Julien Brocard, President of the Chablis Commission, is on a mission of market expansion and consumer education. With the assistance of Françoise Roure, Marketing and Communication Manager for Bourgognes, he embarked on a quick tour of the States to promote Chablis. Traveling to five cities and then on to three other countries, he and Françoise have been hosting intimate tastings with those people – sommeliers, restauranteurs, wine retailers, wine writers – deemed influential in disseminating wine knowledge. We at Wine Dine With Us – who consider Chablis to be Chardonnay at its finest – were privileged and honored to be invited to taste Chablis with M. Brocard.
While the name Chablis is recognized by many, the particulars of the region and its wines are not. In a marketing scam, California, as many may recall, did the wine public a great disfavor by naming some of its wines for famous European appellations. Chablis is not a generic white wine from California, but a white wine of distinction from the Chablis region of France. And Julien is intent on getting this vital fact out beyond the cadre of wine lovers already in the know and to the wider wine drinking public. Chablis – termed “the French chic” by the Chablis Commission – is a wine, albeit stylish, for all occasions. With four appellations distinguishing quality, flavor profile, and price, the wine enhances all occasions from the quotidian to the most special. As aperitif or partner with cuisine, Chablis can provide the appropriate wine.
The wines of Chablis have a purity and grace that make them stand out – much like the wines of the Loire Valley and Alto Adige, two of our other favorite wine producing regions. No doubt much of this can be credited to the winemakers’ deep respect for both terroir and centuries-old winemaking traditions, borne out of trial and error and research dating back to the monks of the thirteenth century. Despite this, winemakers like Julien are not bound to tradition, as is demonstrated by the growing willingness to use biodynamic viticultural techniques to improve their soil and wines. Thirteen years ago, he set out to prove that biodynamics works, by selecting an 11 hectare single vineyard, with no neighbors to isolate the impact of biodynamic viticulture. His experiment was a great success and it convinced his formerly skeptical father, winemaker Jean-Marc Brocard, to move away from “chemical slavery” and make some of his vineyards biodynamic.
Soil composition – along with many other factors, including aspect, latitude, altitude, proximity to water, and climate – is a key factor in determining terroir. In Chablis, winemakers are not only influenced by centuries of winemaking history, but by geological changes that date back 150 million or more years. During that time, known as the Jurassic period, the land of northern Burgundy was covered by a warm ocean. The oyster shells and other ocean life that were left behind became fossilized and now are the basis of Kimmeridgian limestone. Admittedly, that’s a huge oversimplification, but the important thing is that these shells influence the wines and are responsible for Chablis wines having a chalky finish and a powerful minerality.
Chablis is the most northerly appellation in Burgundy, and within France only Champagne has the distinction of being even further north. That, and the continental climate, can make growing high-quality grapes each year a challenge. Vintages are important, and the difference between a warm year and a cool year impacts the resulting style. A cool year, like 2008, Julien explained, would result in a wine that is a better expression of the terroir and soil. Whereas a warm year, like 2009, would yield a wine dominated by the fruit.
2009 La Chablisienne Pas si Petit, Petit Chablis
La Chablisienne is a cooperative formed in 1923. Today there are about 250 growers who are members, most with very small plots. Served just a bit too cold, the nose on this Petit Chablis was restrained. But on the palate, it was full of lemon, bright citrus notes, and green apple. High acidity gave this wine a long, juicy finish. Françoise described this wine as “simple and easy to enjoy with friends.” It would be a great aperitif, a refreshing start to a meal.
Available in Massachusetts for about $12.
2009 Domaine des Malandes Chablis AOC
In contrast with the steeliness of the La Chablisienne, the Domaine des Malandes displays a lovely ripeness. The nose and palate have apple, lime, and a light yeastiness that comes from the wine having spent some time on its lees. This wine is mouth-coating and almost luscious with a lingering, slightly spicy finish.
Not yet available in Massachusetts.
2009 Julien Brocard Domaine de la Boissonneuse Chablis AOC
This single vineyard, biodynamic wine is simply excellent – and I’m not saying that because the winemaker himself was pouring the wine! On the nose there are notes of Bartlett pear, spice, and flowers, as well as minerality. It is softer and more rounded and full-bodied that the previous two wines.
Julien explained that the work is done in the vineyard and that there is limited intervention after the grapes are harvested. It is vinified in stainless steel and, after malolactic fermentation, the wine is left on the lees for 10 to 12 months.
Available in Massachusetts.
2008 Jean-Marc Brocard Premier Cru Vaulorent
This Premier Cru is made by Julien’s father, Jean-Marc. After seeing the positive results of biodynamics on Julien’s wines, Jean-Marc converted this vineyard three years ago. With the first sniff, there is an immediate aroma of stony minerality, followed by peach and ripe apple. Rich, ripe, and lush. The acidity evolves and even has a bit of a rush as the finish lingers. Katrin’s favorite of the tasting.
Available in Massachusetts.
Even though it is the same vintage as the Brocard Premier Cru, this William Fevre selection tasted the oldest of all the wines, and perhaps just a tiny bit oxidized. Mature, ripe, spicy, with baked pear. Rich but fresh with a hint of bitterness at the end.
Available in Massachusetts for about $85.
Our conversation with Julien and Francoise and the tasting of wines from each of the four appellations confirmed our belief that Chablis is the finest expression of Chardonnay. With their distinct sense of place, range of prices, and styles suitable for just about any occasion, we will certainly be enjoying more of these outstanding wines – and hope you will, too!