Chablis is divided up into Chablis AC, the broad appellation whose quality can vary; the Premier Cru vineyards, which controversially extend into areas not traditionally associated with quality Chablis; and Grand Cru, seven vineyards on a slope overlooking the village. There's also Petit Chablis, whose soils are different from the rest of Chablis and which can produce good-quality and good-value wine.
the producerLaroche are a producer I've found hard to avoid: one of their wines was a staple of hangingditch, the shop I worked at in Manchester, and now the wines are imported into the US by Wilson Daniels, whom my wife works for - which is why I've had the chance to taste their wines recently. One of the most interesting aspects of Laroche is that they are one of the few top French producers to use screwcap closures on all of their wines, even the expensive Grands Crus - or at least they were until recently, as their new vintages have returned to cork closures. They're coy about why they have made this return, but one can only conclude they feel that the guaranteed cleanliness of the wines comes at the expense of their ageing capabilities. We are still at an early stage of understanding how wines may age under screwcaps, but Laroche have been quick to abandon the experiment, perhaps because the quality of corks has improved greatly over the last ten years.
|from screwcap to cork|
St-Martin 2014 (c.$30)Made from grapes taken from selections of Laroche's 60ha of holdings around Chablis, their entry-level wine has the high acidity characteristic of the region. What I like about it is the body and weight that comes from eight months of lees ageing, meaning that the acidity doesn't overly dominate. It needs those nutty, bready aromas from the lees, because otherwise the aromas would be rather too neutral. ✪✪✪✪
Les Vaudevey Premier Cru 2013 (c.$46)Of the wines listed here, this perhaps feels - despite some oak ageing - the most classically Chablis: a very restrained nose of lemons and lightly baked apples, with high acidity and a dry finish on the palate. There's a slight creaminess from those baked apple aromas, with some nutmeg. It's all very subtle, and I'd like to try this with a food equally high in acidity. ✪✪✪✪
Les Vaillons Vieilles Vignes Premier Cru 2013 (c.$53)The "vieilles vignes" aren't that old, planted in the 1970s and 80s, but the nose is more expressive and there is more weight to the wine on the palate than the previous Premier Cru. It's that extra weight which distinguishes the two wines, as the baked apple and nutmeg aromas are otherwise quite similar. ✪✪✪✪✪
Les Blanchots La Réserve de la Obedience Grand Cru 2012 (c.$165)This is the stand-out wine, but also the one that's least typical of Chablis, with a rich, oaky creaminess that lends the wine a true Burgundy feel (the wine has been aged in 25% new oak). However, the acidity is still bracingly high, refusing to let the oak drag the wine down into a heavy brusqueness. This is like Burgundy on acid. ✪✪✪✪✪✪✪
Chablis, with its acidity and restrained aromas, is still not a region I have quite come to grips with. I would certainly like to experience more Chablis producers to gain a better overall understanding of exactly how the Premier and Grand Cru wines differ from each other - Patrick Piuze is one producer worth indulging in. But having recently tasted these wines at home and at various events, I now appreciate the variety of styles made in Chablis, which have far greater body and weight than I previously appreciated, even if they all share one characteristic: acidity.