Late May is one of the most beautiful times of year in Northern California. The temperature here in Napa leaps up into the 80’s, my vegetable garden is bursting at the seams, and everything just feels so alive. Today’s Premier Cru Chablis is the perfect wine for this season. Top-tier Chablis leaps from the bottle in a similar spirit and few wines shine as brightly in such a diversity of contexts. As much as this bottle is built to dance with the most exquisite and refined cuisine, it was an equally appropriate and invigorating beverage to knock back while watching the NBA playoffs with my fiancé last night! With thirst-quenching limestone minerality, the golden fruit of the generous 2009 vintage, and what feels like the absolute “sweet spot” of 7 years in cellar age—what more could one ask for? This is textbook, classic Chablis.
One of my favorite branches of Chablis’ “royal family,” Sébastien Dauvissat’s ancestors have been farming the same small collection of parcels near the hamlet of Chichée since the 1800’s. This small one-man-show produces between two and three thousand cases each year in the modest cellar underneath Sébastien’s house. As with all top sites in Chablis, Kimmeridgian limestone is the dominant soil type here—but there is also some clay and gravel contributing a unique character to the wines. Despite the property’s modest size, the family has holdings in some outstanding vineyards: “Les Preuses” Grand Cru, “Vaillons” 1er Cru, “Montmains” 1er Cru, and the site that produces today’s gorgeous wine, “Séchet” 1er Cru. Sébastien says his 1.25 hectares of Séchet is one of his favorite parcels to farm. These 30-40-year-old vines, planted on almost pure limestone, ripen more evenly and reliably than his other holdings, and the wine it produces is often the most elegant and floral of the vintage. Fortunately, Sébastien knows how to harness the purity of this site. Clusters are destemmed before being pressed straight into steel fermenters. Following fermentation in tank, the wine was left alone to breathe and evolve for 18 months in large, neutral French oak barrels. This judicious and gentle approach to winemaking has a lot to do with how vividly this wine evokes its vineyard of origin.
Sébastien Dauvissat’s 2009 Chablis “Séchet” 1er Cru has a golden center transitioning to an almost invisible rim. A linear and densely packed aromatic palette of shattered limestone, oyster shell, citrus blossom, and yellow apple fruit evolves with each sip. Whereas Sébastien’s Grand Cru Preuses is about blunt impact and his 1er Cru Vaillons V.V. (arriving next month!) is rich and round, this 1er Séchet is the most focused, refined and angular of the estate’s releases. This wine’s structure and freshness reminds me of Côte de Blancs Champagne that has shed its effervescence overnight. Still, I think the most important “take home message” about today’s wine is its ideal maturity. Just-released Chablis often has bracing acidity and hard edges. Mature, decades-old Chablis from a great house becomes exotic, with salty, nutty aromas and luxurious, weightless fruit. Still, “young adult” Chablis of 7-12 years like this can be the perfect mid-point for many wine lovers. There’s still ample tension and energy, but also a deepening aromatic complexity that can only be achieved with patience and extended rest in a cold cellar.
Please allow this wine to breathe in a decanter for a few hours before enjoying in a large Burgundy stem at 55 degrees. Let’s forego a protein-rich culinary companion for today’s wine and instead celebrate Alice Waters’ love letter to Spring, the Chez Panisse Baked Goat Cheese and Spring Lettuce Salad. If you only eat one salad during your next visit to the SF Bay Area, let it be this one. It is bright, elegant and classic—just like today’s wine. Dishes this simple live and die with the integrity of their few ingredients, so do what you can to source the best fresh-picked salad greens from local farms, neighbors, or your own backyard. If you find the good stuff, I promise this will be a memorable moment.