Wines from Chablis
Chablis is the most northerly region of the Burgundy wine country. Although several white grapes grow in the region, the Chablis appellation calls for the use of Chardonnay only. There are 4 levels of this: Petit Chablis, Chablis, Chablis Premier Cru and Chablis Grand Cru. The first of these is made from grapes growing in and around the town of Chablis. The keys to the greatness of Chablis wines are the soil and the orientation, or aspect, of the vineyards. The more important of these might be the soil. Chablis is famous for its so-called Kimmeridgian soils which are highly calcareous in nature. Petit Chablis comes from vineyards in Portlandian soil. Clay and limestone differences between these two soils may be important but it is telling that many Petit Chablis sites are higher than those for Premier or Grand Cru so elevation plays a role also. Typical Chablis is greenish-yellow in color and is high in acidity but this can soften with age. We are lucky to have access to Domaine Besson wines which are very highly rated. The Petit Chablis is a wonderful introduction to their range and won a Gold at the Gilbert and Gaillard Competition in 2020. Nicely aromatic and medium-bodied it has a beautiful crispness and a lovely finish. Dry and acidic it is an excellent accompaniment to white meat, fish and cheese.
The appellation Chablis is the largest of the four levels in area. The appellation was originally created before 1940 in an effort to protect the reputation of Chablis wine. At that time, protected status for the names of agricultural produce was not what it is today. Wines made elsewhere, especially in the United States, were labelled Chablis but bore little resemblance to the real thing. Today, all wines carrying the Chablis title are dry whites made exclusively from Chardonnay. They must be produced from vineyards in specifically designated areas surrounding Chablis town and its nearby villages. Wine from this region often has hints of apple on the nose. On the palate, the wines are frequently described as flinty or steely, while the French refer to the “goût de pierre à fusil” or gun-flint flavour. For this wine, the juice is fermented in steel tanks at a carefully controlled 19-21°C and a small amount – 3% – spends 8 months in oak to add complexity. In the last couple of years it scored an excellent 90/100 at the Gilbert & Gaillard International Challenge and received a 90 from Decanter. This is a full-bodied wine with an excellent finish and will be perfect with poultry, fish, shellfish, lobster and cheese.
Premier Cru Chablis is made from grapes from about 40 climats or vine growing areas. Domaine Besson has vines on three of these: Mont de Milieu, Vaillons and Montmains. The wines are produced according to strict quality controls although vinification may vary between makers. This is particularly true of oak flavouring which was avoided by many traditional Chablis makers in the past. The oak imparted characteristics of Burgundy from further south rather than preserving the natural primary flavours of Chardonnay considered typical for Chablis. Despite this, some makers, such as Domaine Besson use oak judiciously. 95% of this wine is fermented in steel tanks at 19-21°C and 5% in oak. The wine rests on the lees for a further 8 months for additional complexity. Floral and with hints of citrus fruit, it is slightly more round and full-bodied than an unoaked wine. It will be excellent with poultry, hake, swordfish or veal in white sauce. The Premier Cru Mont de Milieu has done well in the past scoring an excellent 91/100 at the Gilbert & Gaillard International Challenge and a winning a Bronze Medal in the Concours Général Agricole de Paris. It should, like many Premier Crus, age well for at least 10 years and develop more complex and slightly sweetish aromas with time.