Domaine William Nahan Chablis 2017
This Chablis ‘tout court’ (as the locals call ‘village’ AOC Chablis) is a model of purity. We look for sweet river rock, white flowers and a lemony acidity. My last tasting note for this one read: ‘Pale yellow gold. Floral and lemon notes on the nose. Fresh, fleshy and precise with good balance and length. Good long finish on fruit and mineral. Bingo!
DOMAINE WILLIAM NAHAN
Situated in a converted mill house on the river Serein at the foot of the grand cru vineyards and a few steps from the center of Chablis, the Domaine du Chardonnay is the joint effort of three Chablis winemakers. In 1987, Etienne Boileau, Christian Simon and William Nahan pooled their vineyards and talents to create a domain of over 90 acres. We are the first to present these wines under the William Nahan label in the US.
If 2016 tested the faith and resolve of wine makers in Burgundy, 2017 has to be seen as recompense, and as a miracle of sorts. While the rest of wine-growing Europe suffered crippling late-spring frosts in 2017, Burgundy for the most part (for once!) survived.
A mild winter and an accelerated spring left the Burgundy vineyards in a vulnerable position when, in the second half of April, temperatures across France barely rose above freezing for two weeks.
Three hard-frost nights pretty much did in Right Bank Chablis once again. But as the rest of Burgundy survived the first week, the growers found the will to fight back. And on the night of April 27th, a year and a day after the 2016 frost that took 80% of the 2016 harvest, a severe frost was forecast for the length of the Cote d’Or.
It’s now a part of local legend how, on the following morning, we awoke in a thick cloud of smoke. In the early hours, from north to south, the vignerons had mobilized to set alight dampened bales of hay, sending up a cloud cover to filter the first burning rays of dawn. And it worked.
The air was thick, and driving was tricky. A customer at the butcher shop in Meursault jokingly asked for a smoked chicken. And, of course, the authorities were up in arms over the pollution risks. But the crop was saved, and there has been ever since a spirit of cooperation and solidarity not often seen in farming communities.
After the freeze, May brought in an extended period of warm dry weather. No mildew or oidium to speak of, no thunderstorms or hail. Sunny periods, but no lack of rain. And the vines went in to flower at a very-normal first week of June. Pretty much ideal.
July had a couple of heat spikes, and a hailstorm hit the fancy vineyards in Morey St Denis on the 10th. But nothing worse. August was warm; the lead up to the harvest at the end of the month, hot and dry.
The first grapes were picked in the Cote de Beaune in the last few days of August. And most everyone was out picking in the first week of September.
There was (as there often is in Burgundy) serious disagreement in 2017 about when to pick. Do you pick early to preserve the acid-sugar balance and freshness? Or do you hang in there and wait for a little rain to kick-start a stalled photosynthesis, and thereby achieve the holy grail of phenolic maturity?
It’s hard to say who was right. There are very good wines coming from both camps. But there are iffy wines too. And that’s the key to understanding 2017.
Picked early, the best wines, both red and white, are fresh, fruit-driven and floral with long minerality. The iffy wines seem not have adjusted for the solid levels of tartaric acid which left them tart rather than bright, dry and tannic rather than juicy.
Picking late did not seem to have an effect on the balance between alcohol and acidity. But then, there was no ‘over maturity’ in 2017. The extra phenolic maturity seems to mean more density and riper tannins, with no sign of flabbiness.
The whites shine, particularly in hard-done Chablis (where there is better balance even than the marvelous 2014s). In the rest of Burgundy, the whites have the tension of 2014 but the open flattery of 2015.
The reds are juicy and crisp and open, and the regional appellations will be ready to drink soon. More serious appellations will be considered ‘typical’, in the best sense of the word: classic wines from a vintage that Burgundians will love. They are likely to be lost in the hub-bub that the 2018s will bring. But the yields were good in 2017, so you will be able to find them for a while. And you’ll do well to seek them out.
CHABLIS and the GRAND AUXERROIS
Located near the city of Auxerre in the department of Yonne, the Chablis vineyards lie on slopes above valleys that feed into the Serein river. Vines date of course to the Roman era, but in the 12th century, the Cistercian monks from the abbey of Pontigny developed serious cultivation. The Chablis appellations (Petit Chablis, Chablis, Chablis Premier Cru and Chablis Grand Cru) form a qualitative pyramid of which the Grand Cru appellation forms the apex.
Petit Chablis, which is the local equivalent to the regional appellation 'bourgogne', comes from vineyards on either side of the river, usually on the edges of Chablis production or on the plateaus above the valleys. They can vary wildly in quality.
Chablis (or 'tout court' as the locals say) is the local equivalent of the village appellation, and is generally found on the edges of the premier cru production.
Chablis premier cru vineyards are generally situated above the valleys on slope with ideal exposition. They almost always are planted on the chalky kimmeridgian clay. Left bank and the right bank minerality are the most obvious ways to categorize these wines.
