In May 2021 the French Winophiles group delved into all things #purechablis. For a primer on this month's gathering, see host Jill's preview post. Also join us on Twitter under #winophiles on Saturday, 15 May 2021 at 8 AM PST to chat about chardonnay and Chablis wine.
This event is sponsored by Chablis Wines who have generously sent wine samples, but all opinions in this post are my own.
|Map of Chablis AOCs (https://www.chablis-wines.com/)|
Chablis is the northernmost wine region in Burgundy (Bourgogne), France and produces wine from one and only one grape varietal: chardonnay. Alsace, Lorraine, and Champagne are the only three French wine regions more northerly than Chablis. Although only the chardonnay grape is allowed, there are four Appelations d'Origine Contrôlée (AOC) within Chablis:
- Petit Chablis
- Chablis Premier Cru
- Chablis Grand Cru
Wines from each Chablis AOC have their salient points but share one common trait: cool climate higher acid, dry wines, that are often described as citrusy, steely, and flinty. I received three samples - one Petit Chablis (Portlandian soil) and two Chablis (Kimmeridgian soil) - more on those below. I received them a day and a half before our Twitter chat so pulling things together was a bit of a rushed effort but worth it.
CHABLIS IS REALLY TERROIR
Terrior - climate and soil combined - informs the nuanced flavour of all edible things including coffee, cacao, and wine. Non-aromatic grapes like Chardonnay which aren't loaded with beautiful fruit and floral notes especially rely on terroir and vinification for the final outcome. Chardonnay is native to Burgundy and, dare I say, the best expression of the grape comes from wine made there. Especially from Chablis where an ancient seabed has formed two distinct sedimentary soil types: Kimmeridgian (clay + limestone) and Portlandian (dense, weathered limestone). Both are named after stages of the Jurassic epoch and both formed from heated and compressed remnants of ancient molluscs and shellfish. And if there is a wine that acutely reflects its soil more than - or even as much as - Chablis, I have yet to experience it.
|Kimmeridgian soil (www.chablis-wines.com)|
|Tabby Walls at Ft. Livingston, LA (Payal Vora)|
(Fun Fact: to see Portland stone, visit the UN headquarters in NYC or Buckingham Palace, London. To see dramatic shell-studded tabby walls, see the photo to the left or snag a visit to Ft. Livingston, Grand Terre Island, LA - I worked on that partially submerged structure after the BP oil spill in 2010 and it remains my most challenging and fascinating project.)
Grapevines love limestone soil - it offers an abundant source of bio-accessible calcium carbonate, enables greater nutrient uptake by the vines, excellent water retention and drainage capacity, so less irrigation and less chance of water-logged soils. All factors which work in favour of Chardonnay, a grape with early bud break that thrives in a cool climate. But despite the apparent similarities between Portlandian and Kimmeridgian, both soils have a remarkably different effect on the grapes. And that is further nuanced by the limestone and Jurassic limestone soil that interfaces with both, resulting in Chablis wine that is an unabashed reflection of the vineyard soil.
Chardonnay is grown and vinified in numerous wine regions of the world, but none are Chablis. There is no such thing as Chablis-style or -type of wine. The combination of each specific location, grape, climate, soil, water, and sun exposure makes singular Chablis wine that cannot be approximated or replicated in another region.
2019 Jean-Marc Brocard Chablis Vieilles Vignes de Sainte Claire
14.5% ABV | SRP ~$35 | SAMPLE
This single vineyard wine comes from grape vines planted 70 years ago on Kimmeridgian soil and fermented with indigenous yeast. The vines' roots reach over 25 meters into the soil making more concentrated wines that express all the complexity and finesse of the Chardonnay grape and the vineyard. The wine certainly reflects the Brocard commitment to ecology and their 60 ha. of certified organic vineyards and 40 ha. of biodynamic vineyards.
Gunflint, grapefruit rind, lemon, faint wet earth
Same as nose with a rounded mouthfeel, long finish, and juicy acidity balanced by salinity. The 14.5% ABV definitely doesn't feel like it but will sneak up on you! A quintessential Chablis that is very food-friendly wine ready to enjoy now but could also be cellared for up to 5 years.
12.5% ABV | SRP ~$30 | SAMPLE
Under the tutelage of their winemaker father Alain Geoffroy, daughters Sylvie, Nathalie and Aurelie have launched Domaine de la Cornasse: a new wine for a new generation. They produce 100% Chardonnay from the village of Chablis from 20-30 year old vines sitting on Kimmeridgian soil.
