None Too Chablis
Some things go off quicker than others. House guests, like fish, go off after three days (or so Benjamin Franklin advised), whilst an opened tin of yellow bean paste I have in my fridge has been prodigiously enhancing my Chinese stir-fries for the past year. Earlier in the summer a friendship with an Antipodean blogger fond of pink and floral filigree lasted for just under two hours, making her more spoil-prone than a shucked oyster left out on a Normandy fruits-de-mer bateau jouet.
The simile is apposite, since we were seated next to each other at dinner in honour of Chablis. Hosted in the elegant private dining space of The Chancery, in Holborn, we were set to indulge in elegant creations by Graham Long, a graduate of both Ramsay’s Claridge’s and Pied a Terre. Before the bitter lemons set in, the dominant taste in my mouth was a pleasing goût de pierre à fusil – the poetic French phrase meaning ‘flinty’, but suggesting so much more. Over 180 million years more, to be precise.
The wine’s terroir, which stretches westerly to the Parisian basin and all the way across the Channel to Dorset, is formed on Kimmeridge clay, a potent prehistoric mulch that includes the Jurassic remnants of turtles, crocodiles, sauropods, plesiosaurs, pliosaurs and ichthyosaurs, as well as any number of invertebrate species. So that ‘flinty’ taste that distinguishes grand and premier cru Chablis from mere Chardonnay is more fossil than stone. The vines sprout on millions of long gone oyster shells and the odd Nessie or two. ‘Flinty’ was the theme of the evening.
And since our own human pairing went so emphatically awry, one can be thankful that the food and wine made for more durable alliances. We met in the The Chancery’s cellar bar where a light and very open Petit Chablis aperitif augmented crab beignets and took away the humidity somewhat. Some light conversation and badinage fitted Dauvissat Petit Chablis 2012 perfectly. So much for the ‘petit’ being considered lowly.
We finally broke off conversation to ascend to the street and re-descend to the dining room, where Chef Long’s marinated, raw hand-dived scallops, cucumber jelly, avocado cream, sesame filo and shiso dressing kept us talking.
Garnier & Fils ‘Grains Dores’ 2012, matured in Austrian oak had a full, appley mouth feel. Jérôme Garnier’s father was said to have cried when he and his brother, Xavier insisted on turning non-profitable wheat fields into vineyards. I’m assuming he’s crying all the way to the bank now.
Next, the handiwork of the President of the Union des Grands Crus de Chablis. Domaine Louis Moreau exports 85% of production to 25 countries across the world. This lively, young 2014 was a nascent thing, its citrus tang promising to develop handsomely over the next couple of years.
The conversation had developed into more personal, Freudian territory by the time Premier Cru was being poured. We were being challenged to discern the differences in specific geographical areas – both personally and vino-culturally. Terror or terroir? Jean Marc Brocard’s Montée de Tonnerre 2011 offered peach notes with some butteriness and spice at the back. A definitely strong pairing with our tartare of trout with poached apple, nettle purée, macadamia nuts and trout eggs. Apparently we were in deep conversation because I missed being told officially ‘that the earthy taste of the nettle is balanced with the bitterness of the macadamias. Finally, one is left with the acidity of the apple and the oiliness of the eggs.’
Talking of acidity, we’d just got on to how she hated the rump of humanity when the Grand Crus arrived. Again – geography is important here. They all come from the concentrated apex of the triangle that peaks north east of the commune of Chablis itself, facing the sun at altitudes between 100-250 metres. Here is the peak of minerality and green notes, but complex enough to pair with high fat dishes. William Fevre, the civil servant responsible for all France’s toll motorways, is a keen and committed ‘Chablisophile’. His Les Clos 2012 is oaky, yet rounded. The Les Preuses 2013 is made from 70yr-old vines. Both live up to the expectations of the Grand Cru – pairing sweetly with the roasted quail, cannelloni of the leg and foie gras, sweetcorn, hazelnuts, pickled mushrooms and wild garlic.
Finally – from the year of the heatwave that decimated a small section of the French senior citizen population, Domaine Pinson Fôrets 2003, rounds off the meal. With just 5,000 bottles per year, Pinson’s honeyed little number shows the region’s ability to cover a huge breadth of palates and nuances and cheeses. I leave knowing the irrepressible rapport between Chablis and food would live long in my memory and go onwards into my life. Sadly, the other pairing of the night was for the great spittoon of history. *wipes mouth*
- Vincent Dauvissat, 2012 AOC Petit Chablis
- Garnier & Fils, Grains Dorés, 2012 AOC Chablis
- Louis Moreau, 2014 AOC Chablis
- Jean Marc Brocard, Montée de Tonnerre, 2011 AOC Chablis Premier Cru
- Val de Mercy, Beauregard, 2012 AOC Chablis Premier Cru
- Domaine William Fèvre, Les Clos, 2012 AOC Chablis Grand Cru
- Samuel Billaud, Les Preuses, 2013, AOC Chablis Grand Cru