This is the second book from this series that I’ve managed to pick up. After ‘Le Montrachet‘ there is also (in theory) Chambertin, Clos de Vougeot and Corton in the series, but I’ve yet to see English editions of those latter three – if they exist(?) – but I continue my look-out!
Whereas Jean-François Bazin authored the ‘Montrachet’ volume, this was written by the series editor himself, Bernard Ginestet. By this translator’s hand (at least) the writing is completely engaging, despite the age of the material – the original in French dating from 1986, and this English translation published by Longman from 1990. Ginestet wears his massive love for the wines of Chablis – ‘the golden gate to Burgundy’ – not only his shirt-sleeves, but on most of the pages too. Nicolas Faith writes the forward – do people really need endorsements to sell books? – it seems all that people like Hugh Johnson or Robert Parker do!
Back to ‘Chablis’: In the 189 pages are lots of maps, geography and geology, plus the fine detail of the vineyards and their classifications plus, importantly, a fine supporting narrative. I have only one complaint about this book, and that is despite Ginestet setting the stage very early for some analysis and dissection of the Kimmeridgian versus Portlandian ‘battle’ between the producers, a battle that is still fought today, I got to the end of the book to find he somehow sidestepped the whole issue – never mind.
One interesting thing that I took away with me was the clear emphasis of this book that Vaudésir was the king of the Chablis Grand Crus. This is only 25 years ago, yet today, most would offer Les Clos as ‘top dog’ – is that due to a change of weather, viticulture or perhaps the Anglo-Saxon choice of the reigning critics?
You can pick this book up for (relative) peanuts from online sellers, and it’s worth buying. I leave you with with a few favourite ‘snippets’:
Near Biene, an artificial lake was created to water the hundred or so hectares of vines round about. Everything was taken into consideration – except the catfish which eventually blocked the watering sprays!
Let him who, after the third or fourth jug of wine, feels his reason disturbed to the point of not being able to recognize his wife, children, or friends any longer, and ill-treating them, let him then limit himself to two jugs, unless he wishes to offend God and be despised by his neighbour. But let him who, after drinking four, five or six, still remains able to do his work and to conform to the orders of his ecclesiastical and secular superiors, let him then humbly and gratefully drink what God has allowed him to take. But let him beware of overstepping the limit of six jugs, for it is rare that the infinite goodness of the Lord grants one of His children that favour which He has accorded me, His unworthy servant. I drink eight jugs of wine daily and no one can say that he has seen me yield to unjustified anger or ill-treat my parents or acquaintances. So then, let every one of you, my brothers, strengthen his body and rejoice in mind with the quantity of wine which the Divine Goodness has allowed each of you to absorb.
Quoting the Archbishop of Mayence (1563) !
Hugh Johnson adds a pinch of British salt to the subject: “To be on form, they need at least three (and sometimes up to 10) years’ ageing in the bottle. Those which are matured in wood (the minority) live longer and better. The aroma and flavour they develop are the very quintessence of an evanescent characteristic which will escape you if you drink only young Chablis all the time. I can define it only in this way: a combination of a flavour of apple and hay with a hint of boiled sweets and a mineral after-flavour which seems to have come from the entrails of the earth.” Hugh! dear friend, spare me the boiled sweets.
All white meats cooked in a sauce go well with Chablis, which stands up perfectly well to spicy dishes (even better than a champagne or rosé). With curried lamb, for example, however hot, a Chablis if not too old a vintage will be wonderful, whereas the best red wine would be killed. It is a well-nigh impossible challenge to find a wine to drink with asparagus, spinach, sorrel or broccoli. But the personality of the great Chablis wines renders them impervious to attack by such vegetables.