I’m not sure why, but recently I was musing to myself about some of my favorite wines and wine-producing regions.
Those who know me know I adore Tuscany and nearly everything red coming out of that fairy-tale region: Brunellos, Super-Tuscans, Vino Nobiles, Chianti Classicos, Montecuccos and on and on.
I also admire, but can’t often afford, the Barolos, Barbarescos, and Langhe Nebbiolos emanating from Piedmont in Italy’s northwest corner. Loving the wines of either region isn’t much of a stretch as they are universally regarded, well understood, and desirable.
As I delved deeper into my affair with all things vinous, I happened upon two other regions whose wines I admire greatly — Chablis and Beaujolais, located, respectively, at the northern and southern end of France’s Burgundy region. I quickly realized that neither region’s bottlings have the universal recognition, comprehension, or buying appeal of the wines from Tuscany, Piedmont, or dozens of other wine regions for that matter. I found that fascinating.
There are any number of reasons the wines of Chablis and Beaujolais are less known and less respected than other wines from around the world. Some of those reasons are self-inflicted (Beaujolais Nouveau anyone?), while others come from forces outside the region and its control (How about a lovely glass of Chablis from that jug of generic California wine?).
Now while I can’t possibly set decades of wrongs right, I can share some information on Chablis and Beaujolais and, perhaps in the process, change some misperceptions. Along the way, I’ll also share some specific wines from Chablis and Beaujolais that are head-turning, delicious examples of why I love their wines so much.
First, Chablis. No, Chablis is not that awful wine from a jug people used to order by name not all that long ago. Chablis, to the surprise of many, is a wine comprised of 100 percent Chardonnay from the northernmost region of Burgundy. Even after tasting Chablis and having been told it’s Chardonnay, I find many people are still stunned to learn that they indeed holding a glass of Chard. Ah, but they’re not. They’re holding a glass of Chablis!
See, for the French, it’s not the grape that’s most important in the wine, it’s the “terroir,” that all-encompassing, rather frustrating word relating to climate, soil composition, presence of water, position on a slope, altitude, and on and on. Terroir gives a wine a sense of place, and for Chablis that place is a cool climate with mineral-rich soils.
Chablis grapes are less ripe and more acidic than what most Americans think of when they think of Chardonnay. Winemakers in Chablis almost never use barrel fermentation, so their wines never taste of oak or vanilla. Rather, they are stony, steely wines with tart apple and stone fruit flavors buttressed by bracing acidity. Not your cup of Chardonnay? Try a Chablis with sauteed sea scallops and you might very well change your mind.
As for specific wines to seek out, I’ve always enjoyed the wines of Domaine LaRoche, Rene and Vincent Dauvissat and William Fevre. His Grand Cru Les Clos 2009 Chablis is an absolute stunner! But at $75 or more, you might want to start with a lesser, and less expensive, Chablis, like the very tasty Bernard Defaix Petit Chablis, then walk your way up the Chablis ladder. I guarantee you that it will be a very pleasant stroll.
Now to the other end of Burgundy and the region and wines of Beaujolais. Made with the rooty-tooty, ripe and fruity Gamay grape, Beaujolais wines are always meant to be consumed chilled and young. They are pleasant quaffers, not to be aged or taken seriously. Except when they are! Yes, folks, beyond the oceans of Beaujolais Nouveau and Beaujolais Villages lie some amazingly versatile, complex, and age-worthy wines known as Beaujolais Crus. There are 10 Beaujolais Crus, villages in the region that produce wines bearing the village’s name and carrying the characteristics of the villages’ terroir.
Yes, there’s that word again, and it plays into the understanding of Beaujolais every bit as much as it does in Chablis. To simplify matters, and this is painting with a very broad brush, the crus can be put into two camps: lighter and more floral and fuller-bodied and more intense. Brouilly, Chiroubles, Regnie, Fleurie, and Saint-Armour fall into the former category while Moulin-a-Vent, Morgon, Chenas, Juliennas, and Cote-du-Broully belong in the latter.
I enjoy wines from both groups. A lovely, floral, soft Fleurie can be a delight every bit as much as a more muscular Morgon or Moulin-a-Vent. Louis Jadot and Georges DuBoeuf are the most prolific Beaujolais suppliers, and their wines are solid across the board.
However, for the most adventurous, seek out the Beaujolais crus imported by California’s Kermit Lynch. And, if you want something really special, track down a bottle or two of Ultimatum Climate by Chenas producer Julien Guillot. It was one of the best wines I’ve had all year, and that includes many of my beloved Tuscans and Piedmonteses.
Dave Eckert is a partner with Flavor Trade, a Kansas City-based gourmet food incubator and co-packer. Before that, Eckert was the producer and host of “Culinary Travels With Dave Eckert,” which aired on PBS and AWE for 12 seasons.