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Le Vrai Chablis

Photo by: David Yellen

Posted: Mar 5, 2009 5:26pm ET

When I left Beaune en route to Paris last January, I took the opportunity of stopping in Chablis to taste some 2007s.

I first visited Christian Moreau and his son, Fabien, at Domaine Christian Moreau & Fils and then Didier Seguier and Stéphane Follin-Arbelet at William Fèvre.

Tasting the 2007s of both producers, I couldn’t help but think that the style of Chablis I like is back. After two ripe years in 2005 and 2006—in which the typical Chablis profile of precision, mineral, “green” fruit and iodine was diffuse and blurred by layers of richness and flesh—2007 is a return to austerity, steeliness and tension between fruit, acidity and mineral elements.

In short, the 2007s appear to offer the distinctive style of Chardonnay from Chablis that cannot be replicated anywhere else.

First up was Moreau. The weather pattern was much the same as in the Côte d’Or: an extremely warm April, then wet and cool during the months of June, July and August. Then the north wind at the end of August and into September “dried everything and the rot, concentrating the grapes,” said Fabien Moreau.

“After two ripe vintages, it’s back, like 2004,” he continued. “Freshness and minerality.”

Yields were normal, and there were no problems with oïdium as a result of attentive spraying, but Vaillons suffered from mildew. There was also hail in Vaillons (50 percent damage), Montée de Tonnerre and Mont de Milieu. The grapes offered good levels of acidity and ripeness, and only 5 percent to 10 percent of the cuvées chaptalized (when sugar is added to juice before and/or during fermentation).

The Chablis was clean and lemony and the Vaillons a step up, but the real excitement began with the Vaillons Cuvée Guy Moreau. Made from vines planted in the 1940s, the aromas are less obvious than the Vaillons, but it was concentrated and intense with green plum, mineral and a very long finish (88-91, non-blind).

The grands crus begin with the Vaudésir, replanted 12 years ago. It was elegant and pure, with flavors of lemon and mineral, but less substance than the Guy Moreau (87-90, non-blind). The Blanchots smelled like lemon cake, with a palate of rich peach, yet was more closed and will need more time (88-91, non-blind).

The Valmur was round and expressive, featuring peach, lemon and mineral, with fine balance and a steely underpinning (89-92). The Les Clos exhibited a lovely nose of lemon, peach and melon, with a combination of power and finesse, all backed by an intense mineral element (90-93, non-blind). The Clos des Hospices delivered more of the same, with additional ripeness (91-94, non-blind).

William Fèvre, under the ownership of Joseph Henriot since 1998 and with Seguier at the helm, is making some of the best Chablis today. The domaine's vineyards are well-situated and Fèvre also buys grapes for several bottlings.

The hail, which occurred over four storms, affected 2,500 acres in the area of Montée de Tonnerre, but fortunately there was no rot, only dried berries afterward.

“If you worked well, you made very pure, very precise wines,” said Seguier. We tasted 17 different labels from the 2007s, so I’ll mention some of my favorites.

The Chablis Champs Royaux is a good introduction to both Chablis and the Fèvre style. It’s half domaine fruit and half purchased grapes, revealing pure, focused lemon and mineral notes and a vibrant structure (86-89, non-blind). It is already available in the U.S.; we had a few bottles in Miami recently and it paired perfectly with oysters.

The premier cru Vaillons (Domaine) showed clean lemon and mineral flavors, yet also density, a firm structure and length (88-91, non-blind). The Montée de Tonnerre (Domaine), one of my favorite lieux-dits, comes from two parcels. The southeast-facing Pied d’Aloue gives finesse and a mineral note; Chapelot, facing south, brings richness and body. The result is a concentrated white with flavors of apple, lemon, mineral and a hint of spice (89-92).

Fourchaume Vignoble de Vaulorent (Domaine), from a choice parcel behind Les Preuses, lies somewhere in style between premier and grand cru. Rich and powerful, with a solid structure backing mouthfilling lemon, spice and flint aromas and flavors, it revealed intensity and great length (90-93, non-blind).

Among the grands crus, the Valmur (Domaine) was the most backward, massive and closed, hinting at citrus and mineral and long and resonant on the finish (90-93, non-blind). There’s a lot of marne in the soil, according to Seguier, which lends structure and austerity.

By contrast, the Les Preuses (Domaine) displayed lemon, grapefruit and stone notes matched to a racy structure (91-94, non-blind). Though more elegant and flattering, Les Preuses had the power and intensity to follow the Valmur . We finished the tasting with Les Clos (Domaine), a wine of impressive power and richness, very complete, yet at the same time full of energy and a reserve that’s all Chablis. Citrus, orchard fruits and minerals highlight the flavors and this should age beautifully (91-94, non-blind).

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