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Classic Unoaked Chablis
By Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Jan 27, 2009
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Domaine Laroche Chablis "Saint Martin" 2006 ($30, Remy Cointreau USA):  Some readers might consider Chablis to be an odd wine to review in the middle of winter.  I agree that crisp, refreshing white wines do not soothe the spirit when snow is falling outside quite so effectively as a lusty, full-bodied red wine would.  I weighed that thought against the possibility that by the time Spring comes, this fine wine might no longer be available in this vintage; the bird in the hand won.

Domaine Laroche is a fairly large negociant and landowner in France's Chablis region.  The winery produces 15 different Chablis wines, including 8 premier crus and 4 grand crus.  This wine, Laroche's Saint Martin bottling, is the winery's flagship wine, and accounts for almost 70 percent of the winery's production.  One of the reasons that I admire this wine is that its quality is exceptionally good for a wine that is a standard offering.

When I smell this wine, I immediately know that it is Chablis.  (This wine would be a gift to Master of Wine students in a blind tasting exam, because it has such a classically mineral aroma, with citrus and apple notes and no suggestion of oak whatsoever.)  The mouth impression echoes the purity and the classical notes of the aroma: flavors of green apple, grapefruit and a chalky minerality along with very high acidity, a crisp, firm texture, and bodyweight on the high end of medium-bodied.  (For as crisp and refreshing as it is, this is still a substantial white wine.)  The wine's fruit character is concentrated, and has length across the palate.

Another reason why I like this wine is the fine 2006 vintage.  According to Gwénaël Laroche, wife of owner Michel Laroche and the winery's roaming ambassador, the 2006 growing season gave very aromatic wines with lots of color; in 2006, Domaine Laroche used less oak than usual for those wines that it produces with oak, because the wines had their own richness.  But I do not perceive the 2006s to be wines that are rich beyond the classic norm for the cool Chablis region.  Acidity is high and the wines are nervy -- but they also have good weight.

Domaine Laroche's 'Saint Martin' Chablis is an unoaked wine.  Although Laroche ferments and ages some of its wine in oak, the oak is often used in combination with stainless steel.  Domaine Laroche's excellent 2006 Réserve de l'Obédience from the grand cru Les Blanchots vineyard ($145), for example, was fermented and aged 30% in stainless steel. 

The 2006 Saint Martin is so crisp that I have difficulty comprehending that it underwent malolactic fermentation.  It will age well because of that high acidity; I personally would have no concerns if I unearthed a bottle in my cellar five years from now.  If you can't bear the thought of drinking a crisp (albeit substantial) white wine now, in mid-winter, rest assured that the wine will be just as good in June.  For now, I'll pair it with a steaming hot white bean soup or a mushroom-laden coq au vin.

90 Points