Grand Cru Chablis: The Finer Side of Chardonnay

Les Bougros, Les Preuses, Vaudésir, Les Grenouilles, Valmur, Les Clos, Blanchot: these are the seven Grand Crus of Chablis. Adjacent to one another, covering about 250 acres, these vineyards of northern most Burgundy represent the pinnacle of quality that can be achieved with Chardonnay in this northern wine region of France.

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Domaine Laroche Grand Cru

I recently went to a tasting sponsored by the L’Union des Grand Crus de Chablis to taste the 2012 vintage (mostly tank samples). A particularly hair-raising vintage due to a long frosty winter, I can only imagine how winemakers must have paced back and forth at night supplicating to St. Vincent, the venerable patron saint of winemakers, for sun and warmth. Midnight scampers into the vineyard in a vain attempt to keep the smudge pots emanating their smoldering heat so as to prevent the onset of frost. The cold dragged on with brief, hopeful hints that Spring might come after all (does this seem familiar??). In the end, even with approximately 30% of the crop lost, 2012 produced good age worthy wines with their characteristic minerality and mouthwatering freshness.

Chablis has a terroir all its own. The soil is classified as kimmeridgian, a gray-colored limestone found also in Champagne and the Loire, made up of tiny fossilized oyster shells formed over millions of years. It is this soil, along with the climate, that marries so well with the Chardonnay vine that gives us the steely, firm and complex whites that beg sip after sip.

The tasting covered wines from all seven GC sites. I began with Les Grenouilles (frogs), the smallest of the Cru, and couldn’t resist asking how the name came about. Not surprisingly, the vineyard site, or climat en francais, is located close to the river Serein, which was home to a large congregation of frogs. The number of frogs have dwindled, but Chateau Grenouilles continues produce low yield, high quality wines fermented in both stainless steel and oak barrels aged slowly on the lees “…parce que élèvage donne la personalité..” (because ageing gives personality…) according to the winery rep. I found the 2012 vintage to be refreshing and youthful, but, comparing it with the 2010 after that, I could begin to see the promise of the texture, structure and polish the wine was beginning to take on. It will be a fine day in 10 years when I pop the cork on another bottle of 2012 (or even 2010, for that matter!).

I could easily continue on describing all the wines and how I anticipated each sip of a new bottle, but, in the interests of space and time, I will end with the wine of the day, the 2006 Chablis Gran Cru Moutonne, produced by Domaine Long-Depaquit. Here, the winemaker has a “non interventionist” approach, a philosophy of sustainable farming that encompasses the environment. A beautiful golden color, it had a dominant earthy, mushroom aroma described as “mousseron”. A warm vintage producing wines with slightly less acid, this wine was worth the wait as the persistent finish carried me off to visions of fresh oysters on the half shell.

Cheers!

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