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Any studied wine geek can list the grands crus of Chablis without breaking stride: Blanchot, Bougros, Vaudésir, Grenouilles, Valmur, Preuses, Les Clos. Easy! But what about the premiers crus? No fewer than forty unique vineyards carry this elite distinction, and each climat is known to produce a Chablis with trademark characteristics based on the nuances of its terroir. While they all feature 100% cool-climate Chardonnay grown on slopes of Kimmeridgian marl, a number of other factors play a role in defining each site. Today’s sampler highlights four premiers crus through the lens of the celebrated 2018 vintage.
Fourchaume is a great starting point, a consistently complete wine expressing the textbook character we expect from Chablis. On a southwest-facing, fossil-laden hillside just north of the seven grands crus, it embodies both power and restraint. The Savary family chooses to raise theirs in stainless steel with five percent seeing used demi-muid, striking what they call “the perfect balance between tension and richness…the epitome of a superbly elegant premier cru.”
Vaillons sits on the opposite side of the appellation, across the aptly named river Serein. Due south- to southeast, it receives ample morning sun, with cooler afternoon temperatures contributing to typically delicate, floral wines of great finesse. Domaine Costal’s plots mainly face south, however, and upon factoring in the sunny conditions of 2018 plus low-yielding old vines, what we have here is a Vaillons that is uncommonly “rich, pulpous, and dominated by aromas of fleshy white fruits.”
Similarly, the early-ripening Beauroy has a southern exposure evidenced by the opulence of this bottling from David and Arnaud Lavantureux. Their calculated use of oak gives a more layered, textured style of Chablis, conveying generous, sun-ripened fruit that veers on the exotic. Mouth-filling and showy in its youth, it will age just as well as its brethren here.
Finally, Vau de Vey—just southwest of Beauroy—is a climat that has been turning heads recently, not least thanks to the Lavantureux brothers’ efforts. An extremely steep slope littered with limestone, it is defined by its saline minerality. David describes it as “direct and pure, full of energy”—a perfectly steely Chablis for oysters-on-the-half-shell, certain to remain tightly coiled for many years to come.
In eastern central France, Burgundy is nestled between the wine regions of Champagne to the north, the Jura to the east, the Loire to the west, and the Rhône to the south. This is the terroir par excellence for producing world-class Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.
The southeast-facing hillside between Dijon in the north and Maranges in the south is known as the Côte d’Or or “golden slope.” The Côte d’Or comprises two main sections, both composed of limestone and clay soils: the Côte de Nuits in the northern sector, and the Côte de Beaune in the south. Both areas produce magnificent whites and reds, although the Côte de Beaune produces more white wine and the Côte de Nuits more red.
Chablis is Burgundy’s northern outpost, known for its flinty and age-worthy Chardonnays planted in Kimmeridgian limestone on an ancient seabed. Vézelay is a smaller area south of Chablis with similar qualities, although the limestone there is not Kimmeridgian.
To the south of the Côte de Beaune, the Côte Chalonnaise extends from Chagny on its northern end, down past Chalon-sur-Saône and encompasses the appellations of Bouzeron in the north, followed by Rully, Mercurey, Givry, and Montagny.
Directly south of the Chalonnaise begins the Côte Mâconnais, which extends south past Mâcon to the hamlets of Fuissé, Vinzelles, Chaintré, and Saint-Véran. The Mâconnais is prime Chardonnay country and contains an incredible diversity of soils.
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