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Three from Chablis: A Tasting Report

You may have heard in the news last week that Paris was experiencing historic floods. With the Seine River reaching 20 feet over its banks, the Louvre and Musée d’Orsay were forced to adopt emergency protocol and close for several days.

The Seine River drains a vast swath of Northern France, and one of its many tributaries is the Serein River, which flows through Chablis. In French, Serein means “serene,” but the weather this year in Chablis (as well as Champagne and the Cote d’Or) has been anything but. In late April, a severe frost caused significant damage to the vineyards. A hailstorm on May 13 piled on to the misery, affecting 400 hectares of vines, all before the rains came.

Vineyard of the hillsides of Chablis.

Vineyard of the hillsides of Chablis.

What I have a hard time imagining is the stress of a vigneron. How they are able to press on and salvage a vintage like this is a testament to the profession. It’s not for the weak of heart, and it certainly weeds out anyone with ideas of getting rich quick.

Whatever is left of the 2016 vintage will certainly command a high price, but only because of the minuscule crop and the investment in labor it took to save it in the first place.

What the weather cannot affect is our thirst for Chablis. From my experience, it continuously delivers an excellent bottle of Chardonnay. I’ve been on a Chablis kick these last few weeks, drinking three bottles over two weeks time because (a) I ended up with three bottles, and (b) the weather here seemed to scream for lighter fare and a crisp yet deep white wine. The consistency between the three bottles was impressive — Chablis certainly has an identity, and after the third bottle, I felt as though my taste memory for this region’s wines had gotten stronger. Here are notes on each one.

2015 Domaine Laroche Chablis “Saint Martin”

Domaine Laroche "Saint Martin" ChablisThis wine comes from one of the most praised domaines in Burgundy, not just Chablis. With the exception of their Petite Chablis, this is their “entry level” bottling: from here, their portfolio climbs the rungs up to Premier Cru and Grand Cru status.

But this is still a fine wine with amazing precision: it is as though the winemaker split an apple with a bow and arrow. The color is vibrant, the nose is classic Chardonnay (lemon, white tea and walnuts), while the palate is round, pleasing and generous with traces of kiwi. If anything, its precision suppresses some of its character. This is Chardonnay as you would hope it to be, but there is little deviation to give it that “something extra.” I’d love to sample their Premier Cru and see if things get even better.

Paired well with roast chicken and spinach gnocchi.

Grapes: Chardonnay (100%)
Fermentation/aging: No oak. In stainless steel tanks. Aged in tanks on the lees.
Alcohol: 12.5%
Ratings: ★★★★ (out of five)
• Aromas, Flavors & Structure: ★★★★ 1/2
• Food-friendliness: ★★★★ 1/2
• Value: ★★★ 1/2

Find a bottle of Domaine Laroche Chablis “Saint Martin”


2014 Domaine Bernard Defaix Chablis

Domaine Bernard Defaix ChablisThere is beauty in simplicity, especially when it comes to Chardonnay, a grape that is so often seem as a blank canvas by winemakers who like to paint with too many colors.

Not so with Domaine Bernard Defaix and this Chablis. While this wine also boasted a great deal of precision, it was also pleasant and clean with little interference and distraction, making it a great match for bolder seafood dishes. More tart than other Chablis, it presented lemon, green tea and cut-grass aromas with a custardy recollection on the palate.

Lacking some of the grace I found in the “Saint Martin,” I nonetheless enjoyed its mellow finish that recalled honey.

Grapes: Chardonnay (100%)
Fermentation/aging: Aged in stainless steel tanks.
Alcohol: 12.5%
Ratings: ★★★★ (out of five)
• Aromas, Flavors & Structure: ★★★★ 1/2
• Food-friendliness: ★★★★ 1/2
• Value: ★★★★

Find a bottle of Domaine Bernard Defaix


2015 Francine et Olivier Savary Chablis

Francine et Olivier Savary ChablisThe final Chablis comes from Francine and Oliver Savary, one of Kermit Lynch’s Chablis producers. A year ago, I featured their old vine Chablis in our First Taste Guide to Chablis and it was simply outstanding. Here, I did a bit of a mismatch — Chablis and Japanese — and the pairing backfired a bit. Turns out, the strong umami flavors of sushi and sashimi overwhelm Chablis’ delicacy. I would have probably done better with an oaky California rendition.

Poor pairing aside, it was still a pleasant wine, but perhaps my least favorite of the three, due to its slight imbalance in acidity. Once again, I detected aromas of lemon and green tea, as well as tart pineapple. A second glass (a few hours after opening) did not show as well as the first.

Grapes: Chardonnay (100%)
Fermentation/aging: Aged stainless steel tanks.
Alcohol: 12.5%
Ratings: ★★★ 1/2 (out of five)
• Aromas, Flavors & Structure: ★★★ 1/2
• Food-friendliness: ★★★ 1/2
• Value: ★★★

Find a bottle of Francine et Olivier Savary Chablis


Note: Wine by Domaine Laroche was provided as a sample by Wilson Daniels. Learn more about our editorial policy.

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