Billaud Simon Chablis Vaillons

Chablis

Chablis has always offered the best value for white wines in Burgundy but finding the quality and style desired is a little harder. 
 
Traditionally Chablis has been seen as a specific style of Chardonnay that is recognisable thanks to the notes of flint, seashell and green apple it produces. This is mostly attributed to the cooler climate in the region as well as the traces of marine fossils found in the clay-limestone soils (Kimmeridgian) that are specific to the area. It is fairly common to hear reference to oyster shell in a good Chablis. 
 
The use of oak plays a part in this as well: traditionally Chablis was never privy to large amounts of new oak but rather old barrels that imparted little flavour. These days winemakers have moved towards stainless steel vats to keep the wines clean and pure. 
 
However, all of this starts to become a little blurred the further up the chain you go. Whilst basic Chablis is usually made in the clean, flinty style with little to no oak, the premier crus move up the rung and begin to become richer with some introduction of new oak. The Grand Cru in Chablis are far closer in style to the white Burgundy from the Cote d’Or thanks to the sunny hillsides they lie on and the new oak used to help them age gracefully. 
 
There are very large quantities of basic Chablis made and easily found. They usually fulfil their role of being basic, uncomplicated wines that, if made well can be satisfying on a hot day. 
 
We tend to find the sweet spot with Chablis lies in the Premier Crus. They can be fine, elegant wines that enjoy the richer, fuller weight of more concentrated fruit but tend to be lighter and fresher than the Grand Cru. They are a step up in complexity but retain a frivolity that makes them more relaxed. 
 
There are seventeen Chablis Premier Crus and far too many producers to count. It is therefore a case of trial and error when looking for those you like but at least it will be a far cheaper task than if you were in the Cote d’Or. 
 
Patrick Piuze 
Piuze has worked for the great and the good in Burgundy including Olivier Leflaive. He eventually opened his own winery in Chablis in 2008. He didn’t buy any vineyards but through connections made over the years good relationships were established with various growers. Piuze is keen to put himself forward as winemaker rather than grower but still plays a strong part in how the vines are managed. 
His wines have a focus on purity of fruit and he is careful in his use of oak ensuring it is used where appropriate rather than a blanket usage policy. 
 
2018 Patrick Piuze Butteaux Premier Cru £50 per bottle 
The 2018 Butteaux is elegant and well-balanced with slowly emerging layers that reveal an unexpected concentration. Served too cold and it comes across watery – this is a subtle Chablis that needs to be treated accordingly.  
 
2018 Patrick Piuze Les Forets Premier Cru £50 per bottle 
When first released the 2018 Forets seemed a little lacking in depth but time has been incredibly helpful in providing a clearer picture of where this wine is headed – it has filled out and the fruit, clean and pure, has developed a concentration that has brought forward a wealth of complexity. White peach and apple on the nose with a buttery edge on the palate that gives way to a touch of salinity on the finish. 
 
Jean-Paul and Benoît Droin 
Droin are an old established Domaine in Chablis and have a large number of vineyards across the region including five Grand Cru and eight Premier Cru. Their wines tend to tread the fine balance between fresh, flinty and creamy. Benoit has now taken over from his father Jean-Paul and has moved away from the amount of new oak previously used in production. Whilst some wines have seen a reduction in new oak others have been cut off entirely. The effect has been a positive one with the classic steeliness and verve of Chablis coming through far more harmoniously. 
 
2015 Jean-Paul & Benoit Droin Mont de Milieu Chablis Premier Cru £49 per bottle 
Just 25% of the Mont de Milieu is fermented and matured in barrel which imparts enough creaminess to set the right balance for this premier cru. It is fresh almost tart on the palate but with plenty of power behind it. This is just opening up but should last another few years yet. 
 
Domaine Billaud Simon
Billaud Simon have gone further than many in their quest for purity with the majority of their wines seeing no oak at all. Production is thoughtful, careful and meticulous making these wines great examples of what can be achieved with Chardonnay from this region without the interference of creamy, vanilla oak tones. 
 
2017 Domaine Billaud Simon Les Vaillons Chablis Premier Cru £56 per bottle 
This is a little young making it fresh and zesty on the palate but the creamy notes of Chardonnay are discernible. Another year and the wine will offer a lovely example of how harmony can be achieved in a more modern style. 

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