When wine aficionados talk about “banks” they’re usually either talking about Bordeaux, or perhaps about the prices the top, classified growth wines from that region and others like it command these days. If we stick to the more vinous application of the word, we generally find ourselves talking about the Cabernet Sauvignon-dominated wines of Bordeaux’s Left Bank – those west of the Gironde River – in comparison to the more Merlot-led wines of the Right Bank. But Bordeaux is not the only wine region with a river running through it, as a recent tasting of Premier Cru Chablis demonstrated.
The Serein River parts Chablis in the same east-west manner as the Gironde bifurcates the vineyards of Bordeaux. Unlike Bordeaux, however, the terrain is hilly on both banks; they also have the same Kimmeridgian chalk soils. For that matter, whereas Bordeaux’s wines are blends, both banks of Chablis grow the same, solitary grape variety, Chardonnay. So, differences among the various climats are largely a matter of slope, exposure, and temperature.
The climats of the right bank face mostly west or southwest, with a couple such as Mont de Milieu and Vaucopin facing directly south; for most site enjoy the late afternoon sun, which prolongs ripening. On the opposite bank exposures mostly face the southeast where they receive more morning sun but cool off earlier.
While each cru and even each wine obviously has its own character, grouping the climats this way did draw connections amongst the wines from each bank in a useful manner. The Left Bank wines were consistently more generous and fruit-driven on the nose, despite their youth. Traditional wisdom says these more acid-driven wines should show more minerality, but that didn’t necessarily seem to be the case. Not that the wines lacked that quality, but rather the acidity seemed to also accentuate the freshness of fruit. While they will certainly gain from aging, they were less in need of time in the bottle to enjoy.
The Right Bank wines were accordingly denser, more structured, and in some cases more powerful. If texture and mouthfeel is one’s priority these wines can be enjoyed now, but cellaring will allow unravel their expressive character more fully. Both sets of wines proved they merited the Premier Cru designations, so in either case you can bank on finding excellent Chablis.
Some Recommended Wines:
The Right Bank:
Domaine Courtault Michelet “Mont de Milieu” Premier Cru 2020: Focused and firm, with citrus and pear notes and good supporting minerality on a long finish.
Domaine des Malandes “Fourchaume” Premier Cru 2019: The densest and most texturally satisfying of the right bank wines shown, if perhaps at the cost of aromatic expression. Allow it to open up, in the glass or even better in the bottle, and the nose should unpack itself a bit more.
La Chablissiene “Vaulorent” Premier Cru 2019: I wasn’t previously familiar with this climat, a subzone of Furchaume, which here yielded the raciest, most acid-driven wine of the right bank. Citrusy, spicy, and mouthwatering.
Domaine Christophe et Fils “Montée de Tonnerre” Premier Cru 2018: Shows lemon, lime, and chalky notes on the nose, as well as some green apple touches on the palate. The additional year shows in its more generous aromatic character.
Albert Bichot Domaine Long-Delaquit “Vaucopin” Premier Cru 2018: Medium-bodied, with quince and mineral notes and some green apple character. There’s a tartness to the fruit character that’s refreshing, belying the wine’s underlying structure and depth.
The Left Bank:
Maison Simmonet-Febvre “Beauroy” Premier Cru 2020: Medium-bodied and straightforward, but still charming. Tree fruit dominates, with a hint of hazelnut on the finish.
Domaine Pinson Frères “Forêts” Premier Cru 2020: This is a generous wine, almost surprisingly so, but despite that and its rounded texture it remains very clearly Chablis. It’s impressively satisfying despite its youth, with a long finish.
Domaine Jean-Paul et Benoit Droin “Vosgros” Premier Cru 2019: Another wine that will change the mind of drinkers who find Chablis to be too austere. Shows a mix of ripe pear and stone fruits, with a plump but still clean and fresh texture.
Domaine Guy Robin “Montmains” Premier Cru 2018: Despite its time in bottle this wine was a bit reductive at first, which obscured some of its fruit character. Once that blew off it showed a pleasant mix of citrus and tree fruits supported by freshness and acidity.