Standing in for our regular wine writer, Nick heads off to get to grips with some different expressions of this remarkable wine.
On invisible wheels wine writer/expert/old soak, Douglas Blyde glides up and down the large room in the Andaz Hotel, Liverpool Street. From the walls large black and white photos of local characters gaze down at him impassively as he waxes lyrical about Chablis, the wine with the aroma and taste so distinctive I reckon even I could identify it in a blind tasting, or even a blind drunk tasting.
As Douglas explains, to the less knowledgeable among us like me, Chablis comes from the northernmost wine district of the Burgundy region a place rich in land made up largely of crushed seashells and while it’s made from the Chardonnay grape is is far less fruity than its cousins; less Sid James perhaps and more Alex James? In fact, its steely, flinty flavour is its trademark and for me, something of a Chablis drinking nouveau, its chief attraction.
We started with a Petit Chablis, La Chablisienne. Petit Chablis, which as the name suggests, is regarded as the less important member of the family, your wife’s little brother as it were, the one that kept telling her she was too good for you when you started going out. The grapes that make Petit Chablis are grown on the outskirts of Chablis and so cannot claim the full Chablis denomination.
That said, you’d not want to ban this from your house as you would the little brother. It has the sinewiness of its relatives but a touch of fruit and at around £11 it’s affordable too. Obviously a good choice to accompany fish.
it was set off by Scandinavian-inspired canapÃƒÂ©s from Martina and Magdelena of Nordish including miniature Norwegian fishcakes and remoulade and curled cucumber filled with crab and avocado salad. Nordish are based in London’s’East Village’, which I have never heard of although perhaps they mean, sigh, East London. It takes a village, apparently.
The width of the table made conversation across it like trying to converse from each end of a ping-pong table; you delivered your volley and then waited to see if it would come back as fast or even at all. I wandered over to the enormous kitchen range at one end to see what was cooking, then as food headed for the table scuttled back quickly.
Everyone seemed busy pulling enormous, and no doubt enormously expensive, dSLRs from their bags, presumably because their websites require 300 dpi 20MB files. Our needs are a little less demanding, so I waved my iPhone in a desultory way at the food feeling a little left out. Big lenses always make me feel inferior.
Hana of Pickled Plates was serving a summer vegetable salad with roasted radishes, brown butter dressing, pan-fried whiting and tempura samphire. Douglas presented us with Alain Geoffroy’s 2014 Chablis, which I noticed had a screw cap. I don’t like screw caps, although I accept they are far better for the wine and I suppose also for the wino. Last thing you need when settling down for a quick livener behind the bins outside Waitrose is to discover you need a corkscrew. I got lemon and orange notes from this wine, which was perfect with the salad.
A rather feisty young lady had been batch cooking pork chops for some time and these were duly brought to table. It seemed clear to me that mine at least was undercooked, but I felt the risk of food poisoning was less than that which could be involved in trying to tell her so.
Mind you I always prefer pork under cooked to over and Rosie of A Little Lusciousness (for it was she) had produced a rather tasty soy and miso-glazed pork chop on the bone with spring onion rice, Japanese raw slaw, rice vinegar and chili dressing. And I am still here to tell the tale so maybe it wasn’t undercooked at all.
With this dish came Julien Brocard’s Chablis, La Boissonneuse that had been, we were told, part fermented in oak foudres. This wine comes from a biodynamic vineyard in Chablis. What is bio dynamism? Well it’s like organic on steroids (sic) and most of it seems common sense although the phases of the moon stuff, as well as burying cow horns in the fields at the equinox, seems a little less defensible and more like Whicker Man territory.
Still it’s obviously better than spraying chemicals all over le shop and the wine was delicious, although it could have benefitted from more cow horn, as I sagely remarked to no one in particular.
A massive plate of cheeses from France and UK were matched with a large ice-bucket full of more Chablis (chableaux?) from big name Premier Cru and Grand Cru sites. These sites get more sun and have a higher amount of limestone marl soil and are smaller in number and so larger in price tag.
Waggling my fingers happily like Wallace, oooh I do like a bit of cheese, I ate large amounts of each and really liked them all, which was as well what with Brexit and all I didn’t want to cause any more offence by trying to send all the French cheeses home.
The wines were Domaine William Fevre, Vaulorent, Premier Cru 2012, Jean Paul et Benoit Valmur Grand Cru 2012, Clotilde Davenne Les Preuses Grand Cru 2008 and Domaine Laroche Les Blanchots Grand Cru 2007.
Did one go better or worse with each cheese? It would have been nice to have done a proper sit down, sober, comparison but quite frankly by this time law and order had largely broken down and Douglas’ sage words were falling rather on deaf ears. I’m sure I saw someone swigging Premier Cru from the bottle at one point although thinking about it perhaps I was just looking at my own reflection in the picture frames.
Each wine had been urbanely described by Douglas and I felt, as I wobbled toward the station that I had learnt something about Chablis. In all its incarnations, from highly affordable to highly unlikely to be afforded, Chablis is a particularly unique wine with plenty of variety within the denomination. The high acidity cleanses the palate, so it really is a winner with food, particularly lighter food such as chicken or fish
Unfortunately, the cool winter that helps make Chablis what it is have has been more than usually cruel than cool this year and so the yield will be very low. That will manifest itself perhaps as a shortage in a few years’ time, so stock up now.
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