Chablis producers today took their battle for greater recognition to their local competition's stronghold, Beaune.
Fifteen Chablis winemakers held an unprecedented tasting in town just as their colleagues from the Côte d'Or region of Burgundy were gearing up for their prestigious Hospices de Beaune wine auction, to be held this Sunday.
The Chablisiens showcased their best wines -- 37 grands crus, all from the 2000 vintage. It was a confident display that their terroir could rival the best of the Côte d'Or, which encompasses the Côte de Beaune and Côte de Nuits.
"We come here because we want to prove that we are not afraid to compare ourselves to the wines of the Côte d'Or," said Christian Moreau, who recently launched a new Chablis domaine, called Christian Moreau Père & Fils, with his son, Fabien.
For decades, Chablis, a Burgundian commune about 100 miles northwest of Beaune, has lived in the shadow of the famed Côte de Beaune communes of Meursault, Puligny-Montrachet and Chassagne-Montrachet, and their grands crus vineyards, such as Montrachet.
Chablis was well-known in the 19th century, but it fell behind the Côte d'Or appellations in the 20th century, in part due to terrible problems with frost that decimated some of the vineyards. Meanwhile, producers in the Côte de Beaune saw the prestige -- and prices -- of their wines escalate.
But now Chablis is tired of being the underdog.
"I've always said that a well-made Chablis is the best white in the world," commented Moreau. "There is an aging potential with our wines due to the [high natural] acidity."
The wines served today came from the seven appellations that make up the grands crus of Chablis: Blanchots, Bougros, Les Clos, Grenouilles, Les Preuses, Valmur and Vaudésir.
The 2000 wines reflect their terroirs very well, said Frédéric Drouhin of Maison Joseph Drouhin. "You could use them to teach students about Chablis. Every terroir can easily be recognized."
The tasting showed clean, crisp wines balanced by good, ripe fruit. They have the purity of the 1996s, from a great vintage in Chablis, but without the high acidity. Samuel Billaud of Domaine Billaud-Simon said the 2000 wines were the best since 1996.
Last year, Chablis vintner Michel Laroche and a group of colleagues founded the Union des Grands Crus de Chablis. Three Beaune-based négociants with vineyards in Chablis have also joined the association: Maison Joseph Drouhin, Albert Bichot and Bouchard Père & Fils, where the tasting was held today.
Frédéric Drouhin said "little wars" between the appellations are part of Burgundy, but don't mean much. "It's the first time so many Chablisiens have come to Beaune to present their wines," he said. "I am delighted."
The association members have signed a charter in which they promised to follow quality-enhancing measures, which took effect with the 2001 vintage. The group has committed to lowering yields and banning mechanical harvesters in their grands crus.
Laroche said competition is a part of the group's philosophy. "I hope each of us will want to be better than his neighbor," he said.
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