Located near Auxerre in the department of Yonne, the Chablis vineyards lie along a little river aptly named the Serein ("serene"). Vines began to growth during the Roman era. In the 12th century, the Cistercian monks from the abbey of Pontigny developed its cultivation. The AOC Chablis Premier Cru was officially created in January 1938, thus confirming the excellent qualities of this dry white wine which, unlike the wines of some other regions, has held onto its excellent reputation throughout history thanks to the exceptionally high quality of its raw material - the Chardonnay grape.
Premier cru:No French wine-growing area has pinned its faith more firmly on the facts of geology. The main substrata is Jurassic limestone (specifically, Kimmeridgian limestone) laid down some 150 million years ago. The rock contains deposits of tiny fossilised oyster shells which remind us that Burgundy once lay beneath a warm ocean. The Premier Cru " Climats " lie on either side of the River Serein which runs through the vineyards from south to north, but the most highly thought-of Premiers Crus lie on the right bank, enclosing the Grand Cru terroirs which also lie on that side of the river. Chablis: The rock contains deposits of tiny fossilised oyster shells which remind us that Burgundy once lay beneath a warm ocean. Some particularly valuable " terroirs " produce the Premiers Crus.
White Premier cru: pale gold in colour. To the nose, the full extent of its aromatic potential is not instantly apparent. It needs a little airing. This is a wine with good aging potential (5 or sometimes up to 10 years). Each " climat " has its own typicity, depending on soil and exposure. The wines are well-built and long in the mouth. The Premier Cru Chablis wines beguile the palate, whether mineral and tight in their youth or flowery and developing delicate and subtle aromas with age.
White Chablis: colour is rather light - pale gold or greeny-gold. Nose very fresh, lively and mineral with flint, green apple, lemon, underbrush and field mushroom. Notes of lime-flower, mint, and acacia occur frequently, as do aromas of liquorice and freshly-cut hay. Age depens the colour and adds a note of spice to the bouquet. On the palate, these aromas retain their freshness for an extended period. Perky and full of juice, it has an attack like an infantry charge. Long and likeable persistence leads to a smooth and serene finish. Very dry and impeccably delicate, Chablis has a unique and readily-recognisable personality. The name " Chablis " is widely usurped on all five continents by wines which have absolutely no right to it. Be forewarned: there is only one true Chablis.
Premier cru: Aromatically, the Premier Cru is highly complex and therefore highly adaptable. Good matches will include cooked oysters and fish in sauce. The more mineral versions of this wine can be served with fine poultry or veal in white sauce. The more open variations are a wonderful accompaniment to small tripe sausages (andouillettes) and the burgundian specialty of snails (escargots). This is a wine with real breeding, and also does justice to the local specialty of ham in Chablis (jambon au Chablis).
Serving temperature: 10 to 11°C
Chablis: White: this wine is a true boon to fine food. It can be enjoyed young (2-3 years old) with fish or poultry terrines, or with grilled or poached fish. It also goes well with asparagus, wich is normally difficult to match. Meanwhile, don’t forget exotic cuisine: it can handle curries or tandoori dishes and it also balances out the mellow and subtle textures of sushi. Or you could
simply drink it as splendid pre-dinner drink. It harmonizes well with goat cheeses, as well as Beaufort, Comté, or Emmental.
Serving temperature: 10 to 11°C
'We are beginning to get spoilt with all these fine vintages', said Lalou Bize in October 2011. 'We are very happy with our 2011s.' 'Much better than we had expected,' said Denis Bachelet. 'Lots of colour and fruit, together with good acidity and souplesse.'
Yes. It would appear that Burgundy has done it again. And if views are not quite as enthusiastic in Chablis and in the Côte Chalonnaise, at least in the Côte d'Or (and particularly in the Côte de Nuits) we have another big one to follow 2008, 2009, and 2010. Nature is smiling on the Burgundy lover.
