The 2012 premier crus from Burgundy’s Chablis region are almost all on the market now, their quality testament to the ever-increasing amount of effort being put into the vineyards in this climatically-marginal region. Even in a “not easy” vintage like 2012 great wine can still be made, particularly from biodynamic vineyards.
The 2012s are particularly attractive because they’re drinking well now, but can also be laid down. In general, they are taut and tingling, lean and limey. Seek out the steely Domaine Chevalier Montmains, the perfumed Domaine Guy Robin Montmains, the intense La Chablisienne Vaulorent, and the quietly rich Lamblin & Fils Fourchaume.
The 2013 vintage was even tougher than the 2012 – but it seems that patience may have been rewarded in 2014, which is looking highly promising (and not only in Chablis).
Burgundy is complicated. Go back 25 years or so, and wine producers in Burgundy’s core Cote d’Or, a limestone escarpment which stretches from Dijon to Santenay, would not have registered the more southerly sub-region of Cote Chalonnaise. Mind you, says Herve Tucki, world ambassador of La Chablisienne in Chablis, neither would they have been talking about Chablis – a key component of the region.
Yet now many esteemed Burgundy names on the escarpment like Faiveley, Drouhin and Simon Bize routinely also own vineyards in Chablis. Further, says Tucki, the wines of Chablis have become so much more interesting compared with 35 years ago, particularly thanks to viticultural knowledge and investment. “But one thing doesn’t change,” he says, “and that’s the terroir. We’re Kimmeridgian. There is more and more evidence that it is good terroir for wine”. He refers, of course, to the unique clay and limestone rock formations from the Jurassic period. The key influence of Kimmeridgian soil on the vines results in uniquely steely, mineral and often-austere wines for the purist.
Tucki is the passionate and highly knowledgeable brand ambassador for co-operative La Chablisienne, and refers to the Chablis region as “my university. I learn something new there every day.” This co-operative was the first to be formed in France (1923) and sells about 8 million bottles a year, which accounts for about one quarter of the region’s total production. Chablis has about 4,900 hectares of vines.
Despite having a large portfolio La Chablisienne is highly respected. The co-operative’s range covers 30 different crus, including six grand crus and 15 premier crus. The remainder are spread across Chablis and Petit Chablis. It works with members from about 300 families across 20 villages. The separate vineyards aren’t necessarily small: the average size among co-operative members is seven hectares, and one has 20 hectares of vines. At that size, a family could easily bottle its own wine, so the co-operative represents an interesting model: one which company exporter Xavier Ritton calls “a shared project”. La Chablisienne, Ritton says, is first a producer and only second a co-operative. It is not just interested in commercial success; it is interested in terroir: the mineral character that combines the perfect balance of acidity with richness and texture.
Wine drinkers may be interested in the differences between the wines of the so-called Right and Left Banks of the Serein River. The Right Bank is often seen as superior because this is where the seven grand crus are situated. For Tucki, what is more interesting is to look at different styles within one cru. “You tell me you are producing in Fourchaume, but I want to know where in Fourchaume”. In any event, all producers have vineyards on both sides of the river.
Consumers may also be interested in knowing the broad stylistic differences between the crus, but Tucki says it is impossible to say. He confesses that in a blind tasting even he may not know for sure exactly which wines are from the Left as opposed to the Right Bank – though he does concede that there is nothing good enough to achieve grand cru status on the Left.
The apparent dynamism of Chablis is reflected elsewhere in Burgundy. As Tucki puts it the core, perceived highest quality area of Cote d’Or is great, except for one thing. “There’s a size problem,” he says. Thus, key producers are exploring the Hautes-Cotes de Beaune (located to the west of Cotes de Beaune), as well as taking the more southerly sub-regions seriously.
“We’re looking for more good land where we can grow good wine,” he says. The results of such efforts are some increasingly high quality wines from Cote Maconnais, Puilly Fuisse and Cote Chalonnaise. Tucki, for one, is sure that there are potentially even some grand cru-equivalents wines waiting to materialise from these long-marginalised regions.
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