There are many aspects to take into account when selecting a bottle of wine. Excuse the pun, but the word “aspect” in winespeak refers to the cardinal direction a vineyard faces; i.e. its north/south orientation. In cooler northern regions where grapes struggle to ripen, south-facing vineyards provide the fruit a better chance of achieving phenolic ripeness. Here in Minnesota, we see this same basic principle occur annually as the snow on south-facing slopes melts much quicker than on north-facing ones.
For the sake of understanding a bit more about how the aspect of a vineyard impacts the resulting wine, let’s take this logic one step further and consider the difference between a slope that faces southeast versus one that faces southwest. The southeastern facing slope will be the first side of a hill to warm after a cold night. This is important as the morning sun can lessen the impact of potential frost damage. On the other hand, the southwestern side will reach higher daytime temperatures as it receives direct sunlight at a time when the ambient temperatures have already risen. The stones on the southwestern side will also be baking in the sun later into the afternoon which give the vines some insulation against the early evening chill. These warmer temperatures can lead to riper fruit flavors in the resulting wine.
The last major component of this puzzle is the gradient of the hill. A steep slope, beyond making it difficult to farm, helps the cooler air funnel away from the vines and typically increases drainage. Vines struggle in this environment and need to burrow deep into the earth to find sustenance. This struggle creates more concentrated flavors and nuance in the finished wine.
The wines of Chabls (and in particular the Grand Cru climats of Chablis) beautifully illustrate this concept of aspect. Chablis is a mono-varietal appellation which means only one grape is planted there: chardonnay. It is also home to seven grand cru climats conveniently located next to one another on one, single, rippling, south facing hillside just north of the town of Chablis. From the Southwest facing grand cru vineyard of Bougros to the southeast facing Bouchot on the other side of the hill, the grand cru vineyards read like a textbook article on aspect. The subsoil on this hillside is predominately Kimmeridgian marl which refers to a mix of fossilized sea shells, clay, and chalk. Due to this soil, all of the Grand Crus and Premier Crus of Chablis boast a saline, flintyness. But it is the aspect of a particular vineyard which largely determines the fruit profile and the weight of the wine which then balances this minerality.
Of course over-simplifying the complex terroir of a wine region is to ignore a million other factors that work together to bring us the wines we love. We could go into this further and discuss how the leaves of the vines are managed, depth of the topsoils, the impact of wind and subsequent tree locations, how the vines are trained to protect the fruit in harsher climates, level of clay in the soil etc… but we can save all these concepts for a later date. We already have a lot of other aspects to take into consideration.
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Domaine Vincent Dampt Chablis 2015, $22.99 – This wine was made from 40-year-old vines planted in classic Kimmeridgian soil at the Lieu-dit vineyard of “Les Charleveaux.” This site has a western exposure and is located south of the town of Chablis, nestled between the premier cru vineyards of Caillons and Cote de Lechet. This wine was fermented in tank with indigenous yeasts and has the precision and clarity of flavor which characterized much of the wine from the southern side of the river. This is a great entry level chablis from a sustainable producer.
Jean-Paul & Benoît Droin Chablis 2015, $32.99 – The Droin family has been making Chablis for 14 generations. Their land holdings consist of plots in 5 out of the 7 grand cru vineyards and 7 out of the 40 premier cru vineyards. Recently, Benoit has taken the reins from his father and is currently running the winemaking. A major style shift is underway as Benoit employs much less new oak and had been reducing yields dramatically leading to more terroir-driven wines. This entry-level Chablis is vinified in stainless steel and expresses tropical fruit and stone fruit notes with the characteristic Chablissienne salinity.
William Fevre Montmains Premier Cru Chablis 2015, $54.99 – This is a fresh and elegant wine made from the famous house of William Fevre. Here the southeast exposure paired with the impact of it’s Kimmeridgian soil produces a leaner more nervy, highly mineral expression of Chablis. Montmains is considered one of the highest quality Premier Crus in the region.
William Fevre Fourchaume Premeir Cru Chablis 2015, $59.99 – The Premier Cru vineyard traces the side of a hill for nearly three miles giving the wines of this famous Premier Cru vineyard various exposures leading to rounded and very well balanced expressions of Chablis.
Jean-Paul and Benoir Droin Chablis Vaillons Premier Cru Chablis 2015, $41.99 – Vaillons is one of the largest Premier Crus Vineyards in the Chablis region. The southwest aspect of the vineyard gives the wine a lighter more finessed fruit quality with flavors ranging from floral to stonefruit. About a quarter of this cuvee sees oak and due to the high-quality Kimmeridgian soils in this vineyard, the wine also showcases the minerality we expect from this AOC in spades.
Domaine Francois Raveneau Butteaux Premier Cru Chablis 2011, $166.99 – Southwest of the village of Chablis, the eastern Lieux-dit Premier Cru site within the larger Montmains Premier Cru (yes, one Premier Cru site within another Premier Cru site, this is somewhat common in Chablis.) Raveneau produces some of the of the most revered wines in the region with their low interventionist, natural approach. These wines can take up to a decade before they are ready to drink. This wine is starting to release a myriad of secondary and tertiary aromas.
Willian Fevre Les Preuses Grand Cru Chablis 2015, $127.99 – This Grand Cru climat, along with Bourgos, boasts a southwest exposure giving the wines an added character of ripeness. This wine is approachable in it’s youth and will develop greatly over time. The weight on the palate of this wine is incredible as it expresses judicious use of oak balanced by the elevated acidity that we expect from Chablis.
Drouhin Chablis Vaudesir Grand Cru Chablis 2015, $87.99 – The wines from the Grand Cru Vineyard of Vaudesir have incredible concentration of floral and mineral notes while still remaining elegant and light. This wine is pretty wound-up at the moment and with a few more years of bottle age, it will unveil what the spectacular 2015 Chablis vintage has to offer. As a side note, I just popped a 2011 Vaudesir from Drouhin and it was the absolute star of wine tasting event that I recently hosted.
Thank you for reading and we look forward to seeing you at the shop soon!