By now, most of you know that I have spent the last week and a half riding around Northern France. Last week, I was doing a bit of research in Northern Burgundy and along the Brittany coast, and this week I am still in Brittany, dodging the rain and eating a ton of crepes, mussels, and oysters. Next week, I return to Burgundy, whose most famous town, Chablis, I will visit on Monday.
I will not be staying in the town that is synonymous with mineral driven Chardonnay, but I will be making a trek out to the town for an afternoon tasting or two. Several weeks ago, I partook in an online wine tasting of four wines from the region, each one representing the four levels of quality that are defined in the appellation. The delineations are not defined by the wineries where they are produced, but rather by where the grapes are grown.
Based on the wines I tasted below, I am certainly going to try to drop in on at least one of these producers (but being that it is now August, they are likely to be on vacation with the rest of the country).
2016 Isabelle et Denis Pommier Petit Chablis: Retail $22. 100% Chardonnay. There are four basic classifications of quality, with poor Petit Chablis on the bottom rung of quality, representing 18% of the total production of the appellation. Well, there is nothing “little” about this wine: Pale gold color with a rich nose of honeyed peach, yellow apple, mineral goodness, and a splash of spice. On the palate, this is rich and fruity, reminiscent of Chenin Blanc from Alsace, plenty of body and fantastic flavors. This is not a wine for long-time cellaring, but for the price, this is a fine wine that will challenge what it is to be a Chardonnay. Very Good to Outstanding. 88-90 Points.
2015 Julien Brocard Vigne de la Boissonneuse Chablis: Retail $30. 100% Chardonnay. The second level of quality in the region are labeled simply “Chablis” and can either be a blend from many points in the appellation, or, like this wine, come from a specific vineyard, what the French call a lieu-dit (roughly, a “named place”). In all, two-thirds of all the production in Chablis fall into this quality level. Straw colored with a decided golden hue, this is why everyone should love Chablis: lemon zest with loads of wet limestone on the nose with great minerality, tart lemon, and just the tiniest hint of vanilla on the lengthy and oh so tasty palate. For $30? Are you kidding me? With over 1,500 bottles in my cellar that I never touch, I rarely consider buying more wine. I looked this one up on the internet to see where I could get more before I came close to finishing the bottle. Outstanding. 90-92 Points.
2014 Domaine Romain Collet Chablis Premier Cru Butteaux: Retail $40. 100% Chardonnay. Just one step away from the top-level, Premier Cru Chablis is also the second smallest when it comes to production, with 14% of the wines having Premier Cru status. Pale yellow with perhaps a slight green tinge, and really tight on the nose. Even after a good two minutes or more of swirling, it was not giving off much in the way of aromas. Eventually a touch of lemon, and a hint of minerality, but that was about it. The palate, on the other hand, was a completely different story: incredibly rich with oodles of citrus fruit, a racy acidity, steely minerality, and a lengthy, almost spicy finish. My guess is that this is a bit young still (even though it is already nearly four years out) given the closed nature of the nose but the vibrancy on the palate. Now? Yowza. Outstanding. 91-93 Points.
2015 Gérard Duplessis Chablis Grand Cru Les Clos: Retail $75. 100% Chardonnay. Grand Cru. The “big” boys and girls of the region, the top of the top, but they represent a mere 3% of the overall production in Chablis. In my book, drinking a wine with this pedigree this early in its life is akin to breaking up with your “girlfriend” before you have even had your first date. I would hold onto this for at least another handful of years, but I (don’t) get paid the big bucks to express my views and wax poetically on current releases not bemoan infanticide. The nose is quite closed, but there is a smidge of lemon and considerable wet stone, both of which one would expect from Chablis in general and Les Clos in particular. There is also a nuttiness, though, perhaps walnut, that sets this a bit apart from the norm, suggesting more complexity and depth. The palate bears this assumption out–while there are not oodles of fruit (until the finish, actually), there is a richness, a tartness, and yes, a nuttiness that meld together cohesively. This is decidedly not a big and bold Chardonnay. While delicate, it is certainly confident and as it approaches room temperature it really starts to assert its personality. Outstanding. 91-93 Points. OK, after a bit of time open, and as it approached room temperature, Whoa. The nose is still as closed as a French retail store in August, but the palate is simply amazing. The extra time? Amaze-balls (technical term). Outstanding. 93-95 Points.