Chablis – one of the most northerly wine regions, is technically a Burgundy, but other than sharing the same grape varietal (Chardonnay) its wines (white only) are distinctively different to the big name Burgundies further south near Beaune.
Chablis occupies a milestone in my wine education, in that it was the first dry white wine which I appreciated for its crisp, minerally fruitiness – far removed from first sips of cheap Barsac and light fruity German wines. The trouble has always been that that first glass of Chablis lingers in the memory, and few since have conjured up a similar magic.
A recent brief unplanned visit to nearby Auxerre (89 Yonne, Burgundy) allowed just enough time to head for Chablis to stock up the cellar. As a wine merchant specialising in lesser-known French regional wines, Chablis did not feature on our list, so it was with an unaccustomed total ignorance that we set out to do some quick tasting. In the middle of the village of Chablis, Domaine Jean-Marc Brocard have a small retail shop and tasting room. Generally I prefer to visit the vineyard and cellar, but being a cold March day, and with muted expectations and with the name being at least familiar, we decided to give it a try.
It was a slow day for the shop, so our little group was warmly welcomed and treated to an excellent and informative tasting. Another of those rare opportunities to do a comparative tasting across the range from the very respectable Petit Chablis up to and including Grand Cru. It was fascinating how much variation showed between and within the quality levels – the balance of minerally dryness, the weight of the wine in the mouth and its persistence. Some exhibited a similar level of acidity as a good Sauvignon, whilst you could believe others had been barrel-fermented (which they are not!)
Our recommendations were for the great value and straightforward Petit Chablis (€6.90); the equally good value Chablis Vielles Vignes (more mineral depth) at €10.90; and the Grand Cru Bourgros 2003, which demonstrated such wonderful complexity for a white wine, that made it well worth the €24 price tag – and is being reserved for a special birthday later this year!
We’ll go again – the countryside and vineyard around Chablis is dramatic and attractive; the welcome at the shop was genuine and the wine was superb!
Jean-Marc Brocard has a really good website at www.brocard.fr which includes an excellent video presentation – “Four Seasons at Domaine Jean-Marc Brocard”.
Brocard also offers some B&B accommodation above the shop in the centre of town
On an earlier trip to the region we did have an unforgettable meal at the Hostellerie des Clos in the town – a Michelin-starred restaurant – a little formal, and a little expensive – but the food and service were remarkably good. The biggest problem was the wine list, which features about 300 different Chablis wines alone (including Jean-Marc Brocard’s) – so you really do need the help and advice of the very knowledgeable sommelier to guide you to the appropriate choice for your budget, your taste and your menu!