CHABLIS PREMIER CRU. Fourchaume 2013. Seguinot-Bordet. (£25, Majestic).
‘Was working with a chef recently who thought that I should recommended matching Chablis with his delicious so-called ‘simple’ lemon cake. I agreed but had one proviso; it couldn’t be a common-or-garden Chablis. The cake, even though the chef called it ‘simple’, needed a Chablis with lots of oouumph. So, cutting to the quick, we’re looking for a label announcing Premier Cru or Grand Cru.
Premier Cru and Grand Cru vineyards yield better grapes which, in turn, produce better, more concentrated wines. As the old saying goes, “you can only make top wine from top grapes; you can’t make good wine from bad grapes”. There is a downside of course. As you can guess if ‘normal’ Chablis rocks in at about £15, Premier Cru will set you back about £25 and, deep breaths, Grand Cru will carry a £40 plus price tag.
The Chablis vineyards surround the quiet stone walled town of Chablis in central France and are part of Burgundy, even though they’re over an hour’s drive north of Beaune, the region’s spiritual capital. But, in true Burgundian style, the vineyards are the key to Chablis quality, hence, their designation into Grand Cru, Premier Cru, Chablis and Petit Chablis plots. The French have a name for all the stuff that makes a vineyard good, bad or amazing be it soil, aspect, drainage, microclime, protection, slope etc, etc. That word’s ‘terroir’. It’s a strange ‘mot’ but it comes in handy sometimes.
Being Burgundy, the Chardonnay grape is king and the very best vineyard plots, the seven Grand Cru’s of Blanchots, Bougros, Les Clos, Grenouilles, Preuses, Valmur and Vaudesir, lie on the steep south facing lime-rich Kimmeridgian (limestone and clay) slopes that overlook the River Serein and the town. Two Premier Crus, Montee de Tonnerre and Fourchaume, also flank the Grand Crus on these treasured slopes.
More Premier Cru vineyards, including Cote de Lechet, Vaillons and Montmains, lie behind the town on south facing rolling undulations which provide critical protection and exposure.
The A.C. (Appellation Controllee) Chablis vineyards, dotted all around the town, still lie on the respected Kimmeridgian soils but their sites are less beneficial, again showing the vital importance of ‘terroir’, especially aspect and microclimate in a chilly northerly region where praying for sunshine and fighting for ripeness is an annual event.
Chablis’ marginal climate is, however, the key to its crisp steely fruit trademark. The pity is that although these classic notes shine through in many Premier and Grand Cru’s they are sometimes lacking in the Chablis and Petit Chablis appellations, where thin acidic wines may carry the prestigious name but are at best ordinary. Definitely not a match with the lemon cake, even though it’s simple!
So, if you can stretch to a Premier Cru, the intense citrus aromas and flavours balanced by Chablis’ hallmark mouthwatering acidity will get the lemon cake, and the chef, bouncing!