Kicking things up with higher-tier Chablis
The Bottle Kurtis Kolt
Two weeks ago, I shared tales of my recent venture to Chablis, the iconic French wine region where one can find some of the best Chardonnays on the planet. We stepped through the appellations of Petit Chablis and Chablis, and this week we’re going to kick things up a bit by looking at a trio of wines from producers worth searching out and climats (or subappellations) of the higher-tier Premier Cru Chablis and Grand Cru Chablis appellations.
JEAN-MARC BROCARD CHABLIS PREMIER CRU MONTMAINS 2015
($47.99, B.C. Liquor Stores)
As my ride pulled up to Brocard’s domaine, it was early in the day and a fog had settled on the vineyards surrounding his estate. The leaves on the recently harvested vines had a lovely yellow autumnal hue; I was already pretty darn charmed by the place before opening the door. I was immediately introduced to Jean-marc Brocard, who whisked us outside to a balcony overlooking his vineyards to offer his lay of the land. He discussed the region’s hallmark Kimmeridgian soils, full of fossilized oyster shells, which bring the area’s telltale crisp minerality to each glass of Chablis sipped anywhere in the world. Needless to say, that classic food and wine pairing of oysters and Chablis is automatically a given, since they’re already paired up in the vineyard.
Brocard shared that the wines in the more southern, hotter regions of the Languedoc in France are wines of the sun, often generous with well-ripened fruit. Here, he says, they find their sun in the soil; it’s from the earth that Chablis wines source most of their character. He treats that soil with respect, too: most of his wines are farmed organically with biodynamic practices. This recommended Premier Cru Montmains comes from the slightly cooler left bank of the Serein River, although the vineyard is southeast-facing on the hillside. (Montmains translates as “mediumsized mountain”.) So although there is striking cool-climate acidity, it is rounded out with lively citrus fruit and yellow plums. Those soils bring such a nice tang of river rock, and maybe even a hint of nori as well—begging for pretty much any kind of seafood you feel like dishing out.
DOMAINE PATTES LOUP CHABLIS PREMIER CRU BUTTEAUX 2014
($60.49, Everything Wine) Thomas Pico is the guy at the helm of Domaine Pattes Loup and very much part of the local terroir. Not only did he grow up in the Chablis hamlet of Courgis but he has followed his grandfather and father in the family winemaking business. While his family’s historic estate is Domaine de Bois d’yver, Pattes Loup is the result of his taking eight hectares of the family land in 2005 and converting it into organic vineyard shortly thereafter. Though his father scoffed at him for the shift to organic farming (particularly in his first year, when he lost much of his fruit to frost), Pico has been consistent in his focus on minimal-intervention farming and winemaking. As a result, his wines are remarkably honest, fresh, offering incredible purity and focus. The Butteaux climat—on the left bank, not far from where he grew up— is fairly steep-sloped and south-facing, with high concentrations of limestone in that Kimmeridgian soil. Wet rock, salty sea air, and flinty notes swirl out of the glass, with fresh-squeezed mandarin orange flooding the palate, coasting on a very light cradle of marzipan.
LA CHABLISIENNE CHABLIS GRAND CRU CHÂTEAU GRENOUILLES 2013
($109.99, B.C. Liquor Stores) Operating since 1923, La Chablisienne is a cooperative winery sourcing fruit from the 280-odd growers behind it, delivering quality wine from all four Chablis appellations via the steady winemaking hand of Vincent Bartement. All seven of Chablis’s Grand Cru climats are located on the Serein River’s right bank, allowing long afternoon sun. The wines from these climats are generally rounder and a tad more fruit-forward than those from other appellations, and it’s not uncommon to see oak fermentation or aging incorporated into the final product. Grenouille is indeed what many may remember from their grade-school French lessons. It’s the French word for “frog” and likely a reference to the climat’s close proximity to the river and its amphibious residents hopping around the vineyards over the years. With vines averaging 40 years of age and southwest exposure, this is prime land for wines offering plenty of charisma that improve with a good half-dozen years of age on them. This is a white worthy of decanting, which will unfurl plenty of toasty French oak, a few slices of warm brioche, a dollop of orange marmalade, a splash of lemonade, and a pinch of flaky sea salt lightly sprinkled throughout.
Of course, with a focus on Premier Cru and Grand Cru Chablis, things got a little pricey this week. Next week everything’s under 15 bucks, so feel free to splurge in the meantime!