Asia Sentinel’s Wandering Palate Curtis Marsh wanders back to the old world for a wine to sniff and gargle with oysters
We are back on the chardonnay crusade, although with a diversion from the new world to the old one, and to a region that many wine enthusiasts believe is the purest, most pristine expression of the chardonnay grape and par example of terroir – Chablis.
Indeed, it almost impossible to mistake Chablis for anything else, such is the redolence of the soil in the wine; an infusion of minerals and chalkiness drawn through vines roots reaching deep into an ancient limestone seabed, and imparting an unmistakable sense of place.
As the master of wine prose, Hugh Johnson, puts it, “The scent and flavor that develop are the quintessence of an elusive character you can miss if you only ever drink Chablis young. I can only define it as combining the fragrances of apples and hay with a taste of boiled sweets and the underlying mineral note that seems to have been mined from the bowels of the earth.”
For my part, the unmistakable and unique character of Chablis is its intriguing saline quality – a sea spray, saltiness that one can liken to walking along a sandy beach in winter with the cold, blustery onshore sea-breeze staining ones lips with sea-salt as you inhale the invigorating air. There only one other (equally tantalizing) wine on this planet that I encounter this nuance and that’s Manzanilla Sherry from San Lucar on the Spanish Mediterranean coast,
Coupled with the breathtaking, lemon-edged acidity of Chablis and an inimitable steely, flintiness, there is a distinct vivaciousness that is unparalleled, that is no other country or region, to my knowledge, has emulated Chablis or made an un-wooded chardonnay of discernible character.
And yet to say Chablis is completely unadulterated chardonnay is not quite true, even though most producers do not use oak, or at least fermentations are now largely carried out in stainless-steel, temperature-controlled tanks, there is still a varying degree of technique in the crushing of the grapes and vinification.