Through Heat, Rain, Frost and Hail … Success in Chablis

Guillaume of Louis Michel

Guillaume Gicqueau-Michel

Writing about the vintage in Chablis the past five years has been…well, for those of us who have gotten to know the women and men who grow and make these classy, dry, and mineral-laced Chardonnays, perhaps “depressing” is the best word. Frost, scorching heat, ill-timed rain, and – again and again – severe hail have struck Chablis with mind-numbing regularity.

In the words of the late, much missed, Roseanne Roseannadanna, “It’s always something.”

A Rush to Harvest
Vintage 2015 started out so well! The growing season started in early April and flowering happened on schedule under clement skies in early June. Despite some very hot weather in late June (109 degrees on June 24!) and a very dry July and August, a touch of refreshing rain in mid-August got the vines going. As growers went to bed on the night of August 31, they were expecting a great harvest and Louis Michel expected to start picking on September 6.

At 1:30 am on September 1, the bottom fell out. Hail pelted almost all of Chablis for an hour or more, leaving leaves shredded and some of the fruit damaged. At Louis Michel, everything went on overdrive, with every available picker and harvesting machine (including some borrowed from growers less impacted by the hail) pressed into service to get the fruit off the vines and into the winery before rot set in. By September 4, all fruit impacted by hail was in the winery, pressed, and ready to ferment.

Then – the Magic of Doing Nothing
Louis Michel ChablisWhen you taste the Louis Michel 2015s, the question you’re going to ask is, “What magic did winemaker Guillaume Gicqueau-Michel work in the winery to make such great Chablis under such challenging conditions?” The answer: Nothing.

Because “nothing” is what Guillaume does. The pressed juice went into stainless steel tanks and then…sat there until the yeast living in the winery air decided to start bubbling away. The only two winemaking decision Guillaume made was a) to keep things cool (as always) and b) to rack the finished wine off the fine lees a bit earlier than usual.

Louis Michel Montee de Tonnerre BottleWas acid added? Nope – correctly grown grapes keep their acid even in hot seasons. Sugar added to increase alcohol? Nope – the fruit came in at a just-right 12-13%. Lees stirred to add richness? Nope – older vines and warm weather gave all the richness you’d want. Oak used to shape or intensify the wines? Nope again – the only oak barrels in this winery have been cut in half and have flowers growing in them!

As in the past few harvests, the hardest part of Guillaume job after the grapes came into the winery was calling customers around the world to tell them they couldn’t have all the cases they wanted, because the hail and heat reduced the crop by 20-30%. Next year, we’ll tell you how even more severe hail brought yields down 30-40%. The year after, we’ll have to talk about how 2017’s bitter spring frosts cost the Domaine half its fruit.

For now, though, we have once again secured an above average allocation of these very much above average wines. Enjoy them while you can!

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Chablis: The Home of Fine White Wine Values

Dom des Malandes“Values” probably isn’t quite the right word here. What we really mean is “QPR” – Quality to Price Ratio. But either way, the region of Chablis is currently the best source we know for white wines that give complexity, richness, and refreshment, not only for lovers of White Burgundy, but also for fans of white wines from anywhere in the world.

And this week, we are offering four great 2014 Chablis from Dom des Malandes an excellent “QPR” prices.

Changes in Chablis. The wines from the chalk and Kimmeridgian clay (found also in Sancerre) in this northernmost outpost of Burgundy (only Champagne and Alsace are farther North) have historically been thought of as “steely,” “flinty,” and “saline” – brisk, high-acid wines built for shellfish and lacking the richness, depth, and power found further south.

Chablis_Grand_Cru_vineyardsBut the combination of climate change (warmer weather) and rapid improvement in viticulture (lower yields and waiting for ripeness) mean that modern Chablis has elevated its quality to new heights even as its style has changed. And Chablis continues to mature earlier than wines of the regions further south in Burgundy – no bad thing for folks who don’t want to cellar wines for decades or who worry about premature oxidization. In fact, more and more, experienced Burgundy lovers are heading north for great white Burgundy at surprising value prices.

