The New Old Rules of Chardonnay in Chablis

Listen to some new voices from this premier region.


Little is as exciting as seeing transitions in a tradition-bound region. In Chablis, a land locked by tradition and a single variety, innovation might seem unfeasible. Not only is Chardonnay the rule, but the wines in Chablis are supposed to taste very predictable – at least on the palates of seasoned sippers. Yet there is new energy in Chablis, and it is not just about young guns. It is about brand new approaches to winemaking, and some winemakers’ departures from family heritage.
Check out this list new-old school Chablis producers.
Domaine de la Motte
A most striking example is the supremely mature, 23-year-old Adrien Michaut of Domaine de la Motte. I liked Adrien’s wines, but I wasn’t prepared for the young, confident man I met. He behaves 10 years older than his age and fashions wines – never having made any outside Chablis – that have more energy in a bottling as “simple” as Petit Chablis than a Grand Cru from more storied establishments.
Look for this bottle: 
Hailing from Troemes, the oldest lieu-dit of this Cru, everything in this wine is pumped up. Aroma, flavor, acidity, concentration, finish…it’s all here in almost aggressive quantities in the best possible way. Don’t miss.
Domaine des Pattes Loup
Other dynamic solos exist. Domaine des Pattes Loup’s Thomas Pico makes scintillating wines. He’s got a sharp mind, too; he’s a thinker. Whether the talk turns to saving Esca-stricken vines by painstakingly carving out their affected trunk areas or thinking about how public water and organic vine treatments affect humans, it’s hard to walk away from Thomas not reassessing one’s own lifestyle choices.
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(My tasting of this wine was an approximation of the final one, which has not yet been blended.) The nose is pure and forward with fascinating aromas of papaya, guava, mango and chamomile tea. Hardly reserved, this wine has the long legs to show off for a significant amount of time, especially given its seamless integration.
Patrick Piuze
Then, there is the renegade négociant, Patrick Piuze. Unlike most, Patrick doesn’t own a single vine. However, since 2008, he’s been crafting his own wines that bring across a sincere purity of terroir – typically without the cheesy, lactic notes for which Chablis is known. In doing so, he has achieved cult status in well under a decade.
Look for this bottle: 
This big gun shows oodles of flintiness interspersed in its apple-filled core. Its lilting acidity makes it easy – and even fun – to drink. That’s rare for such a young Grand Cru, and this sort of approachability is certainly a signature of the 2014 vintage.
La Manufacture
In a somewhat similar pursuit is Benjamin Laroche of La Manufacture. Also vine-less, Benjamin hails from the world-reknown Chablis-based Laroche family, but he – with his marketing background – began his own label in 2013. Benjamin knows where gems lie in the vineyards, yet he has the growers vinify them while he follows up. It’s rather unorthodox, but it works mightily well from what I tasted.
Look for this bottle:
This is a super citrusy wine that hails from vines planted in saturated white soil. Portions of this wine spend time in older and larger oak. There’s a perky tangerine quality to the wine between just enough sweet fruit and mouth watering acidity.
Alice and Olivier de Moor
Alice and Olivier, who met at Brocard, planted their first vines on family property formerly planted to cereals. Both trained enologists, they craft utterly unique styles of Chablis. Technically “just” Chablis, their wines taste like Premier Crus and are priced accordingly.
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This wine comes from vines stuck in the back of a valley that is packed with clay. The resulting wine isn’t short of flavor density, yet it exhibits striking acidity. It’s so complete, so joyous, so easy…yet so complex that I bet I could drink the whole bottle myself!
Louis and Catherine Poitout 
Creatively effervescent, Louis and Catherine come from wine but they are forging their own destiny, having started from scratch in 2011. Unusually, their gem is a “Petit Chablis”. Sipping it blind, one should place it as a Premier Cru. This is because the ungrafted vines were planted before the phylloxera scourge. The required “tlc” is enormous, but it is just one of the ways in which this dynamic duo is showing that Chablis is evolving with brio.
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This highly unique wine, made from ungrafted vines grown on Petit Chablis terroir, commands the price of a Premier Cru. And, it deserves it. Its concentration is heady and its body is weighty without heaviness. Super smoky and juicy with sweet citrus, like Meyer lemon, this wine is a head-turner.
Finally, a few from older Chablis establishments recently have struck out on their own due to family estate sales. They’ve taken some of their favorite parcels, and the resulting wines are not-so-astonishingly good. The most brilliant come from Domaine d’Henri (Michel Laroche) and Samuel Billaud.
Look for these bottles: 
Tasty and savory with a delicate suggestion of sweet spice, this wine has it all...which is probably why it hasn’t been made every year thus far. (Granted, there have only been three vintages at this new estate.) Unfiltered with 30% new oak (hardly noticeable), this wine displays vigorous tension on the palate followed by a tangy and lingering finish.
This wine comes from vines grown just above the Grand Cru named Les Clos. Its prefix of “Petit” hardly does the wine justice, especially in Samuel’s hands. The 30-plus-year-old vines deliver a lightly leafy, mightily mineral nose with a palate swamped with yellow grapefruit. Crisp and zesty through the medium, lemony finish. 
The surges of new thinking in Chablis are not a “goodbye” but rather a “hello” to new adventures in taste. Sometimes, “new” means “fad”. This is not the case in Chablis. With the rapid growth of Chablis exports to the US, this simply means a diversification in options, which is precisely what an expanding and exploratory wine market desires.

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