Chablis’ Comeback

Chablis’ Comeback

Wine of the WeekPommier 2004 Côte De Lechet Chablis 1er Cru **** ($32.95, Vintages 23747)From a small domain run by the married team of Denise and Isabelle Pommier, who began production on a small family property using traditional techniques, then switched to partial barrel fermentation in 1998. Apple/pear fruit quality is nicely ripe, with a touch of vanilla, herbs and spices. Medium weight, with terrific grip and balance and a lime, mineral and spicy finish that hits excellent length. Very enjoyable now, should please through 2010.

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About 50 Burgundy producers blasted through Toronto one day last week as part of a three-city Canadian tour, each pouring about five wines. Trade professionals and consumers therefore each had about three hours to consider these 250 wines—which for Burgundy fans who love delve into the most nuanced wines on the planet is a tortuous tease. Even more frustrating for those (like me) who would love to sit in a room for two days and taste them all in order to report authoritatively on the state of Burgundy.

For now I can only focus on one little sliver that shone brightly enough to catch my attention—the shimmering, clean and vibrant whites of Chablis. Actually Chablis’ glint caught my eye when I previewed the Wine of the Week above plus others that were released Saturday as part of Vintages’ Burgundy feature. Chablis has been a bit off my radar recently. I’ve always enjoyed its restraint, minerality and nuance but its reserve does require very special meal occasions centred around similarly fine cuisine—white fish in lemon, butter, and cream sauces—or shellfish. Good Chablis is $25 to $80, and not a wine you are going to knock back whenever you’re thirsty.

I began my tasting at the Burgundy event by visiting the stand of Domaine Christian Moreau, with Christian Moreau himself presiding. I met him back in 1984 on my first trip to France, where I first understood the clean precision of Chablis in his cellar, how the layers of complexity build, and length of flavour extends as you move through the quality levels from Petit-Chalis, to Chablis, to Chablis Premier Cru, to the Grand Crus. At the time, all Chablis was unoaked (chardonnay), with the idea of putting such pristine wines in barrels being heresy. Although, soon enough, a compatriot named William Fevre would do just that, opening a debate that still echoes through this sleepy village southeast of Paris.

Seems I am not alone in re-discovering Chablis. As I tasted through his range of razor-crisp, stylish wines, Christian Moreau informed me that Chablis has enjoyed a comeback in Canada in the past couple of years, with sales picking up after a rather mordibund period during the late ’90s and early ’00s. Some say that global warming, which has consistently provided more ripeness and flesh in the past few years, is partially responsible. I suspect this movement is also in step with the worldwide rise of unoaked chardonnay as varietal wine. But ironically more Chablis is now oak-influenced than ever before. Christian Moreau now routinely uses 30 to 40% oak in his wines; so does William Fevre, and so does Domaine Pommier (above). The finest oak applied judiciously (the same way a chef uses seasonings) is a good thing, and Christian Moreau has expressed it in exquisite barely-there fashion in his grand crus, especially his sublime Domaine Christian Moreau 2005 Le Clos “Clos de Hospice” **** ($80 range), a wine of incredible finesse and focus. Only 250 cases were made and it’s unlikely to ever surface here (agent is Rouge et Blanc), but it is incredible.

Other very fine Chablis tasted at the event include several from William Fevre, represented here by Woodman Wines. William Fevre 2004 Grand Cru Les Preuses ****1/2 ($68.00, coming to Vintages) is very classy, with deft oak spice, minerality and fruit set in a creamy, warm frame. Fevre 2004 Grand Cru Les Clos ***** ($80, Vintages Classics, spring 2007) is an incredible, intense, more mineral and mouthwatering example. The house of Bernard Defaix poured more moderately priced Chablis at the event as well, finding a classic apple-mineral style. Defaix 2004 Cote De Lechet 1er Cru Chablis ***1/2 ($28.95, Vintages 950667) is tight, lean and steely young Chablis with white apple flesh, lemon-lime, minerality—no oak here that I could detect. From the same small house as the Wine of the Week, Domaine Pommier.

And finally, something to look forward to this fall: Simon-Lefvebre 2005 Chablis **** ($19.95, Vintages, Sept 2007), a screw-capped Chablis from a venerable firm purchased three years ago by Louis Latour. It was an excellent vintage and Latour’s mandate to produce a ripe, classic, affordable Chablis has been admirably achieved in a sleek, mid-weight white with classic apple, lemon and white cheddar flavours. Simon-Lefvebre 2005 1er Cru Vaillons (not tasted) will be released at Vintages in July at $30.