Lyne Marchive, Dom des MalandesMalandes: Wines You Need to Try. Domaine des Malandes has been in the Tremblay family for generations and has been run by Lyne Marchive since 1972. The wines have always been “solid,” but as winemaker Guénolé Breteaudeau has asserted himself since joining the Domaine in 2006, the wines have moved up the scale to “outstanding”! As Allen Meadows, who writes as Burghound, said after tasting the Domaine’s 2014s:

“I have said this before but it’s worth repeating that [these winemakers] continue to drive the quality … to new heights. Readers who are not familiar with the wines owe it to themselves to try a few bottles; moreover the prices are reasonable and thus the wines offer excellent price/quality ratios.” – Allen Meadows, Burghound

But, your window is closing. As Decanter magazine reported last week, “Chablis prices to rise as weather hits 2016 vintage.” Overall production will be off 50% and Malandes lost its entire crop.

Malandes’ 2014 releases are coming to us direct at simply unbeatable savings. From a Village Chablis to drink as a “house white” to two different majestic 1er Crus and the profound Grand Cru Les Clos, all of Malandes’ 2014s are compelling, captivating, and available to you while they last at substantial savings.

Chablis: Home of Great Chardonnay Value

Great wines from Chardonnay’s home, the chalk and limestone hills of Burgundy, have never been cheap. But the combination of soaring global demand (think China) and brutally short crops – most producers have averaged 30+% losses the past few years – are making it harder than ever to find white Burgundy value.

Which is why the most savvy white Burgundy drinkers have been migrating north from the Meursault, Chassagne, and Puligny-Montrachet to the little village at the top of Burgundy, Chablis.

Chablis_Grand_Cru_vineyardsMigrating North. The wines from the chalk and Kimmeridgian clay (found also in Sancerre) in this northernmost outpost of Burgundy (only Champagne and Alsace are farther North) have historically be thought of as “steely,” “flinty,” and “saline” – brisk, high-acid, wines built for shellfish and lacking the richness, depth, and power found further south.

But the combination of climate change (warmer weather) and rapid improvement in viticulture (lower yields and waiting for ripeness) mean that modern Chablis has elevated its quality to new heights even as its style has come to more closely resemble Chassagne or Puligny-Montrachet of old. And, while the quality has soared, Chablis continues to mature earlier than wines of the South – no bad thing for folks who don’t want to cellar wines for decades are who worry about premature oxidization. So, while most casual white Burgundy drinkers have stayed focused on the more famous Chardonnay villages of the Cote d’Or, more and more experienced Burgundy lovers have headed North for great white Burgundy at surprising value prices.

Your Window Is Closing. Now’s the time for you to discover the great Chardonnay values of Chablis – before they are gone forever. Because the dreadfully short Burgundy harvests of 2011, 2012 and 2013 means that almost everyone who loves white Burgundy is starting to look to Chablis.

Allen Meadows QuoteAs Antonio Galloni, former Wine Advocate Italian and Burgundy critic, explains:

“We are about to see a massive lack of supply of high-end white Burgundy that will last for at least several years. Most of that void is going to be filled by Chablis, where weather has also presented its share of challenges over the last few vintages, but nothing like we have seen in the Côte de Beaune. My advice to Chablis lovers is simple. If you see a wine you like, buy it. There are not going to be too many second chances given the global shortage of fine white Burgundy we will soon witness. This is especially true for the 2012s, the best of which are fabulous and will be in the market when the lack of top-notch white Burgundy will be at its most pronounced.”

Malandes: Wines You Need to Try.  Domaine des Malandes has been in the Tremblay family for generations and has been run by Lyne Marchive since 1972. The wines have always been “solid”, but as winemaker Guénolé Breteaudeau has asserted himself since joining the Domaine in 2006, the wines have moved up the scale to “outstanding”! As Allen Meadows, who writes as Burghound, said after tasting the Domaine’s 2011s, “Marchive and Breteaudeau continue to drive the quality of the Malandes wines to new heights and 2011 represents the best that I have ever seen from them at least when taken as a whole. Readers who are not familiar with the wines owe it to themselves to try a few bottles.”

