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2013 – Chablis…

DSC05822The vintage is very largely delicious and across the full range of 4 levels too: Petit Chablis, Chablis, 1er Cru and Grand Cru. But wait…

It’s not easy to find ‘REAL’ Chablis.

‘But you said the wines were delicious!’ Yes. They are delicious chardonnay, sometimes with a little oak support and always with ripeness of sweet fruit – but this is a more ‘varietal’ vintage than a ‘terroir’ vintage – so-far at least. What do I mean?

Classic Chablis has cool, penetrating fruit with an undertow of minerality, the glue in this sandwich is a mouth-watering sweet acidity. You will find this combination nowhere else.

2013 is almost as concentrated as the brilliant (for my taste) 2012s and as rich a vintage as almost any I can recall. 2013 also has a good base of minerality. On average the acidity is not at all bad in terms of balance – at some addresses I would even say perfectly balancing – BUT as good as the acidity can be, and from over 300 wines tasted with their makers, I can’t think of even half a dozen with the classic, sweet, mouth-watering acidity that I prize.

Some wines are clearly showing hints of apricot and botrytis, but fortunately not too many, so the result is fine and tasty young wine, even with minerality, but blind, not instantly recognisable as Chablis. I should also note that without the ‘sweet mouth-watering acidity’ the minerality can sometimes seem a little austere – particularly where the fruit is a little less rich.

The producers of Chablis have a word for fuller, richer, perhaps less ‘Chablis’ wines – and that word is Meursaulté – there is a lot of Meursaulté to be found in 2013.

The vast majority of producers have no reference points for the 2013 vintage; some will scratch their heads and say ‘2001, but not’ – the likes of Vincent Dauvissat and Bernard Raveneau suggest 1964 or even 1947 – something not really helpful to 99.999% of buyers (I suspect) but it’s indicative of how rare such a vintage is. One producer whose husband comes from Alsace points to a similarity to 2006 – the Alsace vintage of 2006 – which was late and rife with botrytis.

The thing about richer vintages is, that the underlying minerality of wines always start to surface after about 3-5 years – these wines could become ever-more Chablis-esque – but the reality of Chablis is that it is 90%+ drunk by its 3rd birthday, so not many will experience this transformation.

So, so summarise:

  • It’s necessary to separate the ‘tasty’ from the ‘Chablis’ and that’s not easy.
  • Tasty, concentrated wines, of richness and balance is the default position, but more wines of chardonnay than Chablis to start with. Your choice of address is imperative to the result, and even to the level of individual wines, as most domaines have mixed results.
  • The vintage richness is particularly beneficial to the Petit Chablis label – this is probably the single best value wine in the whole of Burgundy in 2013 – but you might have to chase it given the low volumes produced.
  • As a throw-away remark, it is also fair to point to the (still) relatively modest pricing of Chablis – great tasting ‘chardonnay’ from other places might still be more expensive than 2013 Chablis!
A summary of the vintage:

2013 will be remembered as the year with a late and wet harvest. Wine-makers had lost the habit of harvesting in October, but like the rest of Burgundy in 2013, it was the case this year.

2013 is also unusual for its low yield: less than 40 hl/ha for Petit Chablis and less than 35 hl/
ha for Chablis Grand Cru – the authorized yields being respectively 60hl/ha 54hL/ha!

The low yields were not down to historical bugbear of Chablis – spring frosts – or the hail experienced by the Côte de Beaune, rather that the weather wasn’t in harmony with the vine’s growing cycle. In particular it was the cool and rainy month of May, followed by rain and wind during flowering made for a very irregular fruit-set and much coulure. September was beautiful, but the losses had already been set.

The grapes were ripening okay, but the weather at the end of September was hot and humid leading to the first onset of rot – but the grapes were not yet ripe. Heavy rain hit on the 5th October – 40mm or-so – the grapes ‘turned’ almost immediately – on winemaker commenting that the grapes went from not quite ripe to almost violet-coloured and falling to the ground 1 day later. Many were the producers who went into overdrive to finish their harvests as fast as possible – some even helped their neighbours with machines or teams. Even those who finished before the rains noted that yields were even more disappointing than they first thought – there really wasn’t a ton of juice in the grapes…

Despite such trials, the minimum alcohol contents were actually quite high and the concentration certainly so – almost similar to 2012 – but the character of the wines is very different…

Agree? Disagree? Anything you'd like to add?