyards (and in a controversial move, some of the higher appellations were expanded to include these areas) are made up of Portlandien soil, which is very similar to the former but is generally believed to make wines of less finesse. Chablis is famous for its steely, sometimes austere quality with its high acidity and gunflint, mineral flavors. It is also the one fine wine region for Chardonnay to not commonly employ the use of oak. While it is not uncommon for an aged Chablis to take on a nutty flavor reminiscent of wine that has been aged in oak, generally speaking oak is not a component in these wines.
There are four different levels of quality to Chablis, here in ascending order: Petit Chablis, on mostly Portlandien soil, Chablis, Chablis Premier Cru, constituting 40 vineyards, and Chablis Grand Cru, all on Kimmeridge, and composed of seven plots. We tasted mostly Chablis, basic versions of which can be quite austere, with one Petit Chablis and one Premier Cru. (Though the Vau de Vey has only been at this quality level since the vineyard expansion.) For the most part these wines were typical of their kind with very high acidity and very crisp citrus fruit flavors with a mineral note as well. The surprises were the 4th and the 6th, which had very noticeable oak influence. The 4th was pleasant, but the winemaker had perhaps been a bit heavy-handed with the oak, while the last wine presented with lovely subtle oak flavors well balanced by fruit and acidity.
The first three wines were three different versions from one producer, a Petit Chablis, and two different Chablis. The first, far from being too austere had a nice lemon and mineral quality to it. The first Chablis was one of the clear favorites of the evening, sharing those citrus qualities but with a medium body and much more concentration of fruit. The third offering, also a Chablis, comes from old vines and spends nine months in stainless steel. It was very lemony, floral and quite steely on the palate with high, refreshing acidity. The fourth was our surprise of the evening with lots of butter, cedar, hints of clove on top of a bit of pear and citrus. Next we had two wines from the same winery, their basic Chablis and their premier cru. Both were very enjoyable, the first with creamy, yeasty nose from the 12 months it spent on its lees, and a lovely apricot, honey flavor on the palate. The next spent wine had similar flavors but with the added buttery, vanilla, slightly spicy flavors from its 12 months aging in partial oak and partial steel. The combination added a subtle oak flavor that didn't overwhelm the fruit. It was my favorite, along with our second wine.
1. Petit Chablis Blancs Caillouc 2009 Pascal Bouchard
2. Chablis Le Classique 2009 Pascal Bouchard
3. Chablis Les Vielles Vignes 2008 Pascal Bouchard
4. Chablis Vielle Vigne 2007 Domaine Bernard Defaix
5. Chablis Le Grand Bois 2007 Romain Bouchard Domaine de la Grande Chaume
6. Chablis Premier Cru Vau de Vey 2007 Romain Bouchard Domaine de la Grande Chaume