The 2012s are better still. Owner Lyne Marchive and her winemaker/cellar master Guénolé Breteaudeau had to work hard to triumph over the extraordinarily difficult 2012 growing season. Frost in April, a long, unsettled, flowering (Marchive called it “lousy”), hail in May, and then a few baking hot weeks in August all conspired to drive down yields and deprive vineyard workers of sleep. But a moderate, sunny, September allowed the harvest to slide to September 21 when the grapes had fully ripened without losing acidity or building up too much sugar.

The results are pretty, delicious, wines with plenty of Chablis character – green fruit, mouthwatering acidity, and loads of salty stone and mineral notes – married with some of the richness normally found further South in Puligny or Chassagne-Montrachet. As Allan Meadows (Burghound”) said after tasting the Malandes 2012s, anyone “not familiar with the wines owe it to themselves to try a few bottles,” and added, “moreover the prices are reasonable and thus the wines offer excellent price/quality ratios.” We couldn’t agree more – especially at these mix/match case price savings. Get ‘em while you can!

Peas, Mint, and the Importance of Sniffing Your Glass

Some groups of coworkers discuss their fantasy football teams, the latest episode of Dance Moms, the weather, or each other.  We tend to talk almost exclusively about food – what restaurant we went to or plan on going to, what we served to our friends on Saturday night and what we drank with it, what we drank with nachos while watching the new Arrested Development episodes – it’s all fair game.

Before he left Saturday afternoon, Randy said that he was in the mood for Chablis.  Though rose is often our default wine this time of year, Dom Louis Michel’s delicious, unoaked Chablis sounded perfect for the warm summer evening we were about to have.

Farmers-Market-Snap-Peas

He chose an unexpected, but very seasonally appropriate accompaniment: farmers’ market peas with mint and spring onions in a cream sauce.  The peas and spring onions were braised until just tender, with heavy cream, mint and lemon zest added at the last minute.  It’s a combination that hits all the wine pairing high notes.  The rich cream sauce is cut by the tart, flinty wine – a wonderful contrast of textures and flavors.  At the same time, the bright, clean flavors of all that fresh produce are complemented by the bracing citrus flavors in the wine.  Chablis can also have a wonderful mossy, almost vegetal aroma and flavor on the finish, so pairing it with green vegetables makes perfect sense.

One thing you’ll often notice wine geeks doing is sniffing their empty glass after tasting.  The scent left behind by a wine can give you yet another dimension of its aromas.  In great Burgundy, that ghost of an aroma often smells like the soft herbs we love so much in summer: tarragon or mint.  The mint in this dish did a great job of pulling out that quality in the Chablis.  Though Dom Louis Michel’s 2011 village Chablis was a great pairing with this dish, Dom Vincent Dampt’s slightly rounder style would be great with a farmers’ market meal like this as well.

So, how about you?  What are you pairing with summers’ bounty?

What We’re Drinking

Diane enjoyed a glass of one of this past weekend’s featured wines, the Brovia 2008, a blend of four of their vineyard sites using younger vines, with a few slices of Piave, a delicious semi-firm Italian cheese.  It was a fantastic pairing, and brought back memories of her recent trip to the estate.  Brovia is a Barolo estate for Burgundy lovers – rather than power, the wines all put elegance and purity of fruit front and center – as you can see from those large casks, these wines are not about oak and flash!  The 2008 is perfumed, accessible, sweetly-fruited, and just plain delicious.

alex sanchez

Randy enjoyed the Grammys with a celeriac soup, swirled with creme fraiche and topped with a few chiles.  With this delicious concoction, he pulled out a bottle of the 2010 Louis Michel Chablis 1er Cru Forets.  Subtle, elegant, with intense minerality, this is a wine that has a long life ahead of it, but is delicious now as well.  Stay tuned for news on the 2011 single-vineyard releases from Louis Michel – they are not to be missed!  We’ve got the 2011 village Chablis in stock if this has got you itching for a preview.

Last night Doug opened a relatively new wine for us, the Joseph Puig 2011 Montsant, and reports that it was a cheery companion to steak sandwiches with caramelized onions, charred red peppers and swiss cheese.  The flavors are juicy and uncomplicated now, but this will be peaking just in time for hamburger grilling season.  We can’t wait!

So, what are you drinking?