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  • Sunday, July 28, 2019

Minerality: The Enigmatic Symbol of Chablis



Minerality: The Enigmatic Symbol of Chablis
Chablis is a cool-climate wine region located in the northernmost wine district in Burgundy, France. The Chablis appellation was established in 1938 and only produces white wines made with one grape varietal - Chardonnay. The wines are known for their purity, expressiveness, and minerality.

Chardonnay becomes Chablis because it is a wine that reflects its environment like nowhere else on earth. When I think of Chablis, it brings to mind images of chalky, mineral-rich clay soils that lay beneath the region’s most coveted vineyards.

Chablis

We know that minerality is not a simple transference from place to taste, or rock to glass, but we do know that soils are the foundation of all great wine regions. The soil is the birthplace of a process that transforms the fruit into an image of its substratum. It is a complex and holistic transformation that takes place and delivers flavours such as granite, slate, limestone or flint in wine.

When visiting Chablis, you will notice that the remarkably chalky soils and the scent of wet organic matter seem very much in line with what can be sensed in the glass. Because the soils are distinctive in their varying abilities to retain humidity, thus allows the roots of the vine to penetrate deep into the soil and extract nutrients. Moreover, because the Chablis soils are nutrient poor, this forces the vines to go very deep into the substratum - playing an important, yet indirect role in creating the characteristic impression of minerality in wine.

The damp soils of Chablis

In Chablis, the two distinctive soil types that influence the wine's foundational elements are of Kimmeridgian and Portlandian origin, which can be traced back to 160 million years ago during the Upper Jurassic age when the sea withdrew the area. The older soils are Kimmeridgian and contain the highest degree of mineral-rich clay, along with marine fossils resulting in high chalky content, resulting in the minerality we perceive so often in the wines of Chablis, Chablis Premier Cru, and Chablis Grand Cru. Furthermore, the cool-climate of Chablis allows the natural expression of minerality. To preserve this minerality and let the fruit express its terroir, winemakers in Chablis use new wood sparingly during vinification and aging.

Kimmeridgian soils of Chablis

Portlandian soils of Chablis

Chablis soil substratum

Minerality in Chablis wines can be described texturally or aromatically as being part of one of three categories of sensations that are derived from the sea (Marine), earth (Terrene), or those that are smoky. The Marine sensations will evoke notions of iodine, brine, oyster shell, sea breeze, or sea salt. Terrene senations can be described as chalk, flint, gunpowder, wet stone, or damp soil. Lastly, the Smoky sensations can be described as sulfur (matchstick) or smoky (smoked black tea). And finally, you will notice fine textural sensations in the wines of Chablis due to the interplay between the brilliant acidity and minerality.

There are four classification tiers among the vineyards of Chablis. Ranging from lowest to highest tier, they are the following:

  • Petit Chablis - 1030 ha of stressed vines located on the more eroded sites at the top of the plateau above Chablis. The wines are fresh and friendly with a delicate fruity character.
  • Chablis - Established in 1938 and is the most vast and productive appellation with 3564 ha. The Kimmeridgian soils give Chablis its telltale minerality.
  • Chablis Premier Cru - Contained within Chablis, there are 783 ha of vines which are divided into 40 Climats who are historically significant in their ability to create wines of superior quality.
  • Chablis Grand Cru - Only 102 ha of vines are planted in Grand Cru designated territories, and all are located on the eastern end of the town of Chablis on south-western facing slope. Many of these wines are aged in (primarily older) oak barrels that add complexities while still allowing minerality to shine.
Here are a couple of fine examples of Chablis that showcase the region's famed minerality. The first wine is a lovely Chablis Premier (1er) Cru, while the second wine is a Chablis. Both of these recently arrived at the LCBO and are available for purchase in the VINTAGES section. To learn more about Chablis, please visit the Pure Chablis wines website.

Tasting Notes:

DOMAINE LAROCHE VIEILLES VIGNES LES VAILLONS CHABLIS 1ER CRU 2017 - AC, Burgundy, France (#991893) (XD) - $39.95
From deeply rooted, old vines within Les Vaillons vineyard that sits on a sunny slope on the left bank with limestone marls and Kimmeridgian limestone soils. Fragrant nose delivers earthy, leesy, chalky mineral notes inter-mingling with lemon citrus and orchard fruit. Nutty and smoky notes add complexity as it warms in the glass. The medium-full bodied palate is concentrated and structured with juicy, finely tuned citrusy acids balancing the citrus, honeysuckle, chalky and salty mineral flavours. It's nicely textured with a slightly chalky mouthfeel and more minerally on the mid-palate. Oyster shell, lemon citrus, and honeysuckle notes linger on the smooth, long finish. Arrived in LCBO VINTAGES June 8. Score: 92 pts

Domaine Laroche Vieilles Vignes Les Vaillons Chablis 1er Cru 2017 (92 pts)Gueguen Chablis 2017 (90 pts)

GUEGUEN CHABLIS 2017 - AC, Burgundy, France (#524934) (XD) - $27.95
Grown on Kimmeridgian clay soils from the upper Jurassic age, this has a medium+ intensity nose offering lemon citrus and earthy mineral aromas along with hints of peach and chalky limestone notes. The vibrant, mid-weighted palate has good fruit, delivering crisp, juicy acidity and nicely balanced aroma replays with a fine mineral streak on the mid-palate. Citrus and mineral notes linger on the long finish, plus hints of mango and mandarin adding interest and complexity. Arrived in LCBO VINTAGES April 27. Score: 90 pts


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