With 79 premiers crus to choose from, Chablis boasts enough diversity to cater for all tastes. And Rosemary George MW reckons 2008 will prove a vintage to savour.
Chablis is unique. It has razor-sharp flinty minerality that you only ever find in the northern Burgundy, and is the one great Chardonnay that does not automatically demand oak ageing. A premier cru has more to offer than a simple village Chablis, but is more accessible than a structured grand cru.
Chablis has 79 premiers crus. Some are rarely seen on a label, as less-well-known names can be included under a better known umbrella name. For instance, the largest of the premiers crus, Fourchaume, with 132ha, also incorporates the crus of Valpulent, Côte de Fontenay, L’Homme Mort and Vaulorent. The most structured premiers crus are those that share the same aspect as the grands crus, on the same bank of the Serein, namely Mont de Milieu, Montée de Tonnerre and Vaucoupin to the east of the grands crus, and Fourchaume to the north-west, stretching towards the village of Maligny. On the opposite bank, with a south-east aspect, are Vaillons and Montmains, with Côte de Léchet towering above the village of Milly.
Each cru has a unique character, but the real differences come from aspect and soil composition (which is basically Kimmeridigian limestone, but there may be more clay or chalk). But again, these differences are usually blurred by winemaking. Oak is the prime variable: some domains use none at all, whereas others use oak even for Petit Chablis. Some use only old barrels; others favour newer ones. Lees stirring for richness is another option. In a nutshell, there are as many styles of Chablis as there are growers.
2008 was yet another vintage saved by a fine September. The season started well; spring came early, with bud break in mid-April. There was some frost damage in mid April, but not serious. But the flowering in June was uneven, taking place in cool weather, and July and the first half of August were also cooler than average, so that by mid-August there were fears as to whether the grapes would ripen fully. Relief came on 20 August when the sun shone, and continued shining through September and into October, with a north wind drying off any potential rot. It was a late harvest. The drying wind helped concentrate the flavours, so the wines have minerality and freshness – and also ageing potential.
Chablis is incredibly age worthy. Premiers crus arrive on our shelves just as they have gone into their adolescent sulk and usually need a few years to turn into attractive adult wines, which will continue to develop for several more years.
Mark O’Halleron recommends some wines to buy (and to lay down)
Domaine Christian Moreau,
Cuvee Guy Moreau Vaillons – 18.83 points.
Closed nose. Rich, almost burly, packed with ripe citrus fruit. Has some power; spicy, vigorous, mineral and complex. Packs a punch. Very good length. Drink from 2017. £21.50 Dion Gunson, Sussex 01424 445 777, Haynes Hanson and Clark 020 7584 7927
Domaine Jean-Paul & Benoit Droin,
Montee-de-Tonnerre – 17.17 points
Limey, grainy nose. Classy, bright, tense, subtle fruit, a long, silky texture and perfect balance. Forward. From 2012. £18.50-£23.49. Armit 020 7908 0600
Montee-de-Tonnerre – 17 points
Quite a delicate nose. Firm, flinty, steely palate. Good acidity, elegant, youthful. Needs time. Good balance. Drink from 2015. £16.00. House of Townend 01482 586 582
Domaqine Nathalie & Gilles Fevre,
Fourchaume – Vaulorent – 17 points
Lush, apple nose. Dense and ripe, but not heavy thanks to bracing acidity. Weighty, but mineral too, with a long, austere finish. From 2017. £24.00. Ellis of Richmond 020 8744 5550
Vaucoupin – 16.67 points
Spicy, lime and fresh pear nose. Medium-bodied, but concentrated; has precision. Suave, sleek and still tight – not a big wine, but bracing and elegant, with a dry mineral finish. Good length. From 2016. £18.00. Ellis of Richmond 020 8744 5550, www.winehound.co.uk