On the road – Chablis tastings – the Tuesday marathon

When spending some days in Chablis with my friends from Russia in November 2014, we did a marathon tasting  tour on Tuesday: We visited three wine cellars. I enjoyed all the tastings and I was impressed, how carefully my Russian friends evaluate each wine.

.

Régnard – an elegant traditional house offering all Grands Crus terroirs

Usually Régnard opens at 9:30 AM, but for us, Marion opens at 9 AM. We stand in front of a closed large gate, until we find out that the boutique is round the corner. Marion is waiting for us. She explains to us that Régnard has all seven Grands Crus (including Les Grenouilles – I do not understand, why La Chablisienne is said to have the quasi-monopole of Les Grenouilles then – and Régnard has Grenouilles on offer as well).

Marion guides us into an elegant room with a round table and proposes us to select the four Grands Crus that we want to taste. The tasting is free, when we buy something.

P1060867

These are the four Grands Crus that we have selected for our tasting.

  • Les Preuses 2003: Due to the age the color is darker yellow. Nose is rich, taste is mellow – perhaps truffles and nuts, ends a bit harsh. Drink now.
  • Bougros 2007  (good year): Smooth , good balance with acidity, fruity (cannot say what fruit). I liked it and bought one bottle of 2006.
  • Blanchots 2009 : Toasted bread and pear in the nose, strong mineral and salty taste (Marion talks about pierre des fusils or flint stone).
  • Les Clos 2011: Mineral, salty and fruity (the Russians find green apple, while a find a touch of peach).

In addition to Bougros, I buy two half bottles of 1er Cru – Fourchaume (2010, vielles vignes) and Montée de Tonnerre. Régnard is a traditional house and carefully packs our treasures into boxes. They also have an excellent Marc.

One of the Fourchaume half bottles I share with a friend later. We had it with a corn soup. My notes: Fruity, nutty (perhaps almond) and mineral flavors.

.

LaRoche – splendid history going back to the 9th century, and more sober atmosphere in the wine shop

In the 9th century Saint Martin and his monks had to flee from the Vikings. They founded the church of St. Martin with a monastery, after having received this area as a feud from the French king, Charles the Bold.

P1060879

The old cellar of the monastery became the cellar of LaRoche. We visited the impressive vaults and admired the old vintages in the shelves.

P1060871

The tasting takes place in the sober atmosphere of the small wine shop.

P1060878

These are the wines we tried:

  • Chablis 2013: Fresh and crispy.
  • Chablis Saint Martin: Mixed best “plain” Chablis climats. Mineral, balanced acidity, green apple, I like the fresh taste and buy two half bottles.
  •  Beauroy 1er Cru 2011: Mellow and well balanced.
  • Fourchaume 2011: Somewhat unbalanced (“eckig”), touch of almond.
  • Blanchot Grand Cru. 2010 : Pleasant, balanced, flowery (perhaps rose fragrance), I sense the oak. The assistant says:”il n’a  pas encore mangé son fut” (the wine has not yet eaten up its oak) and gives us Blanchot 2009 to compare which has a more fruity touch (perhaps melon).

.

Brocard – a family owned innovative winemakery in a great setting amidst vineyards

After a quick lunch next door to LaRoche, we head off to Brocard. His cave is outside of Chablis, about 5 km south east and amidst vineyards. There is a great view from here. Brocard also offers a large room for business and private events. In the tasting room I see Russian wine magazines.

Brocard is the largest family owned winemaker in Chablis.  Father Jean-Marc Brocard built this production site in the 1970’s. Now his son Julien has taken over. Julien introduced biodynamic methods for a large part of the vineyards. Our tasting assistant explains that Brocard does not mix the climats when producing wine to let the terroir speak. They use oak barrels carefully, just to make the wine softer.

We visit the caves with the oak and steel barrels, and come across these innovative egg-shaped barrels made out of concrete. The yeast circulates better in these barrels, our guide says.

IMG_0938

These are the wines we tasted..

