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Wine Wednesday


Oui Oui, this week we’re going to Chablis! Chances are that even if you only have a slight interest in wine, you have heard about Chablis before. But what makes Chablis so unique? In order to answer that question, we’re going to have to take you to France. We’ll go to the most northern part of the Bourgogne Region (or Burgundy, if you must) and find Domaine Oudin just outside of Chablis.

Cellar Pick of the Week: 2018 Domaine Oudin Chablis Premier Cru ‘Vaucoupins’
Origin: Chablis, Bourgogne, France
Grape varietal: Chardonnay

In order to qualify for the Chablis Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC) the vineyard needs to be located in Chablis and it’s required to use Chardonnay grapes solely. The total area covers about 6,834 hectares (16,890 acres), and over two-thirds of this are used to grow the Chardonnay grapes. So what makes Chardonnay from Chablis so different from any other Chardonnay from the Bourgogne, or even France in general? And how do they decide what’s a good Chablis or not?

The secret to Chablis lies in the soil. The vineyards surrounding the village of Chablis itself are planted mostly in soil derived from 150-million-year-old Kimmeridgian bedrock which, once upon a time, was deep under the sea. The ground is full of limestone and marl embedded with the fossilised remains of tiny sea creatures. This mineral-rich terroir produces chardonnay that often has a chalky, almost saline, savoury quality in the mouth – that quenching taste that makes Chablis such a superb match with seafood.

The region of Chablis is what they call semi-continental, which means growing high-quality grapes is very challenging. Chablis does have idyllic hot summers, but poor weather in the spring or fall commonly wreaks havoc on the vintage. The cool climate of this region produces wines with more acidity and flavours less fruity than Chardonnay wines grown in warmer climates. These wines often have a “flinty” note, sometimes described as “goût de Pierre à fusil” (“tasting of gunflint”), and sometimes as “steely”.

This leads us to another big difference from other white wines of this region. In comparison to other white wines from Burgundy, Chablis wine has typically much less influence of oak. Most basic Chablis is vinified in stainless steel tanks. The use of oak became controversial in the Chablis when some winemakers in the late 20th century went back to wooden barrels in winemaking, using oak barrels. The amount of barrel maturation, if any, is a stylistic choice which varies widely among Chablis producers and almost only happens with the best quality wines.

Some bits of the rolling countryside of Chablis produces better wine – more characterful, more complex – than others, and over the centuries the winegrowers have identified four distinct terroirs in an ascending hierarchy of quality:
– Petit Chablis
– Chablis
– Chablis Premier Cru
– Chablis Grand Cru

Petit Chablis refers to vineyards that tend to be found on the younger soils on the higher slopes; wines carrying this name on the label tend to be lighter, fresher and the most straightforward in style – best suited to early drinking. The best straight Chablis wines express all the classic characters: floral, honeyed aromas, that lip-smacking mineral refreshment on the tongue. Vineyards designated Premier Cru and Grand Cru are those deemed the best in the region. There are 40 Premier Cru sites and only 7 Grand Cru sites, the latter all located on perfect south-west facing slope looking across the Serein to the village of Chablis itself.

The Premier Cru wines have all the characters described above but a little more concentration and intensity in the mouth, with each of the vineyard sites – named on the label – contributing its own unique terroir characters: some a little more floral, some a little more mineral, and so on. Grand Crus, as the name suggests, are considered the pinnacle of wines in the region: more weight and complexity, more character. Unlike the majority of Chablis wines, which are fermented and aged in stainless steel or big old barrels (and therefore taste of pure fruit and terroir, with no oak influence), Grand Crus are often matured in new oak.

Our Cellar Pick of the Week comes from one of the wineries that have been able to obtain the Permier Cru Classification. The Domaine Oudin came to be in the late 1980s when Jean-Claude and Christine Oudin left the stress of Paris life behind and settled near the bridge in Chichée to raise their two daughters and to develop a small 5 acre vineyard they had inherited near Chablis. Today, the daughters, Nathalie and Isabelle, oversee almost 20 acres of Chardonnay. From the outset, theirs has been a natural viticulture, respectful of the environment, and a style of winemaking that is at once simple and modern.

Besides producing quality wines in general, this particular vintage is extraordinary. After a very dry summer in 2017, winter 2017-18 was extremely wet. It rained nearly every day from March into April and the vines were slow to bud. That all changed in the middle of April. Wet soil and higher temperatures brought on explosive growth in the vineyards. The crop set regularly with very little disruption, and summer settled in. Because of the early wet conditions followed by April’s warmth, there was a likely chance of mould. However due to a heatwave and a drought the mould never had a chance. Ripeness was rapidly approaching, and eventually, the harvest took place at the end of August. The vines were incredibly healthy; no moisture means no threat from mildew or odium, which means no rot, which means good ripeness and incredibly high yields of perfect grape juice. ​

This wine has a pale yellow colour in the glass with shimmering silver highlights. The nose is bright with citrus, brine and flakey limestone notes. The palate shows elegant citrus fruit backed by lovely limestone driven minerality. This is a crisp, elegant wine that will never disappoint

Works beautifully with shellfish, grilled river fish, sea scallops sautéed in butter, grilled shrimp, chicken dishes, hearty garden salads, grilled vegetables and creamy goat or sheep milk cheeses.

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