Neal Martin, Vinous (December 2021)
About this WINE
Didier & Pascal Picq
Brothers Didier and Pascal Picq head up this domaine, based in Chichée, just south of the town of Chablis. Didier is in charge of winemaking, while his brother Pascal looks after the vineyards. Their father Gilbert retired in 1976, but the domaine still proudly bears his name.
About the domaine
The Picq family have farmed the land around the hamlet of Chichée for generations, with the single ambition of transmitting their distinctive terroir faithfully. For the two brothers – who have been at the helm for over 40 years – this has meant respecting the soil, controlling yields, preserving older vines, using natural yeast, vinifying without oak and applying only light filtration.
The domaine produces up to six different cuvées each year, all of which are fermented and aged in stainless steel; no oak is used. The result is opulent, generously flavoured Chablis, with notes of honey, citrus pith and white pepper. The exception is the Premier Cru Vaucoupin, which has a steely, mineral concentration requiring some age to bring out its full potential.
In the vineyard
As well as its small holdings in two premiers crus, the domaine has some old vines in well-sited village parcels around the hamlet of Chichée. The range of soils include pure Kimmeridgian limestone, and a blend of limestone and marl each of which imparts its own character to the wine. To control yields, they prune severely in winter and de-bud twice in spring.
In the winery
The domaine produces a number of cuvées: a Chablis blended from 12 different plots, a vielle vigne bottling from a tiny plot of 60-to-70-year-old vines, and two premier cru bottlings, Vosgros and Vaucoupin.
All wines are fermented with indigenous yeasts, and only stainless steel is used for fermentation and aging, even for the two premiers crus. All wines undergo full malolactic fermentation; no fining is applied, and only a light filtration before late bottling.
Chablis lies further north than the rest of Burgundy, located about halfway between Beaune and Paris; it’s actually not all that far from Champagne. The wines here – exclusively whites from Chardonnay – differ in style from other white Burgundies: they tend towards steeliness and flintiness.
The Chablis region is an island of vines lying amid the forests and pastures of the Yonne département. In the heart of Chablis, the soils are marl (clay-limestone) of a particular kind – Kimmeridgian – containing traces of marine fossils. For many, the classic aroma and flavour profile of Chablis is built around seashell and an iodine, marine character imparted by the soil.
As elsewhere in Burgundy, there’s a hierarchy in Chablis. Grand Cru represents the top tier, although it accounts for just one per cent of overall Chablis production. The Grand Cru vineyards rise above the eponymous town in an impressive sweep, sloping south. These are sunny sites, ranging in elevation from 100 to 250 metres above sea level. The wines are deep and powerful, benefitting hugely from bottle age after release. The best examples can age for up to 20 years. Over time, their colour evolves from greenish gold to a light yellow, and they develop real aromatic complexity.
Unlike the other tiers, it’s not uncommon for Grand Cru Chablis to see new oak. As a result, its flavour profile is perhaps more comparable to the Côte d’Or than the rest of Chablis. For something more classically “Chablis”, there’s the Premiers Crus. Style and quality can vary, depending on the climat and the producer. Whether floral or more mineral, the best examples are seriously impressive and represent the hallmark style of the region – they can also offer real value for money. These are structured wines with the capacity to age for 10 to 15 years.
The next tier – accounting for most of the region’s output – is labelled simply as “Chablis”. These are steely, clean and lean whites with aromas of green apples and lemon, intended for early drinking. As ever in Burgundy, there are exceptions: well-made examples by top growers from vineyards abutting the Premiers Crus can be age-worthy.
Finally, there’s Petit Chablis: everyday wines, generally from vineyards planted on higher slopes. Petit Chablis accounts for around one-fifth of all Chablis produced. These wines typically come from Portlandian limestone, known to produce a fruitier, simpler wine than Chablis.
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.