Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Chablis for Beginners

If you’re not drinking Chablis, you’re missing out, not only on some of the best examples of the chardonnay grape in the world, but on value as well.

Chablis is a geologically unique limestone enclave north of Burgundy’s Cote d’Or. All wines labeled Chablis are 100 percent chardonnay. It’s a wine collector’s dream, and because of high demand and limited amount, it’s a region that isn’t usually associated with value. A lot of wines from Premier Cru vineyards cost upwards (sometimes way upwards) of $50, let alone the coveted Grand Cru bottlings.

But wines labeled simply “Chablis” can be good values. This basic appellation means the wine can come from anywhere in the region’s 19 communes. In practice, this label means the wine likely came from vineyards that are not highly regarded. But you can still get solid, zesty chardonnay from these areas.

I drank just such a Chablis last night: the 2009 Simmonnet-Febvre Chablis. This baby cost me a whopping $13 from Calvert-Woodley, although other chardonnay bargain hunters seem to have bought up the current allocation. It outperforms and even outprices supermarket chardonnays from California and Australia, which makes it the perfect Chablis for beginners. If you want to get your palate acclimated to a leaner, more mineral-driven style of chardonnay, it’s hard to beat this wine. I gave it 86 points.

It’s a good sipper, and will be even better in warm weather, yet it still retains some classic Chablis characteristics. Aromatically, this wine is a bit closed down at first, but with some air it shows lemon, yellow apple and mineral water aromas. The palate is medium bodied with nice creaminess and subtle flavors of yellow apple and lemon zest. There’s just a dash of that Chablis minerality and limestone on the finish. This wine was fermented and aged in stainless steel tanks, so there’s none of those oaky, toasty aspects. However, being aged on the lees, this wine has developed an attractive creaminess.

This is a great Monday night wine. If you’re tired of oaky, buttery chardonnays, but don’t want to drop too much money on Burgundy, entry-level Chablis is a good choice. If you’re drinking any entry-level Chablis, I'd love to hear about it in the comments.


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