This article was published in The 30 Second Wine Advisor on Monday, Dec. 17, 2007 and can be found at http://www.wineloverspage.com/wineadvisor2/tswa20071217.php.
After a generation in which the lofty French names "Chablis" and "Burgundy" were co-opted as generic monikers for cheap American wines, order is gradually being restored to the universe. Such abuse nowadays occurs only at the extreme low end of the jug-wine universe, and few people are fooled by the borrowed name.
This is quite a contrast with the situation when I started writing a newspaper column about wine in the early 1980s. In those days it was impossible to discuss "real" Chablis without spelling out the difference between the cheap domestic stuff and the excellent but comparatively pricey white wine from the Burgundy region in Northeastern France.
True Chablis, as I had to explain in those days, is made from 100 percent Chardonnay grapes in a small appellation well to the north of the main Burgundy region. It's bone-dry, acidic, rarely oaked; steely and "stony," an almost classic demonstration of the principle of "terroir," the character inextricably associated with the sense of the place where the grapes were grown. Chablis tastes good because it is good, and it's expensive but worth it.
Domestic Chablis was a lackluster imitation at best. Made by industrial processes from a grape blend that rarely included any Chardonnay (overcropped Chenin Blanc and French Colombard were typical), it was a soft, slightly sweet quaff, often displaying pungent, un-wine-like flavors with no sense of the soil. It tasted cheap because it was cheap, and it was cheap because it was made for the mass market, the vinous equivalent of "lite" beer: drinkable, industrial, primarily of use as an alcohol-delivery system.
The terms do persist on the jug-wine and box-wine shelves, where, for example, both Carlo Rossi, a jug-only product of E. & J. Gallo's vast wine factory in Modesto, Calif., and Inglenook, a once proud but long devalued name now in the hands of giant Constellation Brands, both still produce "Chablis," not to mention "Burgundy," "Rhine" and "Chianti."
Curiously, in an apparent effort to serve more than one audience, both firms now make both a "Chablis" and a Chardonnay, as well as other popular varietally labeled wines such as Pinot Grigio, Merlot and Zinfandel; but not, apparently, the currently fashionable Pinot Noir.
Frankly, I'm just as glad to see the generic names disappearing from the market, or at least the upscale market. Domestic "Champagne" still lingers in the premium category, largely thanks to the marketing efforts of a few major American producers, but even this abuse seems to be fading as more consumers come to recognize it as misleading.
Today I dig down for a few extra bucks to invest in a recently arrived young Chablis, 2005 Domaine de Chantemerle made by A. & F. Boudin. It's a good but perhaps not a perfect benchmark example of classic Chablis; reflecting a more recent trend, it's made in a somewhat more fruit-forward and fat manner than the historical Chablis, a new style that some wine fanciers dub "international" to distinguish it from the more traditional "Old World." My tasting notes are below.
There is still time for holiday gifts from The California Wine Club!
No shopping, no shipping and no worries with The California Wine Club! Choose from 1, 2, and 3 Day Delivery Service to get your gifts out on time. One phone call or one click of the mouse and we'll handle all the details ... right down to a personalized gift message from you!
Call 1-800-777-4443 or visit www.cawineclub.com to place your holiday gift orders now.
For more than 17 years The California Wine Club has been making the holidays merrier with limited production wines from California's best artisan wineries. Each gift month includes two bottles of award-winning wine and our entertaining 12-page magazine, Uncorked. Gifts start at $34.95 and you may send as many months as you choose!
Domaine de Chantemerle 2005 Chablis ($23.99)
Transparent pale gold. Ripe cooking-apple aroma with hints of honey and delicate spice. Flavors are consistent with the nose, tart green-apple flavor over crisp fresh-fruit acidity and a subtle suggestion of chalky minerality. Flavors persist in a long, clean finish. Good wine if a bit "New World," fruit-forward and fat by the standard of traditional Chablis. U.S. importer: Vintner Select, Mason, Ohio; North Berkeley Imports, Berkeley, Calif., and other regional importers. (Dec. 14, 2007)
FOOD MATCH: Chablis is a natural with a good range of delicate to medium-rich pork, poultry or fish dishes; it was fine with a hearty but not overly cream-rich fish chowder.
VALUE: The $24 price tag might horrify a jug-wine fancier looking for a generic white wine, and wine-price inflation plus the weak dollar have moved "real" Chablis close to special-occasion territory. It should be noted, further, that my local retail price was exceptionally high. Wine-Searcher.com shows several vendors pricing this wine in the $17-$20 range, which is more than fair.
WHEN TO DRINK: The conventional wisdom holds that basic Chablis should be drunk up soon, while the more lofty première cru and grand cru bottles wait in the cellar. I don't see any need to panic about consuming this well-balanced wine in the next year, however, and two or three years in a temperature-controlled cellar should do it no harm.
FIND THIS WINE ONLINE:
Saratoga Wine Exchange One Stop Gift Shopping!
The Saratoga Wine Exchange is your source for fine wine online! Spend less time searching web sites for that rare vintage or gift - we've done the work for you! Our online store is easy to use, flash-free and full of fine, rare and collectible wines including Kistler, Turley, Screaming Eagle, Harlan Estates, Mouton, Domaine de la Romanée-Conti and many more. Find exactly what your cellar or gift list needs right here, 24-hours-a-day, with just a click of your mouse.
Check out our most popular section – wines rated 90 points and above. Wines are listed by price so you can easily search and find wines rated 90 points or above in your price range. Makes for easy holiday shopping!"
Talk About Wine Online
If you have questions, comments or ideas to share about today's article
Everyone is free to browse. If you'd like to post a comment, question or reply, you must register, but registration is free and easy. Do take care to register using your real name, or as a minimum, your real first name and last initial. Anonymous registrations are quietly discarded.
To contact me by E-mail, write email@example.com. I'll respond personally to the extent that time and volume permit.
PRINT OUT TODAY'S ARTICLE
This week on WineLoversPage.com
Bucko's Wine Reports: 100 new wines
WineBlueBook: Wines compared by score and price
Our Internet radio "TalkShoe": Gewurztraminer
Netscape/Compuserve Community Poll: Best wine reference book
Last Week's Wine Advisor Index
The Wine Advisor's daily edition is usually distributed on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays (and, for those who subscribe, the FoodLetter on Thursdays). Here's the index to last week's columns:
Tardy but welcome (Dec. 14, 2007)
Keeping Port - pushing the limits (Dec. 12, 2007)
California or France? (Dec. 10, 2007)
Complete 30 Second Wine Advisor archive:
Wine Advisor FoodLetter: Umami mia! (Dec. 13, 2007)
Wine Advisor Foodletter archive: