2017 Chablis, Vaudésir, Grand Cru, Louis Michel & Fils, Burgundy
William Kelley - 31/08/2018
About this WINE
Domaine Louis Michel
Prior to 1970 all the wines from this domaine were fermented and matured in old oak barrels. By 1980 the old oak had been thrown out and the domaine had switched entirely to stainless steel. Today the domaine is run by Jean-Loup Michel and is widely recognised as the prime exponents of unoaked Chablis in the region.
It has 21 hectares of vineyards, mainly Premier and Grand Cru. The grapes are fermented at low temperatures in order to preserve their aromatic freshness and so that they may amply reflect the origins of their respective vineyard sites. These are crisp, intensely flavoured wines that display what heights the Chardonnay grape can achieve in its purest and unadorned form and without the intrusion of oak.
Chablis Grand Cru
These are the biggest, richest and most complex Chablis, which cover a total of 100 hectares – just two percent of the appellation. At their best, they can match the quality of a Grand Cru Chardonnay from the Côte d’Or, yet often at half the price.
They may lack their southern neighbour’s opulence, but they share the latter’s intensity and have a nervy minerality that set them apart. Inexpressive in youth, they should ideally be aged for 10 years, and can mature for up to 30 years. Styles vary according to producer, with some maturing and fermenting in stainless steel while others use barrels, sometimes even new oak.
All seven Grands Crus are grouped together on a single south-west-facing hill just north of the town. La Moutonne is an unofficial eighth Grand Cru straddling Les Preuses and Vaudésir, and is allowed to use the name on its label. The rich, fine Les Clos and the intense, spicy Vaudésir are generally considered to be the best, and are certainly the most full-bodied.
The delicate Blanchots and the racy Grenouilles are the most aromatic, while Les Preuses is full, complex and the least minerally. Valmur is fragrant, rich and smooth while La Moutonne is elegant and incredibly expressive. The vibrant Bougros tends to be the junior member of the group, but in the right hands can also be very good.
Recommended producers: Billaud-Simon, Duplessis, J.-P. & Benoit Droin.
Chardonnay is the "Big Daddy" of white wine grapes and one of the most widely planted in the world. It is suited to a wide variety of soils, though it excels in soils with a high limestone content as found in Champagne, Chablis, and the Côte D`Or.
Burgundy is Chardonnay's spiritual home and the best White Burgundies are dry, rich, honeyed wines with marvellous poise, elegance and balance. They are unquestionably the finest dry white wines in the world. Chardonnay plays a crucial role in the Champagne blend, providing structure and finesse, and is the sole grape in Blanc de Blancs.
It is quantitatively important in California and Australia, is widely planted in Chile and South Africa, and is the second most widely planted grape in New Zealand. In warm climates Chardonnay has a tendency to develop very high sugar levels during the final stages of ripening and this can occur at the expense of acidity. Late picking is a common problem and can result in blowsy and flabby wines that lack structure and definition.
Recently in the New World, we have seen a move towards more elegant, better- balanced and less oak-driven Chardonnays, and this is to be welcomed.
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Guillaume’s parcel lies on the north-facing slope of the vineyard, so tends to ripen late and retain high acidity, but the clay soils here contribute weight and texture. In short, this is impeccably balanced. It will only improve in bottle but is harmonious and seductive straight out of the blocks. Drink 2022-2030.
As in 2016, Guillaume harvested just half a normal crop in 2017. While his village holdings suffered most in 2016, the Premiers and Grands Crus were worst affected this time, with frost to blame. Nonetheless, Guillaume was characteristically cheerful when we visited, and full of enthusiasm for a vintage he describes as “old school – before global warming”. Guillaume continues to use stainless steel for all his cuvées and has again produced a range of wines for which transparency is the watchword: they express as faithfully as possible each vineyard’s distinct terroir.
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