P1060883

  • Chablis, Sainte Claire: Green color, fruity touch of green apple.
  • Chablis, vieille vignes 2012 (vines are 60 years old): Round, touch of celery, I liked it and bought two half bottles.
  • Château Vau de Vey 1er Cru 2012: slightly bitter taste, orangeade.
  • Montee de Tonnerre 1er Cru 2012: Salty, high acidity.
  • Bougros Grand Cru 2011: I can feel the oak.
  • Les Clos Grand Cru 2011: 18  months in barrel, touch of nuts, I sense the oak less.
  • Les Preuses Grand Cru 2011: Was in egg-shaped concrete barrel, salty, round. I like it and imagine it with shellfish. I bought a bottle.

.

Rounding off with a short walk in the vineyards

After our tasting marathon, we stop in the vineyards around Brocard for a short walk….

P1060885

… tasting the grapes that are left in November – they are sweet. Would ice wine not be a business for Chablis as well? Perhaps too risky, when freezing temperatures come early in autumn.

P1060886

Our next tasting adventures will take place around Beaune.

 

 

On the road – my Chablis tasting highlight: Patrick Piuze

Finding Patrick Piuze

When doing my research about Chablis, I came across Patrick Piuze . The “Pocket Johnson” mentioned him and on the Internet there were great comments.

Larissa was also impressed. I wrote an email to Patrick referring to the comments found. And the next day, I called. Patrick and his partner were very welcoming and we arranged a tasting for Wednesday morning, our last day in Chablis.

This is Patrick’s address: 25, rue Emile Zola in Chablis. We have found the address, but there are no signs, and no plates – nothing. Eventually, we see the label on the letter box: “Patrick Piuze”, in small letters. That is all. I ring the bell, and Patrick opens the gate. He gives us a friendly welcome and makes things clear right away: “You cannot buy any wine – I am sold out for 2014, but for the tasting, there is no problem.” And later he adds: “Usually, I do not make wine tastings for private people, but Petra was really insisting by writing and calling…”

Patrick has an interesting background – and I think that explains also his approach to winemaking. In a way he is an outsider in Chablis. He grew up in Canada, did not like school and traveled – working, when he needed money. He learnt about the wine growing business in Australia, South Africa and then came to Chablis, where he worked for Brocard.

Some years ago, Patrick started his own business buying grapes (often harvesting them himself) and producing his own wine. One of his specialties are (plain) Chablis wines from one terrain to bring them to a higher level. And he makes also 1er and Grand Cru selections. Patrick sells his wine to wholesalers in 30 countries.

.

The tasting: Patrick has prepared this “barrel” table for us

IMG_0942

These were the wines we tasted (with my own personal impressions):

  • Terroir de Fye 2012,  2010 (“plain” Chablis from one climat): Round, herbs, acidity.
  • Vaillons, Melinots, 2010 (“plain” Chablis from one climat, warmest corner of Chablisienne with clay): more fruity.
  • Vaucoupin 2009 (1er Cru – slope exposed to the west, as I remember from the explanations): Flowery, metallic, “round”.
  • Bougros (Grand Cru): Rich, dense, fruity, good for aging.
  • Les Clos, 2012 (Grand Cru): fruity, “more heavy legs” (“schwerfüssiger”), for ageing.

I am overly happy to see my friends smile, when tasting the wines of Patrick. They never frown. For each glass they try I see a nodding compliment.

Patrick explained that he does not look for specific tastes such as lychees and quinces for “fruity” or violets and roses for “flowery”. He is just interested in the texture and whether he finds fruit, flowers, herbs or acidity. This makes him down to earth for me, and his honest modesty might also be part of his success. Modesty also speaks from Patrick’s Website: “Je tiens par-dessus tout à respecter le travail des ancêtres qui ont dessiné ce terroir, et j’essaie de trouver avec humilité mon identité de vigneron dans la splendeur et la diversité du terroir de Chablis.” (It is most important for me to respect the work of our ancestors that have shaped this terroir and I aspire  humbly to find my identity as a winemaker in the shine and diversity of the Chablis terroir).

.

Where to get Patrick’s wines

Back at home I searched who sells the wines of Patrick in Basel and found that DuBonVin has them. I will surely visit this shop very soon to have some of his wines in my cellar.

On the road – The jurassic Kimmeridgian is the secret of my favorite Chardonnay, the Chablis wines

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)…

P1060860

… and that the streets have become calmer – there is “zone 30”.

P1060856

.

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.

Karte_Johnson

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!

P1060808

.

 “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.