Chablis - home of a billion oyster shells
Chablis. I think it was in the early 1980s as an indigent student travelling back from friends in Provence that I first set foot in the town. We were in a beat up 2CV and it was a very slow, long drive and super hot on the A6 motorway. We needed sustenance, a rest and a drink. When still a couple of hours from Paris, I spotted the sign to Chablis. For some unremembered reason I had found a 500 franc note (about 50 quid, a fortune!) in my jacket pocket (from my parents?) and, well, that was the dinner ticket.
Chablis back then was even sleepier than now. Fewer restaurants, hotels, tasting rooms. The Hostellerie des Clos was the main hotel and restaurant, run by Michel Vrignaud, Michelin starred and with a 3 course menu at some wonderfully low price. Within budget. All I can remember was the posh service, (a scary sommelier all dressed in black lugging around an encyclopoedic wine list of Chablis) and an amazing cheese trolley, where I first met Epoisses, the gloriously smelly but delicious cheese from the village just down the road. If you want the best epoisses (you need to buy the full circle of cheese, what, a foot in diameter, not the little round ones in cedarwood boxes as they can be too bitter and redolent of ammonia) go to Beaune and eat it at Ma Cuisine. You'll probably find some famous winemaker sitting next to you.
In 1991 I settled in France and guess where my first trip was to... Nowadays the chef is retired and the place to eat is Au Fil du Zinc, but that's another story for another day.
Next to L'Hostellerie is the Domaine William Fevre tasting room, bought by Henriot Champagne a few years ago, wines much beloved of Burghound's Allen Meadows and us. We have bought them for years. They have a crystalline purity and sometimes austere minerality, though recently the dreaded oxidation has reared its very ugly head and we have poured some 2008 grand cru into the poulet au vin jaune, an expensive casserole.
Anyway we have a few half bottles of village wine which are perfect when you just want a glass, so without really looking, I opened one last night.
You can see the colour, that lovely pale almost transparent Chablis green. Nose of green fruit, but getting quite mature with that fruit cakey taste, a touch of honey and spices. Finish, guess what, mineral - and though it sounds pretentious, oyster shells is as good an idea as any. After all, we are back to that Kimmeridgian limestone soil in what was an inland sea many aeons ago, and the real Chablis is grown on an underground bed of ancient crushed oyster shells. Just look at that soil.
It was only then that I actually looked at the label. 2011. A nine year old half bottle of village wine at a lovely stage of maturity and fresh as a daisy which just proves how well even the lowest level of Chablis can age when well made and on the right soil.
I still think Chablis offers the best value in chardonnay anywhere.