Last week Pure Chablis came to D.C. to showcase the region's wines and I was fortunate to be invited to a lunch at Proof. The lunch was hosted by Jean-François Bordet, the current President of the Chablis Wine Board (in addition to winemaker at Domaine Séguinot-Bordet) and Françoise Roure of Burgundy Wines. It's easy to forget that Chablis is situated in Burgundy even though it lies closer to Champagne than Côte de Nuits. That means its a cold grape growing climate; we saw fascinating pictures of frost fighting techniques and snow covered vines. But the cold brings acidity which is a coveted characteristic of Chablis wine. Minerality is another characteristic. The soil is 150 million years old and the Kimmeridgian Limestone is loaded with fossilized oyster shells (see accompanying photo).
|Kimmeridgian Limestone Rock|
Like many Medieval town, Chablis is built upon a waterway, the Serein River, which provides two more characteristics to Chablis wine. First, vines are planted on the hills overlooking both banks, with the right side receiving the evening sun and the left bank the morning sun. This means the right bank receives more exposure - providing a little more flavor to the Chardonnay grapes. Second, Chablis wine is usually fermented and aged in steel; but when oak is used, it's neutral oak. This is partly because of the region's proximity to Paris - only two hours away by train. Wine was transported by river to the capital city by barrel and then returned to be reused once more. Regions residing further away from Paris did not receive returns and became to rely on new oak each year.
The Chablis region maintains a Appellation D'Origine Controllee system with four classifications: Petit Chablis, Chablis, Premier Cru, and Grand Cru. The first two are broader in nature; while the second two consist of specific climats - or micro-terroirs. During our lunch at Proof, the wines were from the last three appellations and were selected for their relative availability in the U.S. market. (The U.S. market ranks 5th in Chablis consumption following the U.K., France, Belgium, and Germany.)
We started with the La Chablisienne Chablis La Pierrelée 2011 ($23). La Chablisienne is an old cooperative, started in 1923, and accounts for one quarter of the region's wine production (10 million bottles). This wine is a cuvée sourced from grapes grown throughout the region fermented in stainless steel and aged on lees in tank. The result is a light wine - not powerful - but displaying finesse with a lychee aroma, a green apple flavor and fresh acidity finish.
The next was Mr. Bordet's wine, the Domaine Séguinot-Bordet Chablis Premier Cru Fourchume 2010 ($35). The domaine is located on the right bank, far north corner of Chablis around the hamlet of Maligny. Jean-François is the 13th generation winemaker and this is the oldest continually operating winery in Chablis - that's 1590 for those counting. Now that's some history. Interestingly, he practiced winemaking in Michigan - learning about Riesling and Gewurtztraminer. When he returned home in 1998, he became the youngest winemaker in Chablis accompanied by his grandfather who was the oldest. The Premier Cru Fourchume is at once elegant and intense with a fresh lychee aroma, an iodine earthy mid, and a long refreshing finish. This is one quality wine - very nice.
The Premier Crus kept coming with the Simonnet Febvre Chablis Premier Cru Vaillons 2010 ($30) and the Louis Moreau Chablis Premier Cru Les Fourneaux 2009 ($27). The second seemed a bigger wine, more structure with vanilla notes, but both displayed the fresh acidic finish. Two notes, the Simonnet Febvre is a left bank wine whereas the Louis Moreau is a right bank produced by a two hundred year old domaine.
We finished the afternoon with a Grand Cru - the Domaine Servin Chablis Grand Cru Blanchots 2011 ($45). There are only seven Grands Cru climats in Chablis and the Domaine Servin right bank vines face east-west - giving more morning sun exposure. The result is more fruit (this is also a rare unoaked Grand Cru), less minerality, and even less acidity - as compared to the others. Despite the un-Chablis style - this wine is impressive. Probably my second favorite behind the Séguinot-Bordet. Cheers to Chablis and a hearty thanks to Pure Chablis and Proof.