From the hillside

04 March 2016

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WHAT is the French wine that appears most often on restaurant wine-lists? I admit to not knowing the answer, but I would put my money on Chablis. The wines from this small region of Burgundy have created for themselves such a reputation that their name became a generic term for dry white wines. I can remember some years ago coming across a wine in New Zealand, Chablisse, with the slogan “The wine that makes the frogs jump”!

Chablis is one vineyard region that is benefiting from global warming. After the difficult 2013 vintage, both the 2014 and 2015 have been outstanding, with the wines achieving their optimal balance of fruit, minerality, and acidity.

There is a hierarchy within the classification of the wines of Chablis. The lowest classification is Petit Chablis: the wines come from vineyards planted on the top of the hills of the region. The other three classes of wine — Chablis, Chablis Premier Cru, and Chablis Grands Crus — all come from hillside slopes.

At the level of Petit Chablis, Sainsbury’s has one in its Taste the Difference range at £9; Waitrose has a Chablis Les Armes 2014 (from the excellent co-operative cellar La Chablisienne) at £15.49; and Majestic has one from the Séguinot-Bordet Estate, at £11.99. (This price comes down to £9.99 if you buy five other bottles of wine.) Under the new management of Majestic, while you can now buy single bottles of wine, you appear to have to buy six, when previously you only had to buy two — and often receive a greater reduction.

At the Chablis level, there is a broad range of wines available. You might like to try Sainsbury’s La Terrasse at £11, or their Taste the Difference wine at £10. The buyers at Waitrose have teamed up with the Co-operative Cellar to create an excellent Chablis 2014 at £9.49. They also have a 2014 wine from Domaine Louis Moreau at £15.99. Oddbins have an excellent range of Chablis, with 2014 vintage wines from the Domaine Alain Geoffroy at £13, and a wine created exclusively for them by Jules Billaud at £16.75.

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Approximately a sixth of the production of Chablis is classed as premier cru. These wines come from 89 plots, which might be sold under the name of the plot, or, in a bid to simplify the system, more regularly under a name which groups a number of these plots together. Thus a wine from the plot of Les Lys, in the village of Milly, can be sold as Chablis Premier Cru Les Lys, or as Chablis Premier Cru Vaillons. (In the latter case it might be blended with wine from certain other plots such as Les Beugnons and Vaillons itself.)

Often, wines from different vineyards are blended together and sold as Chablis 1er Cru. Sainsbury’s have just such a wine from the Brocard estate, at £16, and Waitrose has one under the name Esprit de Chablis for £18.99.

Under the individual vineyard names, I would recommend the Long Depaquit Vaillons (Oddbins, £20); and the Brocard Sainte-Céline Mont de Milieu (Sainsbury’s, £17). Waitrose also has a Vaillons 2013 from William Fèvre (£21.99). Finally, they have also just launched a grand cru wine, Billaud-Simon Vaudésir 2013, at £52. It should be worth saving up for.

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