A Tale of Terroir
The Chablis district is the most northern part of the wine region of Burgundy. The attractive town of Chablis on the banks of the Serein River is surrounded by rolling vine clad hills. Chardonnay, known locally as Beaunois is the permitted grape and the district is known for producing crisp dry whites. Styles vary from producer to vineyard and my 3 day mission was to get behind the labels.
As the mercury plunged to minus 10 degrees, day one began with a short drive to the village of Courgis, this years host of the 45th Saint Vincent Festival (St Vincent is the patron Saint of winemakers). The honour next year goes to Prehy, it will be 2031 before Courgis hosts again.
The villagers had been busy for a long time in preparation for the celebrations with each house and winding road decorated with hundreds of paper flowers. The theme was games – cue giant Rubix cube and Monopoly board.
The church service from the Notre Dame de Courgis was broadcast across the village by tannoy as were the speeches during the day, occasionally punctuated by bursts of the traditional Burgundian wine song and much waving and clapping of hands and wherever people where, they joined in.
A wine, with grapes from around Chablis, is produced especially for the occasion and was available from a number of ‘Caves’ set up around the village- it was well chilled, in fact so cold that remnants in the glass froze as we wandered around the outdoor festival!
It was also my first introduction to fragrant, citrusy Vin Blanc Chaud. It was very welcome not just as a warming drink but as a hand warmer too. Lunch was simple and alfresco – frites, escargot and andouille.
The air might have been cold but the Courgis atmosphere was certainly warm and a great start to our trip.
Back in Chablis, we took a stroll through the Grand Cru Vineyards. Starting at the foot of Les Clos and working our way up the steep slope this gave me a real feel of the aspect of the vineyards. There are 7 Grand Cru Vineyards on slopes to the North East of Chablis, mostly with a southwest aspect, important for capturing the suns rays in such a northern climate. Bourgros, Preuses, Vaudesir, Grenouilles, Valumur, Les Clos and Blanchot all have their own individual styles (and each as has number of owners).
Le Moutonne, a 2.35 hectare plot has land in both Preuses and Vaudesir and although not classified as a grand cru, carries the characters of both. An important link is the underlying Kimmeridgian limestone soil which prevails across the district. The white soil is made up oyster shells and is said to impart the minerally element found in so many Chablis.
It’s the first time outside of Bordeaux where I’ve heard the wines talked about as right bank and left bank. The location and the surrounding terroir will help define the styles. There are some 40 vineyards that have the right to carry the premier cru classification. Out with the Grand and premier cru classifications, other wines will be labelled as Chablis or for those mainly on Portlandian soil, and usually the lightest styles, Petit Chablis.
We visited a number of producers, all who had but their own stamp the wines of the area. Wines from Chablis are perfect with fish and shellfish so experiment to find your favourite producer.
Tried and tasted.
Jean Marc Brocard Petit Chablis Domaine St Clair 2010 £12.29 Gordon and MacPhail
Jean Marc Brocard is based a short drive from the town of Chablis at Prehy. As well as a tasting room, there is a large upstairs function room with panoramic views across the vineyards.
The Petit Chablis is Intensely lemony, well balanced with a mineral edge.
A large selection of wines from Jean Marc Brocard are available from www.thewinesociety.com
J Moreau Et Fils Chablis 2010
One of the objectives of wine maker Lucie Depuydt at J Moreau et Fils is to preserve the style of Chablis. A tasting across the range was a great introduction to vineyard styles.
This is a crisp, dry Chablis with zingy lemon and a lingering mineral finish. £12.99 M and S
Romain Bouchard Domaine De La Grand Chaume Premier Cru Vau Du Vey 2010 www.vintageroots.co.uk £19.75
Vau De Vey is a left bank vineyard. The grapes are sourced from a low yielding east facing slope. This is an organic certified wine with forward, flinty fruity scents which lead on to a refreshing , intense wine with mineral notes and a savoury end. Vintage Roots also stock Le Grand Bois from Romain Bouchard at £15.50
Pascal Bouchard Chablis Premier Cru Fourchaume Les Vielles Vignes’ 2010 £17.55 www.alexander-wines.co.uk
Fourchaume is a right bank vineyard. Hand harvested, low yielding vines ranging between 30 and 60 years of age. This has a good mid weight and structure and is a lively and lingering mix of citrus salad and spiced melon.
Domain Pinson Chablis Premier Cru Mont De Milieu 2010 Majestic Wine £19.99
Rich creamy, buttery scents with baked apple notes lead on to full, toasty character with apple and pear tart tatin traits.
The Pinson family have been growers in Chablis for 300 years
Domaine Vocoret et Fils Grand Cru Blanchot 2009 Majestic Wines £25.00
The wines from the Blanchot vineyard are described as feminine and elegant but firm. This is perfumed and floral with ripe peach scents, this is well rounded and perfectly tuned with a steely edge.
Other estates to try include Domaine Laroche (Peckhams, Fountainhall Wines Aberdeen, The Longship Orkney) William Fevre (Majestic, bbr.com, thewinesociety.com )and the excellent cooperative La Chablisienne. Some 300 growers across Chablis supply to La Chablisienne. The result is a wide range across all categories of very good, expressive wines. Try Marks and Spencers Chablis 2008 at £10.99 to get an idea of their styles
Where to stay
The charming Hostellerie Des Clos is a 5 minute stroll from the centre of Chablis. Accommodation is in 2 parts with rooms in the main building and across a (very small) road in the residence. The restaurant is very good with a selection of tasting menus and a l carte and an expansive wine list.
This was first published in the May 2012 Issue of Highland Life Magazine