An Evening at Musée de Chablis

I think of wine grapes in much the same way I do an artist’s set of paints. Both can be used to create a potential masterpiece. An artist’s paints can create anything from a modern abstract to something more evocative of the Old Masters. Will it become a Jackson Pollock or a Johannes Vermeer? Same with wine grapes. The wine will be a product of the winemaker’s artistry. And just as art is in the eye of the beholder, so taste is on the palate of the wine drinker.

A recent tasting at Fine Wines of Stockton, during which we tasted a group of delicious Chablis, brought this comparison into clear focus for me. George and Gail stock Chablis from only one producer, Domaine de Chantemerle. Their Chablis is made without wood fermentation or aging, in contrast to the style of many white Burgundies which are often aged in wood. This is the style George and Gail prefer, a pure expression of what the variety has to offer. George said with a laugh that even the cellar door at Domaine de Chantemerle is steel.

Chablis is technically part of Burgundy, though it is located about 80 miles northwest of the Côte d’Or. The climate is continental: very cold winters, springtime with significant risk of frost and cool summers. The soil, Kimmeridgian clay, is a combination of clay, limestone and fossilized oyster shells. It is said to contribute to the unique minerality and flinty characteristics of Chablis.

Chardonnay is the only grape variety allowed in Chablis. In Burgundy it is the vineyard that is classified according to quality, not the château as in Bordeaux. Location and soil are the keys to the highest quality classification.

Grand Cru is the highest quality designation. These seven, contiguous vineyards are located along the northeast bank of the Serein River overlooking the village of Chablis. They have a desirable southwest-facing orientation that allows the vineyards to soak-up the sun. That and a very large concentration of that prized Kimmeridgian clay soil are what have earned these vineyards this highest designation.

Premier Cru comes next in terms of quality. These vineyards are located throughout Chablis occupying the next-best soil and sun locations.

Chablis AOC and Petit Chablis are the final quality designations. These vineyard locations tend to have less favorable slope locations and a lower concentration of the limestone and oyster shell components and more clay in the soil. If you are interested, here is a detailed map of Chablis.

As would be expected, the Grands Crus command big money, and sadly are beyond the Thursday Night Tasting budget at Fine Wines of Stockton. That’s alright, because George and Gail are very good shoppers and particularly so in the case of Chablis.

We tasted six wines blinded. We knew only that there were three Chablis AOC and three Premiers Crus, all from the 2010, 2011 and 2012 vintages and from the same producer. Our only task was to choose our favorite two wines. Here is what we tasted.

2012 Domaine de Chantemerle Chablis AOC


2012 Domaine de Chantemerle Chablis AOC – light yellow in the glass. Stone fruit and honey aromas followed by citrus flavors, minerality and good acidity. This wine is extremely light in the mouth. The finish is short to medium in length. Not overly complex, but pleasantly flavored. It would be a great choice for a summertime sipper. ABV 12.5%.



2010 Domaine de Chantemerle Chablis AOC


2010 Domaine de Chantemerle Chablis AOC – medium yellow in the glass. Just a touch of citrus aromas along with granite and gravel. More complex flavors of citrus, ripe melon and minerals develop with a bit of time in the glass. This wine had a bit more body than the first, and crisp acidity. There is more of everything in this wine. Very nice. ABV 12.5%.



2011 Domaine de Chantemerle Chablis AOC


2011 Domaine de Chantemerle Chablis AOC – light to medium yellow in the glass. An intoxicating, delicate aroma of crushed flowers and stems that I can only inadequately describe as herbal predominate the nose. The same floral, herbal flavors follow along with citrus, minerality and good acidity. The finish is medium in length. This wine is angular and flavorful. ABV 12.5%.



2012 Domaine de Chantemerle Fourchaume Chablis Premier Cru


2012 Domaine de Chantemerle Fourchaume Chablis Premier Cru – medium yellow in the glass with a citrusy, lemony nose. Stone fruit, lemon, grapefruit flavors and stony minerality combine with a light body and significant acidity. Complex and light, there is more of everything, except weight in the mouth, in this wine. Lovely combination of ample, pleasant flavors in a weightless wine. ABV 12.5%. This was the group’s favorite wine.



2010 Domaine de Chantemerle Fourchaume Chablis Premier Cru


2010 Domaine de Chantemerle Fourchaume Chablis Premier Cru – this wine is noticeably darker yellow in the glass. Aromas are different as well, tending toward tart and cheese-like initially. Then complex aromas of citrus, minerals and granite dust. Flavors are an equally complex combination of citrus, minerality and stones. Flavors are older, but acidity is bright and the finish is medium to long. It is a bit round in the mouth as well. ABV 12.5%.


2011 Domaine de Chantemerle Fourchaume Chablis Premier Cru


2011 Domaine de Chantemerle Fourchaume Chablis Premier Cru – medium yellow in the glass, with a hint of rubber tire then that herbal aroma again along with citrus—such a complex nose. Bright, lively citrus flavors combine with grapefruit pith and great acidity for a moderately long finish. ABV 12.5%. This was the group’s second-favorite wine.

Fourchaume is located very close to the Grand Cru vineyards, just a bit north along the Serein River. It also has a south to west orientation, favorable for ripening in the cool climate. As you might expect, it is a highly-regarded Premier Cru because of its great location.

What an outstanding group of Chablis. Not at all like the nearly colorless jug wine that was slightly sweet and lacking in flavor that often graced the dinner table of my youth. This was Chardonnay at its best. Different than many Chardonnays I have tasted. No oak influence, just the flavors of the fruit. I loved every wine in the group.

This unique tasting allowed us to compare this producer’s interpretation of Chablis AOC and the Foruchaume climat over three vintages. The vineyards are the same, the winemaking the same, only vintage variation and of course time in the bottle vary. From what I have read, vintage variation can be significant in this cool growing region which is subject to threat of spring frost.

Flavors absolutely become more complex with time in the bottle. My favorites tended toward the older wines, but they are all lovely and all very affordable. Prices range from $20 to $26 per bottle.

I was quite happy to spend the evening at Musée de Chablis. It has left me planning a return visit. I am curious to taste other producers’ interpretations of Fourchaume. Or maybe I’ll save for a bottle or two of Grand Cru classified Chablis. That would no doubt be a treat.


Reference: The World Atlas of Wine, 7th edition, pages 69 – 71. Hugh Johnson, Jancis Robinson

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