Although (only?!) 71 percent of Earth’s surface is now water, once upon a time the globe was completely covered with vast oceans, a waterworld teeming with minute calcareous marine life. As the seas receded, mountains emerged, exposing the sedimentary layers of their finely ground and compressed shells, creating what we now call limestone, a ridge of which runs through many of France’s great wine-growing regions, from the Loire to Champagne and finally Burgundy, but most abundantly in Chablis. Limestone is so important to the character of Chablis that the region’s different levels of classification are mainly determined by which type of limestone runs through its various slopes and valleys. Petit Chablis is situated at the top of the hills on Portlandian limestone, while Chablis grows in Kimmeridgian limestone (characterized by many more fossilized shells), with premier cru vineyards oriented southeast and grands crus on the most ideal steep, south-facing slopes. It’s as if the fossil-laden chalky soil running through Chablis has helped create a wine that is a visceral reminder of our amphibian past, with its bracing smell of waterfalls and oncoming rain, wet stone and coastal citrus groves. Briny, crisp, chiseled, and mouthwatering, it refreshes and invigorates. We can thank all those marine fellas for giving their lives (and honor them by eating more of their descendants) by raising a glass in oceanic salute.
Winemaking is a relatively straightforward task at Domaine Savary, the Chablis estate founded by Francine and Olivier Savary in 1984 and currently run by their sons Maxime and Mathieu. The grapes are pressed, fermented in temperature-controlled stainless steel tanks, and aged on their lees until bottling—nothing fancy or complicated here. The goal is to showcase the stony Kimmeridgian limestone terroir of the Chablisien in its purest form, and these techniques, executed with rigor and precision, are just what it takes to allow this most distinctive expression of Chardonnay to shine. As a result, the Savary wines are textbook Chablis: crisp, racy, and mouth-watering, evoking typical aromas of white flowers, citrus, and crushed seashells. The 2016 is delightfully fresh and clean with a classic balance, but high quality came at a heavy price: a brutal spring brought devastating frost as well as two episodes of hail. A full glass of 2016 Chablis is therefore a veritable blessing!
Roland’s sons Arnaud and David are turning heads in Chablis and all over the world as they have taken this already very reliable domaine to new heights in record time. Among their many brilliant moves was isolating their best village parcel in their hometown of Lignorelles (a steep, southerly exposed slope) and bottling it separately to create this single-vineyard wine that shows off the potential of their terroir. They created Vauprin for their best restaurant clients in France. We were able to secure a few cases for our private clients in the USA. This is premier cru quality, folks.
When I sat down write this, my plan was to focus on the cold climate of Chablis. To write about how the vignerons were forced to implement widespread anti-frost systems just to survive. Or about how the traditional Chablis barrel, the feuillette, is smaller than elsewhere in Burgundy because the local oak trees, stunted by wind and cold, never grew as big as their more southerly cousins. I was all set to paint Chablis as the wine region equivalent of Pluto, the outsider of the Burgundian solar system following its own orbit on the frigid fringes. And then the other night, after the kids had gone to bed, my wife and I opened this particular bottle, from one of Chablis’ oldest premier cru vineyards, for a nightcap. Yes, this is classic Chablis, where Chardonnay speaks with a clipped and flinty accent, but there’s also a beautiful, sunny aspect to this wine that I was not expecting. As I got deeper into the glass, I noticed a little floral note here, a touch of ripeness there, and before I knew it, my carefully crafted analogy crumbled. Then, pretty soon afterward, the bottle was empty as well.
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