I don’t find it easy to say the name Chablis without finding my mouth starting to water. While most chardonnay likes a touch of oak for texture, Chablis doesn’t need it. In fact its mouthwatering qualities derive from lack of use of oak in all but the grander premier and grand cru manifestations. Why is that? Thanks to a delicacy born of its cool location at the northern tip of Burgundy, chardonnay here reacts like the aromatic grapes of Alsace and Germany, preferring little or no oak to show at its bone dry, tongue-tingling best.
Minerality is a hard term to define but that’s what the best Chablis is imbued with: a subtle background hint of the oyster-shell-packed Kimmeridgian chalk underlay of its vineyards. The French use of the word terroir to indicate a wine’s personality is grossly overused, but few wines display that character more than Chablis. As Andrew Jefford says in the New France: ‘It smells of smoke and stone and winter air; it tastes as quick and fresh as a chill, pebbly stream tumbling off a dark, rain-draped mountain. Do you doubt the influence of soil on wine flavour? If you do, buy yourself a bottle of Chablis’.
Starting in the supermarket, there’s plenty to enjoy in Sainsbury’s 2010 Chablis, £9.99, Sainsbury's, from the consistent Chablisienne Co-operative, a classic case of fruit and stone combining in a tongue-tingling finish. From the brilliant Jean-Marc Brocard, the 2008 Domaine Brocard Chablis, £13.99, Marks & Spencer, is ripe and rich with a crème fraîche quality cut by an incisive mineral acidity that leaves you feeling refreshed. About as zingy as it gets, the 2011 Chablis La Collégiale from Laroche, £13.99, buy two = £11.99, is fine glossy chardonnay with a steely, bone dry bite to it.
2010 was a terrific vintage for Chablis and two favourite producers have excelled. The 2010 William Fèvre Chablis, around £12 - £15, Wine Society, Fortnums, Armit, is an appetizing style that’s all about precision with an incisive cutting edge, nutty finish and tongue-clenching acidity. So too the 2010 Simonnet-Febvre Chablis whose fresh chalky aromas and touch of honeyed opulence carry through to a salty dry finish of thrilling tension. £12.49 – 14.99, Handford (02075896113), Partridges, (02078249858), Bretby Wine (01283 225029).
In grander premier cru country, the 2010 Damien & Romain Bouchard Chablis Montée de Tonnerre, £27.5, Oxford Wine Co. (01865249500) displays sourdough and crème fraîche notes in an intensely dry white that comes with a high tensile spine of acidity; 2008 Domaine Laroche Vaudevey Premier Cru, £21.50 - £21.99, Latitude Wines, Leeds (01132453393) The Secret Cellar, Tunbridge Wells (01892537981), £21.99, with its delicately smoky accent and exotic pineappley whiff shows the chardonnay grape at its purest with a textured yet bone dry richness. www.anthonyrosewine.com
Something for the Weekend 19 May
2011 Touraine Sauvignon Blanc, Domaine Jacky Marteau
Nettle and fresh mown grass aromas and the lively herbal, gooseberryish character of Loire Valley sauvignon blanc with a refreshingly zesty dry aftertaste a white to give Sancerre a run for its money. £7.99, Marks & Spencer.
AA Badenhorst Secateurs Chenin Blanc
Accomplished winemaker Adi Badenhorst's dry Cape white made from old bush vine chenin blanc delivers peachy flavours with honey-rich undertones nicely cut by a trenchant blade of refreshing acidity. Around £9.95, Jeroboams shops, Harvey Nichols, Noel Young (01223566744), Woodwinters (01316672760)
2009 von Siebenthal Parcela #7
A delicately herbal claret-like note underpins this Bordeaux-style Chilean blend from Mauro von Siebenthal whose generous cassis-like core sits at the heart of gentle tannins and balancing freshness. Around £14.75, Hangingditch, Manchester (01618328222), Imbibros (01483861164) Highbury Vintners (02072261347).