Chablis grand cru comes from vineyards to the north-east of the town of Chablis on the right bank of the Serein facing the sun at altitudes of 100-250 meters. The Grand Cru climats form a continuous band along the upper part of the valley from Bougros in the north-west, through Preuses, Vaudésir, Grenouille, Valmur and Les Clos to Blanchot in the south-east.
The appellation Chablis includes a total of 89 premiers crus and 6 grands crus.
Producing communes: Beines, Béru, Chablis, Fyé, Milly, Poinchy, La Chapelle-Vaupelteigne, Chemilly-sur-Serein, Chichée, Collan, Courgis, Fleys, Fontenay-Près-Chablis, Lignorelles, Ligny-le-Châtel, Maligny, Poilly-sur-Serein, Prehy, Villy et Viviers.
Chablis is often pale in color, ranging from white gold to greeny gold, and it should be limpid, brilliant and fat. The nose is often discreet in youth, but is marked by freshness, dusty minerality, grassiness and white floral notes like acacia or honeysuckle. Extremely distinctive chalky minerality (coming from a streak of kimmeridgian clay running through the region) carries the fruit on the palate, making a good Chablis very persistent in length. There are distinct differences between 'left bank' (of the river Serein) and 'right bank', having mostly to do with hours of exposition to the sun. Left bank wines have an almost severe minerality (much loved by the locals) whereas right bank Chablis is rounder, riper. Either however should be easily recognized as unmistakeably Chablis to any discerning taster. The premiers crus and grands crus are set apart because they generally have a higher concentration of the kimmeridgian as well as prime exposition. The grands crus are the best example of this. They are all grouped together in an amphitheater-shaped heat trap and, come harvest time, invariably have that half degree more potential alcohol than other vineyards in the zone.
No French wine-growing area has its reputation more firmly allied to its geology. The main substrata is jurassic limestone (specifically, kimmeridgian clay) laid down some 150 million years ago. The rock contains deposits of tiny fossilized oyster shells which remind us that Burgundy once lay beneath a warm ocean. This is the same rock that much of Champagne is planted upon, and it is the same rock through which the Channel Tunnel is bored, as this geologic vein makes its way into south-east England.
White wines only - Chardonnay (known locally as " Beaunois ")
Production surface area :
1 hectare (ha) = 2.4 acres
Grand Cru: 104.07 ha
Premier Cru :776.08 ha
Chablis : 3,256.81 ha
Petit Chablis: 843.32 ha
Chablis is aromatically highly complex and very adaptable with food. Good matches include oysters and shellfish, as well as fish, grilled or in sauce. The more mineral versions (left bank) go well with quality poultry or veal. The more open and round variations (right bank) are locally drunk with the traditional dishes like andouillettes (tripe sausages) and of course, the Burgundian specialty par excellence, escargots (snails). Another local specialty is jambon au Chablis, thick-sliced cured ham braised in Chablis and cream. Chablis can also tackle the wine-killer, asparagus. It also goes well with creamy goat cheeses, as well as mountain cheeses like Beaufort, Comté, or Emmental.
On the label, the appellation Chablis 1er Cru may be followed by the name of a specific vineyard, known as a climat.
These climats are often inclusive. The 17 bigger classified climats have names which the producers opt to use more often:
Mont de Milieu - Vallée de Chigot
Montée de Tonnerre - Chapelot, Les Chapelots, Pied d’Aloup, Sous Pied d’Aloup, Côte de Bréchain
Fourchaume - Vaupulent, Vau Pulan, Les Vaupulans, La Fourchaume, Côte de Fontenay, Dine-Chien, L’Homme Mort, La Grande Côte, Bois Seguin, L’Ardillier, Vaulorent, Les Quatre chemins, La ferme couverte, Les Couvertes
Vaillons - Sur les Vaillons, Chatains, Les Grands Chaumes, Les Chatains, Sécher, Beugnons, Les Beugnons, Les Lys, Champlain, Mélinots, Les Minos, Roncières, Les Epinottes
Montmains - Les Monts Mains, Forêts, Les Forêts, Butteaux, Les Bouts des Butteaux, Vaux Miolot, Le Milieu des Butteaux, Les Ecueillis, Vaugerlains
Côte de Léchet - Le Château
Beauroy - Sous Boroy, Vallée des Vaux, Benfer, Troesmes, Côte de Troesmes, Adroit de Vau Renard, Côte de Savant, Le Cotat-Château, Frouquelin, Le Verger
Vauligneau - Vau de Longue, Vau Girault, La Forêt, Sur la Forêt
Vaudevey - La Grande Chaume, Vaux Ragons, Vignes des Vaux Ragons
Vaucoupin - Adroit de Vaucopins
Vosgros - Adroit de Vosgros, Vaugiraut
Les Fourneaux - Morein, Côte des Près Girots, La Côte, Sur la Côte
Côte de Vaubarousse
Chaume de Talvat
Côte de Jouan
Les Beauregards - Hauts des Chambres du Roi, Côte de Cuissy, Les corvées, Bec d Oiseau, Vallée de Cuissy
On the label the following climats are classified as grand cru: