Yes, as outlandish as it might seem these days, I've got a Chablis in front of me that I think is a really good value.No, it's not a $12 bottle that is still decent, but for Chablis, and for white Burgundy in general, those days are long gone. What I'm talking about is a typical (in the best sense) Chablis from a good vintage that's more interesting than a number of its brethren and costs $20, still a very fair price in this region and what even most of the boring examples go for.
First, a bit about Chablis.This is, of course, the Northernmost subregion of Burgundy, France. It's actually closer to the Loire Valley than it is to the Côte de Beaune, and the wines tend to have a mineral, mouthwatering freshness that can be reminiscent of a nice Sancerre. Up here in this very cool climate, the soils tend to have a lot of mineral content, namely limestone (like the Loire), which in the best sites is combined with some clay and marine fossils to form a soil type specific to this region, which is called Kimmeridgean. While there's not any proof of a direct link between soil type and wine flavor, wines from soils like this, particularly in cool climates, tend to taste quite a bit of minerals. I know not everyone has licked rocks as I have, but I think most of us can conceive of the smell of rainwater evaporating off of gravel or slate.There is a smell to that! And look how stony the soil is in the picture of Petit Chablis above. Well, I don't want to dwell too much on this weird idea; what I can say is that Chardonnay seems to like limestone, and it is here in Chablis where many people think we find the absolute purest and (dare I say) best examples of the grape, which can often convey a sense of place and even specific site in a way that many grapes from many places fail to do. It doesn't hurt that most producer here avoid the overt taste of oak or butter in these wines. Unfortunately, the less interesting examples can be a small step away from mineral water, which is quite pleasant in my opinion, but not worth $20 a bottle.Okay, let's get past generalities and speak of the wine at hand.
2010 Hervé Azo Chablis: First off, please if you want to drink this wine in the next year or two, decant it for an hour or so before you drink it. Your taste buds will thank me. This is a serious white wine that needs some air time to show its best. Now that it's been in my glass for about a half hour, I'm getting precise aromas of yellow and green apples, ripe lemon flesh, hints of wax, subtle white flowers, and big-time stony, slatey, flinty minerality. Then there is another layer to the aroma, featuring subtle characteristics of some riper fruit: pear, even something tropical (pineapple) that remind me of Chablis from some of the better sites. The latter elements are not so prominent as to make this seem like anything other than mineral-driven, COOL-climate white wine. My mouth is watering, and as I take a sip, boy am I happy! There is an energy to this wine, a tension that demands my attention and rewards it with so much refreshment and refinement. No, this isn't the most complex of wines, but it is complete. It is everything that it should be and I find it to be perfect for what it is, which is a very good example of white wine that couldn't be from anywhere but Chablis. I think Chardonnay would have more diehard fans if it could taste like this from other places, but if that were the case, examples like this wouldn't be so special. It's certainly got some acidity to it, but for acid freaks like me, that is a great thing, and if you're having it with food, you'll probably agree, even if the zing is a little much for you on its own.
What's your take on Chablis? Love it but miss buying Raveneau Clos for a heck of a lot less than it goes for now? Like it but don't drink it enough?? Only knew about the Carlo Rossi stuff (NOT real Chablis!)? Whatever your take is, I'd love it if you would leave a comment letting me know. And, if you've had a nice bottle of Chablis in the past few months, what was it? Thanks for reading. I really appreciate it. -May 2012