After thirty years it was great to be back in Chablis in 2014 and to reexperience my favorite Chardonnay that grows on the rocks from jurassic times called Kimmeridgian.
My memories of Chablis from 30 years ago – an unplanned happy event
In the 1980’s and in my thirties, we visited Chablis on a Sunday. Only the bakery was open. There was a long queue – the French do not forgo their baguette on Sundays. We asked, whether it would be possible to taste wine today. “Yes”, one of the men standing in line says, “my cousin is a winegrower. He has 1er Cru wines, not here in Chablis, but nearby in Milly. I can take you there right now.” “No, no, we have enough time, please buy your Sunday baguette first and then we will follow your car”, we answer happily. He buys his baguette and then we follow him to Milly. Henri Coulaudin opens the door, welcomes us by taking his hat off and bowing down, as if we were the king of France. We follow him to his cellar and taste his wines. I liked the clean crispiness of his 1er Cru. For years I had his 1er Crus Côte de Léchet and Côte de Tonnerre in my cellar and we exchanged wonderful letters (French is a beautiful language). Then we lost one another out of sight. As I am now in my sixties, he must be in his seventies. I keep this great memory of our visit to Chablis that we experienced thirty years ago…
Now I am back in Chablis with my Russian friends – the town has become more organized
Now I am back and notice that Chablis has received this pretty plate announcing “la Ville de Chablis” (the town of Chablis)…
… and that the streets have become calmer – there is “zone 30”.
What is Chablis? It is Chardonnay wine growing on jurassic rocks
This is the map of the wines around the town of Chablis, as shown by Johnson. The Grands Crus are dark purple. Les Clos is the largest climat. The 1er Cru climats are light purple with terrain names. Without terrain labels the wines are Chablis or Petit Chablis.
Source: Hugh Johnson and Jancis Robinson: “The World Atalas of Wine”, Mitchell Beazley, 2005
The soil of the Grand Cru and (most) 1er Cru wines is the older jurassic Kimmeridgian formation consisting of limestone, clay and fossiles, while Chablis and Petit Chablis grow on the younger (also jurassic) Portlandian sediment (both named after places in England). It is said that the organic fossiles create the mineral/flintstone character of the Chablis wines. Typically their color is yellow-green. (Sources: Wikipedia, “Johnson World Atlas”, “Pocket Johnson” and Laure Casparotto: “L’Atlas des Vins de France”, Editions de Monza 2012).
To get an overview of the vineyards, Katja drives our car to the Grand Crus climats. Some few grapes are still hanging on the wines. We know that nobody is going to pick them – it is November now. Hence we dare taste them. They are deliciously sweet!
“Chablis” sometimes means “cheap wine” – perhaps this is better for us
Larissa tells us that in the US “Chablis” means “cheap wine”. I came across that in Ushuaia (Argentina) as well. I found “Chablis” on the menu of a small restaurant, asked the waitor, whether this was Chardonnay from Chablis, and was not understood: “This is just “Chablis””, was all the explanation I could get from him. I ordered that Chablis wine and was disappointed. Now I know why. Wikipedia says that the Chablis trademark is not recognized across the world, but often means “almost any white wine”. Perhaps we should not change this and keep Chablis as a secret for us.
Our tasting plan
Larissa has planned our wine tastings carefully. Our sources were Larissa’s friend-sommelière, Alina, the “Pocket Johnson 2014” and the Internet. We came up with this list of domains to see: Règnard, Brocard, LaRoche, La Chablisienne (cooperative making almost one third of all Chablis wines), William Fèvre (“three stars” in Johnson) and Patrick Piuze (a newcomer, sometimes compared with the top rated Davissaut and Ravenaud). This is just a small selection of domains, but we could not fit more into two and a half days.
Result of the tastings – Chablis confirms to be my favorite Chardonnay
30 years ago, Chardonnay from Chablis became my favorite Chardonnay, and I found this confirmed now. I will come back sooner than in another thirty years – for sure!
Let me summarize my highlights and impressions from the tastings in the next blogs.