I am on record of stating – or at least asking the question – “is Chablis the greatest example of Chardonnay in the world?” I think a very strong case can be made to support the argument that indeed it is. This patch in the very far north of Burgundy – closer to Paris than it is to Beaune – with its famous Kimmeridgean limestone soils rich in tiny oyster shell fossils, can produce some of the most complex and pristine examples of the variety, though as in all of Burgundy, knowing specific vineyards and specific producers is key to identifying the very best. Styles vary too, depending on the maker’s use of oak barrels, malolactic fermentation (which softens the hardest acids present in newly made wine), and lees-stirring which can add texture and richness. Examples exist of both extremely lean and focused wines, through to quite rich and buttery styles (that many Chablis lovers detest).
I have written extensively about Chablis recently, but have just had the chance to taste a handful of wines from two very good vintages, 2014 and 2015. The wines comprise two ‘Petit Chablis’, accounting for around 18% of total production for the area, but from vineyards that do not benefit from Kimmeridgean soils, one Chablis, the mainstay of the region accounting for over 60% of production, and two 1er Cru Chablis from the Vaillons appellation. 1er Cru constitutes around 15% of production.
(2018) Though Petit Chablis - so from vineyards not on the prime Kimmeridgian soils - maybe its the 50- to 70-year-old vines that give this excellent Chablis characteristics, with a touch of that seashell and flint, and rosy, ripe apple fruit. In the mouth it is a touch less concentrated than the Chanson Chablis, but has a lovely flowing and pure character, plenty of gently peachy ripeness and some bright Mandarin orange acidity. Yes, there's a touch of salinity too, to complete and impressive picture.
(2018) A fine, delicate Petit Chablis this, and yes, among ripe apple and gently floral notes there is a touch of Chablis flint. Juicy, fresh and very appealing on the palate, it hints at ripe tropicality - a hallmark of this vintage it seems - a fleck of green and onto an easy-drinking, but crisp finish of some style.
(2018) This large nêgociant and estate owner makes some very good Burgundy wines, including Chablis under the Albert Bichot and Long-Depaquit labels. Cool, clean, clear and restrained, the aromas here are of lightly creamy apple and citrus, not a lot of Chablis flint in evidence. On the palate it is elegant and understated stuff, a fine, intelligent Chardonnay, but not singing of Chablis terroir.
(2017) Despite hailstorms just around harvest time affecting some producers, 2015 seems to have been a very good vintage for Chablis following an excellent 2014. This has some classic flint and green-flecked, mineral notes, with a ripe, smooth orchard fruit quality beneath. On the palate that searingly dry mineral and lemon pith core drives through, but there's a hint of fat about the texture of this too, and the fruit, which is quite juicy and almost peachy, before the strict core of acidity reasserts.
(2018) This wine must have sold very well through The Wine Society, because despite tasting it just before Christmas 2017, it is out of stock in early January 2018. No other UK stockists are listed on wine-searcher, but international ones are, and Berry Bros. has the 2015 and 2016 vintages listed. It's a shame because at the Society's £19.00 retail price it is a cracker, with enough flinty minerals joining a lightly toasty terroir aspect (though it is made only in stainless steel), some old vine concentration giving texture and length. Not an outstanding Vaillons, but a very good one.