Burgundy suffered the worst of its winter as early as the end of November/beginning of December. It was cold and grey, and there was quite a bit of snow. It continued cold but drier in January, but a little warmer in February and March, and then in April, just as in 2007, summer arrived with a bang. In temperatures which climbed into the low 30°s bud break started early and the devemopement of the shoots was rapid. One thing was already clear: barring catastrophe the harvest would be early. This fine weather continued into May.
June was pleasant enough, without being really warm, and July cool and wet. Even August, except for the occasional pair of days, lacked heat until the middle of the month. This came just when it was required, and while there were three days of wet weather just as the harvest was due to start in the Côte d'Or (August 24-26) these were the only periods of anxiety to worry the growers. September continued dry and warm, enabling the Hautes Côtes and other late pickers to finish their collection at their ease.
Of course rarely does a summer season go by without some hail damage somewhere in Burgundy. Rully has received the worst of it this year, being blitzed on the 8th of June, and then, and more seriously, on July 12th. Decimated is frequently an over-exaggerated term, but that is certainly what parts of the vignoble looked like. There were several frost attacks in Chablis in the spring, plus hail damage there too on 29th June, which has affected the size of the harvest in Fourchaume and neighbouring grands crus. Overall, it was wetter in Chablis that in the Côte d'Or – and it seems also to have been drier in the Côte de Nuits than the Côte de Beaune. Both these factors underlie the relative success of these three areas.
The white wine crop looks to be healthily-sized; if anything a little more plentiful than the average, growers talking about having produced 45 to 52 hectolitres per hectare in the Côte de Beaune. The fruit was healthy, pHs were around 3.10 - 3.15, and fermentations have been quite rapid. Some suggest slightly lower levels of alcohol than 2009 or 2010. Where red wines of equal reputation are made in the same cellar it seems that there is more satisfaction with the red wine results than with the white.
The red wines are even better in the Côte de Nuits. The crop is not large, there being less juice in the grapes than they promised, but this has led to added concentration. Alcohol levels are at a natural 11.5° - 12.5°, so the wines will not be too heavy. The colours are encouraging and there is plenty of fruit.
We need now (I wrote in November 2011) to wait patiently until the wines are tastable. Someone said to me long ago that you need to hold back and give the wines six weeks after the malos were complete before you can attack them with confidence. Only then, when the CO2 content has sunk to half, can you properly experience the mouth feel, the physical aspect of the wine.
One thing, though, is already clear. Two thousand and eleven Burgundy is a success.
Twelve months on, with the wines now well post malo and ready for tasting, what do we make of the 2011s? The whites are following a pattern which seems to have arisen in previous years: very pleasant, reasonably fresh, obligingly fruity, but without real backbone, depth and staying power. Drink them soon. Don't, I suggest, be prepared to spend the high prices today asked for premier cru Puligny unless you have tasted them first and are convinced they will be better in 2020 than 2015. Go for Rully instead.
The reds, lighter than the 2010s and less exotically rich than the 2009s, are delicious. They may not have enormous backbone, but there are many which have a delightful purity of Pinot fruit – and pure Pinot is one of the world's most seductive vinous aromas. They should not take too long to come round. But while delicious then, I do believe they will last, at least in the medium to long term. Yes, at least in red, 2011 is a success.
Prices are beginning to be released as I write. The high prices for the 2012s seen at the Hospices auction are bound to have its effect. But this seems to more evident among the already pricey, more fashionable wines and domaines. The polarization between simple (perhaps better rephrased as unpretentions) Côte de Beaune and Côte de Nuits grand and top premier cru is continuing. Many, particularly the white wine growers, have kept to their 2010 prices. More have raised their demands by five to eight percent, which means that British wine merchants can hold to last years prices, as the rate of exchange has improved. A few are increasing by 15 or even 20 percent as growers view the tiny amounts of 2012 in their cellars.
by Clive Coates MW: