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I was recently asked by a friend if I could remember the bottle of Burgundy from which there was no escape. I replied "Of course I can." (For the record, every Burgundy maven who has gone well and truly down the rabbit hole can remember THAT BOTTLE.) For me, it was an old bottle of "Montée de Tonnerre," a Premier Cru Chablis bottling from the legendary Francois Raveneau. At the time, it was so far outside the scope of my wine-drinking experience that I didn't know quite what to do with myself. But I was powerless. The way the wine evolved in the glass, the intensity of the aroma - it was as though the glass was expanding around my head until I was in danger of falling in. Such is the power of true Chablis.
Chablis sits apart (quite literally) from the rest of Burgundy. It's very far north in relation to the rest of the region, closer to Champagne than the Cote D'Or and the Jurassic-era limestone soils that are its hallmark are so exposed that the rows between the vines appear white from above. These two factors are the primary factors that give Chablis its very distinct character. These are Chardonnays marked by flinty, stony minerality; angular wines, rather than round, that seem to almost cut through the glass you pour them into. They are cited as a classic accompaniment to oysters but in fact they can be drunk with almost anything (they are a great counterpart to spicy food!)
This brings us to Domaine Moreau Naudet. We have been following them here at Chambers Street for several vintages and in my former life as a restaurant wine director they were a staple on my lists. Stephane Moreau took over the estate from his father in 1999 and over the next two decades he made a series of changes, converting to organic viticulture, fermenting only with native yeasts and harvesting by hand. The result was a range of truly outstanding Chablis, wines with great texture, precision and a sense of place. Stephane passed away suddenly in 2016 and his wife Virginie has taken over the domaine's management. She continues to grow and vinify her wines according to the same principles and the results are no less enchanting. I know that I will be able to look to these wines now and years in the future as a source of the same magic that I found in that bottle of Raveneau once upon a time.
"Valmur" is nestled firmly at the center of the Grand Cru hillside and rises all the way to the top, just below the treeline. This parcel produces powerful mineral-driven wines that can age for ten to twenty years at a clip. Compared to a Cote D'Or Grand Cru white, this is a steal!
This is sourced from vines between twenty and sixty years old and aged all in stainless steel. This is Chablis at its most inviting. It's full of juicy white fruit, peach and pear and feels generally supple and accessible from the moment the cork is pulled. But what is most captivating and engaging is the mineral component here. Chablis is defined by its limestone soils and at its best its character comes through as something I have always identified as "Welch's grape soda." Some people compare it to fennel or licorice, others to something else - it's somewhat nebulous, as tasting stones is not something we do in life. But whatever it is, this wine has it. The finish is stained with this unique expression of limestone, which is what we should ask of it. Outstanding for the price. Sam Ehrlich
"Les Pargues" is about as serious as a village-level Chablis gets. The vines are seventy years old and the parcel is nestled in between two great Premier Cru sites - "Montmains," and the rather imposing "Vaillons." For a village-level Chablis from a warmer vintage, the 2018 "Les Pargues" shows exceptional minerality and earthiness. The nose shows beautiful notes of orange oil, kumquat rind, and limestone. The palate is mineral without being overly linear, balanced between chalky limestone and delicate citrus notes. Really an outstanding Chablis of terroir. Ben Fletcher
One of the truly great sites in Chablis, comparable in some vintages to the Grands Crus. Moreau-Naudet's vines age from twenty-five to sixty years. The 2018 is a wine of poise and precision, that starts with lemon oil and high-toned white fruit and opens up with air, showing more floral aromatics and sea spray. There is an overall sense of class and poise here that makes obvious the Premier Cru designation. It combines a delicacy of texture with density and a feeling that if you have the patience to stash a couple away, there will be plenty to unpack as you drink them through the years. If it's any assurance, a 2010 that I opened last year was everything that mature Chablis should be and reason enough for me to keep buying these wines.
Generally considered the greatest of Chablis' Premier Cru vineyards, Montée de Tonnerre is one of only two that share the same hillside and exposition with the Grand Crus. While it may not have all the breadth and power of those vineyards, it nonetheless produces wines of great intensity that can be aged for many years.
"Vaillons" is one of the best-known of the great Chablis sites and rightly so. The hill rises high and steep above its neighbors, looking down over "Les Pargues" and "Forets" to the east, and the wine the site produces has a similar feeling of power and presence.