Don’t be afraid—it’s just Chardonnay. I wrote about some of the tastiest new Chardonnays about a year ago, noting that more and more restaurantgoers were asking for Pinot Gris (or Grigio), Viognier, and Sauvignon Blanc rather than the once-and-future most popular white grape in the world. We’ll talk more about Sauvignon Blancs next week, but in the meantime there seems to be a renewed appreciation of the versatility of Chardonnay and how it pairs naturally with our bounty of locally sourced food.
Depending on where it’s grown and how much oak (if any) is used, Chardonnay can be quite the chameleon; it’s impossible to pigeonhole. Flavours can range from steely, rich, and lemony to lush, tropical, nutty, and vanillalike—and all points between. The famous wines from the Chablis area of northeastern France are made almost exclusively with Chard and tend to lean toward the former: racy acidity and very refreshing, balanced with notes of gunflint, lemon, and bright tropical fruits. Salt Spring oysters, anyone?
Recently, an invite-only dinner was held at the always dazzling Secret Location (1 Water Street) restaurant that pitted three of Vancouver’s rising sommeliers against each other in friendly competition. Jason Yamasaki (Chambar), Brooke Delves (Wildebeest), and Roger Maniwa (Hawksworth) each selected three Chardonnays from Chablis, ranging from village wines to the very best Grand Cru: all were served blind and paired with unique culinary creations from chef Jefferson Alvarez. One of his dishes was a seared scallop with a citrusy sunchoke purée and tangy squid ink rocks. Not your everyday fare, but truly delicious with the wine.
The lucky guests were invited to vote for their favourite pairing in each of three successive courses. Although Maniwa eventually walked (humbly) away with the championship, the true winners were the guests, who were able to enjoy the variations within Chablis. One grape, one soil type, and an incredible diversity of wines to taste at one dinner.
You know, we’re truly blessed in B.C. to be able to enjoy some of the freshest seafood on the planet, and Chardonnay from Chablis is a natural fit. The climate of Chablis mirrors our own, so the local food selections are perfectly matched.
Here are a few choices that offer the most bang for your buck. I had to assemble a special tasting panel for the occasion, as you might imagine.
La Chablisienne Chablis La Pierrelee 2011 ($27.99)
The La Chablisienne cooperative is one of the best-known good-quality producers of wine in France and is responsible for about 25 percent of the wine produced in Chablis. Looking for a benchmark Chablis? Look no further. This is unoaked Chardonnay at its very best. There are flavours of apple, lemon, and just-ripe peach; this wine has it all, and it’s food-friendly, to boot. We enjoyed the balance of the steely minerality and the creamy texture. We paired it with some line-caught cod (deep-fried to perfection) and chips with a kiss of lemon. It’s hard to imagine a better Wednesday-night pairing.
Drouhin Vaudon Chablis Reserve 2012 ($29.99)
This wine showed hints of a lemon/lime colour, and the flavours naturally followed suit. There were citrus, coriander, and gently honeyed notes that reminded us of the sea—no surprise since the soil of Chablis (known as Kimmeridgian) contains millions of tiny teardrop-shaped oyster fossils. The winemaker’s notes suggest we may experience “salty sensations” in the wine, which suited our accompanying California rolls, edamame, and mixed vegetable tempura just fine.
Jean-Marc Brocard Chablis Premier Cru Montmains 2011 ($39.99)
Here’s where it gets interesting. The family-owned Brocard estate is being converted to organic and biodynamic farming, which really allows the wine to shine. For 40 bucks you’ll get a wine that shows spice, flinty chalky notes, salted citrus, apples, pears, and more. We may have enjoyed this wine a bit too early in its life, but even so it went very well with the accompanying lemon-rubbed roast chicken stuffed with asparagus and goat cheese.
Did I mention that we’ll be talking about Sauvignon Blancs next week? Let’s close, then, with the only Sauvignon Blanc that’s allowed in the Chablis region…
La Chablisienne Saint Bris Sauvignon 2012 ($19.99)
This is Sauvignon Blanc masquerading as a Chardonnay, leaning slightly toward grapefruit rather than lemon, showing creaminess on the palate but otherwise offering the freshness of a Chablis in a more affordable package. Springtime is here—grab a few bottles for the weekend.