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Chablis – a lighter shade of gold. Karl Elwood attends a tasting and lunch with Bernard Billaud

June 14, 2013

I was fortunate enough to be invited to attend a tasting and lunch in London earlier this week with Bernard Billaud, one of the leading figureheads among Chablis producers.  We were joined by other wine merchants and a splattering of the wine press.

In my opinion, Chablis is the purest expression of Chardonnay and unquestionably, one of the finest expressions of terroir anywhere in the World.  Bernard Billaud recalled as a child when his father Jean Billaud and his grandfather Jules Simon asked him to taste the grapes, pointing out that fruit from the vine produced from each plot, from one vine to another, does not have entirely the same taste, each one having a distinctive and different subtlety.  This lesson in terroir cearly stuck with him and why it is important to Bernard that each wine he produces accurately reflects the geography and climate of the site on which the grapes are produced.  Afterall, this is what makes wine producers like Bernard get out of bed in the morning!

All of the vines within this domaine are planted on the signature soil of the region, Kimmeridgian, which typifies the geology of this burgundian outpost.   This unique limestone and fossilised-oyster soil composition is what makes the very fabric of the white wines from Chablis so exciting.  The characteristic citrus and iodione descriptions for these wines is because of the soil.    This tasting was agreat lesson in terroir.

I think it is also worth pointing out that within the burgundian hierarchy, Chablis produces exceptional value for money.  I was reminded of this fact when you consider prices being charged for wines of this quality further south in the Cote d’Or.  There are very few domaines that can offer exceptional 1er Cru for less than £250 a case In Bond, or Grand Cru for less than £500 IB – fat chance finding anything of similar value in Puligny or Meursault for example.    Yet Chablis is often overlooked by wine consumers, instead tempted by her more vivacious or should I say, curvaceous, cousins in the south.

Here’s the line up of wines we tasted and please do contact Karl Elwood if you would be interested in purchasing any of these wines.

Tasting from the 2011 vintage – the 1er and Grand Crus were all bottled within the last month, so the first chance to taste post bottling:

Petit Chablis – very impressive weight of fruit for this AOC.  Very fresh, bright and drinking even now.
Chablis – Honeyed on nose and wonderful concentration for a village wine.  Racy and steely with great precision.
Chablis Tete d’Or – one of the few wines that the domain ages in barrel (2o% of the cuvée).  Creamy with excellent backbone  of acidity
1er Cru Vaillons – plenty of character and a classic example of Chablis 1er Cru
1er Cu Montée de Tonnerre – Very stony nose, wonderful concentration and enough steely acidity to cut glass with!  Needs time but fab.
Grand Cru Vaudésir – Very honeyed nose with a touch of vanilla.  Rich and full on the palate and wonderful poise.  Very persistent finish.
Grand Cru Les Preuses – super-concentrated and very impressive.
Grand Cru Les Clos – Packed with minerals, great depth of ripe stone fruit character.  Much more refined and elegant than Les Preuses.  A knock-out!

Then a selection of various vintages

1er Cru Les Vaillons 2010 – Rich, yet a fine backbone of acidity.  Beautiful poise and ideally suited for drinking now and over the next 5 years.
1er Cru Mont de Milieu 2010– More honeyed character on nose and palate. Wonderful length.
Grand Cru Vaudésir 2010 – Great prescion, depth, length and complexity.  This is stunning and would reward keeping 2 or 3 years.
1er Cru Montée de Tonnerre 2009 – the ripest vintage of the tasting, which shows as hints of tropical fruit on the nose and rich and ripe fruit on the palate.    Personally I prefer the steelier nature of the 2010s and 2011s, but this is still very good indeed.

With lunch – I know, it’s a hard life!

1er Cru Mont de Milieu 2009 – None of the tropical fruit notes that defined the Montée de Tonnerre.  Finer and much more elegant.  Drink now plus 4 years.
1er Cru Mont de Milieu 2007 – love this wine!  Touch of lychees on the nose, ripe white peaches on the palate and great length.  This has definitely put on weight since it has been bottled and shows how underrated this vintage is.
1er Cr Montée de Tonnerre 2006 from magnum – If ever there was an argument to buy white wine in magnum, then this is it.  2006 was another ripe vintage for Chablis and yet the slower evolution of this wine as a result of being in a magnum as opposed to a regular bottle,  has undoubtedly suited this vintage.  Creamy, honeyed, spicy, citrus notes.  Stunning!
Grand Cru Vaudésir 2008 – Not fair after the 2006, so was rather muted by comparison.  Needs another 3 or 4 year to reach its prime, but no doubting the potential for this elegant classic.
Grand Cru Vaudésir 2006 – great to be able to compare these two vintages.  Like chalk and cheese, with this beiung the latter.  Very rich and still has enough vibrant citrus fruit to carry it off.
Grand Cru Les Clos 2000 from magnum – and what a way to end.  This wine has still retained the green tinge of youth in appearance – any Cote d’Or white would be a rich golden colour by now.  This is incredibly fresh considering its age.  It’s rich, vibrant personality suggests to me that this has some time ahead of it yet.  Should point out that this wine came from Bernard Billaud’s personal cellar, so may well demonstrate the importance of cellarage as it does for the longevity of the great wines from Chablis when aged in magnum.

It was a great honour to be able to taste and enjoy these wines and do get in touch if this has tempted you to want to try some for yourself.

Karl Elwood

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