Grand Cru Drive Thru: Chablis

Guest Wines Tour de France

Following our introduction to the Champagne region, we stopped the night at a budget hotel in Auxerre (‘oh-sair’), a small port town on the river Yonne just West of Chablis itself and capital of the Yonne département. Upon leaving for our next stop Chablis, we noticed that the landscape became increasingly hilly and rolling and very picturesque.  The sun was shining and a temperature of 23.5 degrees gave for a happy mood and readied us to taste some Premier and Grand Cru Chablis.

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Prior to embarking on our work for the day, we took in breakfast at the ‘Chablis bar’ bang in the centre of town, where the very friendly staff topped us up with the obligatory croissant and cup of strong French coffee.

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Our first stop was at La Chablisienne, which started life as a cooperative winery but has now evolved to bring everything in-house. We were possibly the first customers of the day – well, better to get in early and avoid the crowds!

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After being shown a short video on Chablis explaining the different wine appellations, Petit Chablis, Chablis, Premier Cru and Grand Cru, we were introduced to a selection of wines from each, Ruth immediately picked out a slight cork taint in one of the Premier Cru wines, which was gladly exchanged for another in better shape. Well done – WSET in action!

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We thoroughly enjoyed the wines from the range we had and would best describe them as being of good body and substance. There was quite a difference in the flavours and structure of each wine, marking out where it came from, with intensity and complexity growing as you moved through to Grand Cru level. They were all very good wines, however, the Grand Cru Les Preuses 2009 stood out for us, an elegant wine showing lovely apple, pear, fennel, almond aromas and flavours, a true ‘phwaar’ wine!

We also picked up a few recipe cards, suggesting dishes to go with their wines. The asparagus and avocado tart with Premier Cru Montmain sounded pretty tasty indeed!

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Next, was William Fèvre, where we were taken through a range of wines selected from the available list by Sylvain (our Wine Advisor), who was very helpful with explaining the chosen wines to us.

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The range here was lighter in style, with more subtle flavours, to what we had already tasted but the differences between the wines were still marked in terms of which appellation the grapes came from. The prices at William Fèvre were a step up from La Chablisienne but based on what we had tasted, we felt La Chablisienne was pretty good value for money.

However, we did like their Saint Bris Sauvignon Blanc, which had a lovely aroma of fresh green peas (and it happened to be their cheapest).

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Just around the corner from William Fèvre, we found Domaine Pinson and were led into a tasting cave (literally!) by the proprietor’s daughter Charlene. We loved their wines with their fuller flavour that still maintained steely acidity. More oomph, in terms of flavour, for a great price. With each tasting we were beginning to understand which characteristics could be attributed to which appellation of Chablis.

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We especially enjoyed their Premier Cru Montmains 2011, Fourchaume 2011 and Mont de Milieu 2011, all exhibiting a fuller bodied, richer style of Chablis with good acidity.

The tastings we experienced this morning brilliantly demonstrated terroir in action, although each individual producer had their own style there was no getting away from the fact that the terroir shone though, certain areas had quite distinct characteristics no matter who produced them, for example Premier Cru Fourchaume to the right side of Chablis always had a soft roundness to it, whereas Premier Cru Vaillons on the left side had a more mineral touch.

On our way to Préhy and Saint Bris, we took to the hills that offered wonderful views across the valley and stopped for a lovely picnic lunch just outside Courgis with stunning views of the vineyards stretching out around us!

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The afternoon was spent at Domaine Jean Marc Brocard in Préhy, where we were given an excellent and informative tasting in lieu of a tour, which wasn’t taking place due to the busy activity of harvest.

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It is an impressively large winery, nestled next to the small church Sainte Claire that stands proudly amongst the vines, a picturesque scene indeed.

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Three generations produce the wines on sale here, with third generation Julien gradually taking over the reins from father Jean-Marc. Father-in-law, Emile Petit, also produces an Auxerrois range of wines at the Domaine. Julien is pursuing biodynamic practices and his range of wines all reflect this along with a modern slant to his bottle labelling. The main range of wines continues to be produced by father, Jean-Marc, which also now includes several biodynamic wines. In tasting both father and son’s biodynamic wines, we noted similar characteristics that carried over between them, which we found really interesting.

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We enjoyed tasting a wide range of the wines from Petit Chablis, Chablis, Premier Cru and Grand Cru sites and were especially impressed by Jean Marc’s Premier Cru Vaulorent 2011, honeydew melon, grapefruit, round and buttery and Grand Cru Les Preuses 2010, white flower blossom, honeyed melon, lovely richness, as well as Julien’s Premier Cru Les Vaudevay, fruity green fig character, flinty and fresh. All these wines were biodynamic.

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This was followed by a trip to Saint Bris but unfortunately the cellar at Domaine Groisotwas closed to appointments. However, we were able to see that they were busy washing out the press after a busy morning harvesting. We therefore decided to wander around the town and soak up its grand buildings and an ancient past.

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The day was pressing on but we felt that it would not be right of us to go away from Chablis without trying some of the reds available. So we went to Irancy on the hunt for their take on Pinot Noir. We found a good example of this at Benoît Cantin. Sonia, the winemaker’s wife, talked us through a few of their wines, including a rosé, before showing us around the winery, all excellent stuff! A gorgeous little place nestled between hills and well worth a visit.

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Their Irancy “Palotte” 2010 combined Pinot Noir with 10% of the local grape Cesar and showed savoury, forest floor aromas alongside the red fruits.

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Unfortunately, we did not have enough time to call in to Les Caves de Bailly, with their impressive cellar, as it was already quite late in the day and we had a long journey ahead of us in order to reach Burgundy before darkness in the hope that finding the budget hotel would be less difficult than the previous night!

The journey to Dijon was pleasant, with a noticeable change to the terrain – steep inclines and rocky outcrops suddenly jutted out from the earlier gently rolling landscape.

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It was our first try with a ‘Fast Hotel’, cheap but with a welcomingly cheerful receptionist, who was happy to make us a pot of green tea late at night as there was nowhere to get a hot drink (coming back to the lack of kettles in French hotel rooms again!). And so ended another great day. We both came away from Chablis feeling that little bit more knowledgeable about the region and its wines.

So, would we feel the same upon entering Burgundy’s other half?

One response

  1. Pinson is a great visit – wonderful family and wonderful wines.

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