A. Dry white wine
D. All of the above
E. Cheap fruity wine from California
For those of you who answered “E”, you’re about forty years behind the times. Back in the 70s, most (American) wine drinkers preferred a simple, fruity quaff. Remember your parents knocking back the Lancers, Blue Nun and/or Mateus in their novelty bottles? (Ceramic, blue and oval respectively.) In those days, “chablis” was whatever white, “hearty burgundy” referred to all kinds of reds and “champagne” meant any wine with bubbles.
Thanks in part to French Appellation laws and California winemaking pioneers like Robert Mondavi, we’re generally more informed and more sophisticated in our tastes today. But misconceptions still abound when it comes to Chablis.
Chablis: The correct answer is “D”
Chablis is a dry white wine produced from the Chardonnay grape in the northernmost part of Burgundy. This area just south of Paris has Kimmeridgian limestone soil – composed of 180 million-year-old fossils of oyster-like creatures – which lends a desirable minerality to the grapes grown in the region. The climate is cool, allowing for longer hang time, more developed flavors and a good amount of acidity. Winemaking techniques can enhance this refreshing crispness with stainless steel vilification and aging. Alternatively, some French Oak barrel maturation can impart round buttery characteristics. Just a few of the many reasons why Chardonnay is called “the winemaker’s grape”!
Speaking of winemakers, I was pleased to be invited by the Bourgogne Wine Board to a Chablis-tasting lunch at Bouchon in Beverly Hills with Jean-François Bordet of Domaine Séguinot-Bordet. Jean-François was lucky enough to be born into a family that has been making wine since the 90s. The 1590s.
J‑F got his oenological start at fourteen years old. After wine school in Bourgogne (Burgundy), he left France to study wine in Michigan. Michigan? Besides having a friend there, Jean-François figured he may as well get some experience with Riesling and Gewurtztraminer under his ceinture (belt). Upon his return to France he became the youngest winemaker in Chablis, while his grandfather was the oldest.
Domaine Séguinot-Bordet is located in the climat (designated plot of vine-growing land) of Fourchaume on the right bank of the Serein river. In the words of Jean-François, the right bank produces elegant “wine for the woman.” The 2010 Chablis Premier Cru that we tasted was certainly elegant: bright, fresh, flinty with green apple, citrus and, I’ll admit, floral notes – which could appeal to either sex!
Chablis is produced in a variety of styles and price points that can add sex appeal to your Thanksgiving celebration. Petite Chablis, lively, lemony and fresh, is the least expensive. Enjoy it while you’re cooking or waiting for the cousins to arrive. Chablis is a natural with oysters on the half shell and is great with appetizers or an endive and goat cheese salad. And a Premier Cru or Grand Cru (ask your rich cousin to bring some) Chablis would elevate the lowly turkey to haute cuisine status. Heck, Chablis even complements asparagus (a notoriously difficult pairing). Which is to say, why settle for a common Beaujolais when your family can move on up to Burgundy? KEN