Perhaps the essence of Chardonnay as a grape lies in Chablis - Unadulterated by oak or the fatness malolactic fermentation, its the wine to serve someone who says they "don't like Chardonnay." Honestly... people who say they don't like Chardonnay just hasn't found one that they love yet.
So last night we took a tour of Chablis, tasting eight wines of ascending quality- Petit Chablis, Chablis, Premier Cru and Grand Cru Chablis. This is a special part of Burgundy that produces only Chardonnay, an area often suffering the heartache of killer frosts, scorching heat waves, hailstones the size of golf balls, and sometimes all three in one season. More typically, the cool climate leans towards a particular style of wine shaped by the soils that it is grown on- a particular Kimmerigean Clay soil stuffed full of fossilised oyster shells and limestone.
We start with a "Petit Chablis" - grown on the Portlandian soils but still offering up the freshness and minerality that we expect from it.
Stepping it up a notch to 'proper' Chablis, brings more depth and texture, particularly from the wines that have more lees aging and bottle age. We don't need oak barrels to make a complex wine, in fact I feel that for these wines that oak would be an interference and detract from the minerality that underlies the wines.
Then comes the heart of the Chablis region the Premier Cru wines that have such individuality based on the particular sites that they come from. For such a small region it is a wonder that there are 40-odd Premier Crus here. With excellent examples from Montmains, Cote de Lechet, Vaillon and Les Lys we get a cornicopia of different flavours. The Montmains from Daniel Race is perhaps the most "chablis-like" with the lean and taut minerality with layers of citrus and melon on top. Les Lys at the other end of the spectrum is the favourite of the night- baked apple, pastry, truffle and spice with a fatness that envelops the palate & stands up to surprisingly rich dishes.
What Chablis tasting would be complete without Grand Cru, we sample from the smallest of the 7 Grand Crus 'Les Grenouilles' (The Frogs), with a bold citrus nose & a scent like a fine Champagne but a length, minerality and complexity that only comes from old vines on a tremendous terroir.
Paired with the wines I prepared fresh oysters, home made Gougeres (cheesy puff pastries), imported French cheeses, Escargot in garlic butter, tender chicken in a chablisien-cream sauce, and home made duck parfait to stand up to the boldest wines.
All in all a great lineup of wines, but some far more favoured than others. Our tasting group voted the Daniel Etienne Defaix Chablis Premier Cru Les Lys the top wine of the night, no surprise given that it comes from one of the oldest and best houses of the region. Following up in second was the Daniel Race Premier Cru Montmains, and the Defaix Premier Cru Cotes de Lechets in third.