Not so long ago, I was invited to participate in a twitter chat about the region of Chablis and its wines, the purest expression of Chardonnay. Moderated by Christy Canterbury, MW and attended by many talented wine writers, we learned more about this remarkable area of Burgundy as we sipped five glorious wines (sent as samples), shared our tasting notes and suggested delicious foods for pairing.
In order to appreciate the wines even more, we revisited (virtually of course) a bit of background about the four Chablis appellations: Petit Chablis, Chablis, Premier Cru, and Chablis Grand Cru. The region of Chablis is located in north central France on either side of the river Serein and is only 1 ½ hours from Paris.
Climat, a traditional Bourgogne word referring to “precisely delimited plots of land that enjoy specific geological and climactic conditions”, is of paramount importance to the region of Chablis. The conditions of the land as well as the talent of the winemaker result in a patchwork quilt of crus. In Chablis, forty-seven climat named vineyards appear on wine labels: forty for Chablis Premier Cru and seven for Chablis Grand Crus. Each climat has rich and unique characteristics depending on the soil and exposure; landscape and hillscape are utilized to the maximum.
During the online chat, as each of us waxed poetic about the racy acidity, chalky minerality, and fresh, complex profile of the wines in our glass, the word “Oysters!!” was frequently stated (with plenty of vim and vigor, I may add) as an extraordinary food choice for pairing. But of course. Much of Chablis, the northernmost area of Burgundy, is cultivated in vineyards on a soil bed of clay, marl, and Kimmeridgian limestone laid down over 150 million years ago. This element is crucial in giving the wines of Chablis its signature characteristic of minerality.
Cue the oysters on the half shell with their classic notes of salinity and a glass of pure Chablis! This is one of the most iconic food and wine pairings of all time!
But wait. I decided to engage in a more research. The French must enjoy something other than oysters with their Chablis, oui? Fiona Becket, one of my favorite wine and food pairing writers, feels that “despite the emphasis that winemakers place on the different crus or terroirs of Chablis, three factors influence a food match more than others: the age of the wine, the vintage, and the degree of oak influence, if any.”
With these points in mind, I searched for memorable pairings to the beautiful Chablis I tasted during the chat. I encourage you to experiment with these scrumptious recipes (a link follows after each tasting note) as a memorable complement to your Chablis. But to be fair, you may want to have a platter of fresh oysters at-the-ready, too!
Chablis, Domaine William Fevre 2015 ($30) – The Chablis from Domaine William Fevre was of Chardonnay grapes cultivated in marl and clay-like limestone from the Kimmeridgian, then hand harvested. On the nose and palate, I discovered refreshing notes of lemons, limes, stoney minerality, vibrant citrus, and bright acidity, all of which led to a lasting finish. Due to its youth (2015) and just the slightest amount of oak treatment (5-10% of the harvest is vinified in French oak barrels), consider pasta with cooked shellfish, rabbit, fresh salads, a charcuterie plate, vegetarian dishes, or jambon persillé (ham hocks!) as unforgettable pairings.
Chablis, Premier Cru, Vaudevey, Domaine Laroche 2014 ($47) – Chardonnay, from cool climate 35-year old vineyards on steep slopes and rocky, Kimmeridgian soil, flourished during the 2014 vintage year. In this glorious Premier Cru, I noted bright acidity, a racy structure, and firm concentration of aromas and flavors. Included were minerality and elements of fleshy white peaches, all leading to a steely finish with exceptional balance and panache. Hand harvested grapes, of which 25% were fermented in oak and 75% in stainless steel, were aged on fine lees in the same oak casks and tanks. The Domaine Laroche begs for a plate of mature cheese, fish stew, vegetable risotto, or sushi, but you may want to consider a smoked salmon sandwich with goat cheese for one of the most delectable pairings yet!
Chablis, Premier Cru, Vaulorent La Chablisienne 2012 ($66) – A few of the participants in the chat shared that this high-quality wine was “pure and dense”. I have to agree. Aromas of ripe stone fruit, golden apples, beeswax, and chalk led to delicate flavors of lemon grass, thyme, anise, touch of mint, and more stone fruit and chalk. Ever-so balanced with firm structure and complexity, I loved each refreshing sip from the first to the last, pure drop. The Premier Cru vineyard, from which the Chardonnay grapes were cultivated, sits on middle and upper Kimmeridgian soil that alternates between chalk and marl, rich in fossilized Exogyra virgula shells. Alcoholic and malolactic fermentation occurred in both barrels and vats helped to create sophistication on the palate. Choose a Mediterranean tapenade, a rich foie gras, seared scallops, or steamed lobster for an on-point pairing. My choice? Classic veal with cream sauce!
Chablis, Grand Cru, Les Preuses, Jean & Sebastien Dauvissat 2011 ($78) – Ahhh, the Grand Cru! Grown on 50-year old vines, this Chardonnay was impeccable. Elegance and grace, balance and beauty describe this wine that exuded aromas and flavors of lemon peel, lime, red apples, ripe citrus, salinity, oyster shells, and minerality (of course!). Subtle notes of French oak and a round mouthfeel were mesmerizing…the finish was clean and pure. Planted on stone, clay, and limestone soil, the vineyards from which the Chardonnay was grown are located on very steep slopes of the valley of Serein; the producers feel that this location is “the best slopes of the right bank of the Serein”. Although the wine was brilliant during the tasting, it can be cellared for up to 15 years (but I doubt you’ll do that!). To complement this stunning wine, rich and savory dishes will be delicious. A tender grilled filet with sauce, veal kidneys, or sweetbreads will be exceptional…but you may want to try Bresse chicken fricassee with morel mushrooms, a traditional pairing.
Cheers to Chablis and delectable foods for pairing – but don’t forget the oysters! ~ Cindy