Give anyone who has ever said ‘oh, I don’t drink Chardonnay’ a glass of high quality Chablis and I will almost guarantee they change their tune.
I should know – I’ve done this exact experiment on several family members. Each result as predictable as the last.
There was a time when Chardonnay evoked one of only two reactions: either you loved it, or hated it. I was very much in the ‘hated it’ camp.
But, my excuse for this is simply because I was drinking very cheap, very poorly made (and grown), mass produced New World Chardonnay. The type that was all about the winemaking and nothing about the true expression of this amazing grape variety. It was varietal death by a thousand oak splinters.
A chance encounter with a glass of Grand Cru Montrachet from the southern part of the Côte d’Or whilst enjoying a meal in the West End of London back in 2009 made me see that I had been wrong, oh so wrong, about this grape variety for such a long time.
This wasn’t the over-oaked, buttery, stonefruited, high alcohol, full bodied wines I was used to – this was elegant, mineral, citrusy, and made my heart skip more than one beat. From that moment, I was smitten for Chardonnay.
Unfortunately, Grand Cru Montrachet is prohibitively expensive, and to date, this is the only glass of Montrachet I have had the pleasure in tasting, but that lack of financial availability has only made me search further for other great examples. And there are many.
Chablis, like Montrachet, is located in Burgundy in France, however it sits on the north-eastern fringe of the region – geographically closer to Champagne than Beaune. As such, the climate is much cooler than a lot of Burgundy and the wines, not surprisingly, are quite leaner in style.
Daniel Dampt has around 30 hectares of vineyards throughout Chablis and is one of the regions premier producers. There’s no oak employed here, and the winery consists effectively of stainless steel and nothing else. Clive Coates MW notes that ‘the building is spotless,’ and given the meticulousness of the wines, I’d believe it.
You could toss a coin over whether you’d call the colour pale lemon or pale gold – there’s a ‘richness’ to it, but on a different day I would have written pale lemon where I wrote pale gold today.
The nose shows good intensity, with great purity of fruit – lemons and granny smith apples lay the foundation, with a mineral component skirting behind it. It’s engaging and enveloping, and if all you knew were over-oaked Chardonnay from the New World, you’d be forgiven for being completely baffled by this. But then sneaks in a little bit of a smokey, flinty character – leaving little doubt this is Chardonnay.
Medium bodied on the palate with fairly restrained alcohol, what hits you immediately is the acidity; then the intensity of flavours, coming in waves – first citrus, then green fruit, a slight elderflower-y/floral character, and finally the mineral, almost steely nature of the wine. A finish that just goes on and on, with that acidity mouthwatering and I’m longing for the next sip.
A beautiful, beautiful wine.
I love white Burgundy in general and a lot of what comes out of Chablis in particular. It’s far more accessible than the white wines of the Côte d’Or to the south, from a price standpoint, and it also has some of the purest expressions of Chardonnay – winemaking takes a back seat, for the most part, and the fruit and terroir are allowed to sing their song. The New World is learning from this, I’m glad to say, and good examples of varietal wines can be found the world over. But there is something about Chablis that just keeps me coming back.