A lesson on Chablis wine
Chablis, 20 years ago, was a fairy wine region in my imagination until I decided to get my hands on a bottle. The christening bottle was a generic bottle of Chablis from Domaine Laroche. When I think about it today, it was a conservative move that left in me a profound lesson: The taste of acidity and minerality in white wine.
Acidity is a very important component of wine. If a wine is too low in acid, it tastes flat and dull. If a wine is very high in acid, it tastes too tart and sour..Sweetness is the complete opposite of acidity. The warmer the climate the higher the sugar content of the grapes.The key to balance is to find the optimal tuning point between these two
Minerality is a complicated term to explain. In a nutshell, it refers to a group of non-fruit, non-herb, non-spice notes present in a wine. Mineral notes can be applied to aroma or taste or both. In my mind, it would be described as the taste of the sea that you get from crunchy sea salt or oysters. Once in a while, it feels like chalk, if you’ve ever smelled a chalkboard, you know what I’m talking about. Sometimes it’s like crushed rocks or gravel. Saline and flint are other takes on minerality. If anywhere can lay claim to being the originator of mineral expression in wine, Chablis has to be in with the strongest claim
The Chablis region of France is a very cool region and normally produces grapes with low sugar and high acid. The big concern in Chablis is getting enough sunlight and warmth to get reasonable sugar levels. Due to Burgundy’s location in the relative center of France, its climate is not influenced much by the Atlantic or the Mediterranean.
The soil of Chablis is a very special one. The subsoil in Chablis is known as Kimmeridgian. According to the site chablis-wines.com, The Kimmeridgian is a geological age in the Upper Jurassic period, 150 million years ago. In Chablis, one can encounter stratas of grey marl which alternate with layers of limestone, sometimes very rich in fossils of Exogyra virgula, a small, comma-shaped oyster that is particular of the marl from the Middle and Upper Kimmeridgian. This soil combined with the climate of Chablis is what give its Chardonnay based wines that long, tongue tingle finish of high acidity and flint-like minerality.
Domaines Jean Durup Pére & Fils
Not too long ago, I attended a press lunch for a tasting of Domaines Jean Durup wines in Chablis. The invitation was a courtesy of Charton Hobbs, its Quebec importer to present the 2017 vintage to the specialized press. The event took place at La Chronique Restaurant in Montreal
Jean Durup is the most important domaine in Chablis. The producer holds 170 ha of vineyard land in Chablis territory with an important proportion ( 35 ha) in total. The domaine is notorious for their general Chablis appellation wines but they also specialize in some of the most famous Chablis wines that include Fourchaume, Vau de Vey, Montée de Tonnerre and Montmain. Durup also produces excellent Petits Chablis wines.
In the company of Jean Durup we tasted 9 memorable Chablis wine from their territory collection. Jean Durup reassembled the vineyards of the Château de Maligny, an estate managed during the last century by Paul Gally his great grandfather. Below my favourite wines of the tasting.
The tasting started strong with a Petit Chablis from a modest 30 vineyard hectares across 7 communes of the appellation. This Chardonnay had delicious nuances of golden apple, ripe bartlett pear with touches of star anise complemented by silex and stony nuances. Dry and very long. It respects the winemaking tradition of Chablis. If it would be available at the SAQ, it will trade in the mid 20’s dollar bracket range.
The Petit Chablis was followed by The Chablis La Vigne de la Reine 2017 available at the SAQ ( 560763) for $24.95. The name is an homage to the Countess of Maligny who became the Queen of Poland during the times of Louis XIV in France. A richer style of Chablis that can be explained because of its terroir characteristics. The sun rays strike the meagre and rocky soil where the vines lay and the heat is sent back to the grapes directly.
Aromatically driven Chablis with green papaya and pear notes. On the palate quite easy to drink with a powerful acidity and redolent of asafoetida spices and oysters shells. Tight and young, this will age wonderfully.
From the Premier Crus, La Tonnerre 2017 ( $40,75, SAQ # 895110) was a reference on how this cru should taste. This is one of the most respected growth of Chablis. Durup proudly owns 2 hectares of this domaine. A very fine and balanced Chablis with lots of character. Very long with impressive aromas of white grapefruit and silex. The next arrival of this amazing wine should be in October.
My other favourite premier cru was the Homme Mort 2017 ( $40.25, SAQ # 872986). Actually this growth is a part of another famous one La Fourchaume ( $38.25, SAQ # 480145). The homme mort is situated in the village of Maligny. The vines sit on a very hilly poor soil and the chalk terroir component is very present. A very elegant Chablis that strikes the taster with its fine aromas of Verbena and pink grapefruit. Elegant with a fine balance. It has an attractive note of black pepper and nutmeg in the finale. Will be available in the coming October
Durup owns 18 ha of the Fourchaume Premier Cru. Because of their sizeable holdings, they are one of the principal owners in this climate. In general, the growth exposition is toward the west but certain parcels have a orientation towards the south and are situated as well in small valleys where concentration is favoured. Fourchaume is the best known Premier Cru of Chablis and Durup makes a fine rendition of this growth. Powerful and beautiful schematics of minerality with an incredible deepness. Big on structure and acidity. Infinite length. Impressive. Will age for decades. Available next February 2020.