Faint gunflint, lemon, grapefruit, white flowers
Like the nose, the palate is juicy and redolent of citrus complemented by white flowers and a gunflint minerality. Medium body, balanced acidity, medium finish. A fresh and very food-friendly wine that's certainly ready now but could also be cellared for 2-3 years.
2019 Bernard Defaix Petit Chablis
12% ABV | SRP ~$30 | SAMPLE
Fourth generation from a family of vine-growers, Bernard Defaix started with 2 ha in 1959 and the estate is now a 4th/5th generation family owned estate. The Petit Chablis vines are on hilltop plateaus on stony soils and it is truly a family operation with the founder's son Sylvain in charge of the vinification, the ageing, the bottling and the preparation of orders, his other son Didier in charge of the vineyard and the general management of the domain, while daughter-in-law Helene (Didier’s wife) looks after administrative and the commercial matters.
Citrus, wet stone, white flowers
The same notes on the palate as on the nose but also a bright juicy mouthfeel with a medium finish. Medium body, balanced acidity. This is a lively food-friendly wine that really shines when paired with fresh raw or minimally cooked seafood.
THE WINE + FOOD
We are having a rather slow start to summer in mid-California - the weather is cold, and the winter seafood is still plentiful. But the farmer's markets have late spring produce from warmer inland areas. So as soon as I found out which wines I was going to receive, I knew what I wanted to pair with them. Local seafood, local farmer's market finds, and a slew of celebrations. So we had a bit of a lavish weekday lunch with:
- Halibut Ceviche: Our fish market had just received local halibut and I could not resist volunteering my other half to make us his excellent ceviche. It was exceptional with the Petit Chablis. The citrus in the ceviche and the citrus and mineral notes in the wine... wow! The mild earthiness of the very fresh fish brought a balance to the combination while the avocado and corn added a silky mouthfeel and a faint sweetness.
- Plateau de Fruits de Mer // Seafood Platter: Fresh prawns, littleneck clams, West Coast oysters, and a saffron aïoli with lemon wedges. The salinity of the seafood really walked closely with the salinity of both the Chablis. A perfect combination if you have the freshest local seafood.
- Bruschetta à l'Oursin // Sea Urchin Bruschetta: The sweetness of the sea urchin in the simple bruschetta was sublime with all three wines but especially with the saline edge of the two Chablis.
- Tartare de Saumon et Thon // Salmon and Tuna Tartare: Not much to say but that as expected, we loved this pairing with all three of the wines. The potato crisps brought another layer of saltiness that elevated each bite to something else. I will absolutely serve this again as an hors d'oeuvre.
- Mushrooms on Toast: A beloved Indian favourite and a colonial culinary vestige of the Brits. But so versatile and especially good when made with Kashmiri morel mushrooms. I made do with impulse-buy cremini mushrooms from our farmer's market and they did not disappoint, especially with the Jean-Marc Brocard old vines Chablis. The earthy mushrooms and the hint of earth on the wine were lovely together. Superb!
So that was me, but the possibilities are endless even though the AOCs are four. So check out these blog posts and be inspired by what the rest of us sipped, savoured, and enjoyed with our choice of Chablis wines:
- Pinny at Chinese Food and Wine Pairing gives us All Things #PureChablis with an Assortment of Seafood Snacks’ by Chinese Food and Wine Pairings
- Camilla is Learning About Chablis, A Compelling Label, and Gougères at Culinary Adventures with Camilla
- Jeff at Food Wine Click! will be Remembering a Walk in Chablis over Dinner
- Chablis and Grilled Shrimp; Summertime must be near for Wendy at A Day in the Life on the Farm
- Scallops with Pesto and Chablis are in the kitchen with David at Cooking Chat
- Jane will be Tasting Chablis: Food and Wine Pairings over at Always Ravenous
- Robin at Crushed Grape Chronicles is Savoring Premier Cru Chablis as We Hope for Good News for the 2021 Chablis Vintage
- Nicole at the Somm’s Table is Cooking to the Wine: Aged Drouhin Vaudon Grand Cru Chablis with Swordfish Sandwiches
- Rupal the Syrah Queen explores The Elegance of Chablis – Pure Terroir, Pure Joy, Pure Chablis
- The Sea in Chablis and the Tragedy of Premox in William Fevre is the topic at Wine Predator with Gwendolyn
- Payal at Keep the Peas discusses The Singularity of Chablis
- Host Jill on L'Occasion, gives the scoop on Here’s How I Know It’s Chablis