Chablis is arguably one of, if not the most notable Chardonnay-making wine regions in the world. All Chablis is made exclusively from the Chardonnay grape. Located in the northwest corner of Burgundy, France, Chablis produces lean, mineral-driven expressions of Chardonnay, seldom using oak barrels (with the exception of some Premier and Grand Cru Chablis) for aging the wine, resulting in its unique signature taste profile.
Chablis is frequently described as having aromas of citrus fruits and white flowers, with clean flavors of citrus and pear and notable minerality and salinity. In fact, one of its most desirable traits with regard to quality is Chablis’ long, bright, acidic finish and flint-like minerality, generally attributed to the qualities of the soil, climate, and rigid specifications of the region.
To select wines from Chablis, it is useful to understand how the wines are classified. The Chablis region has a specific set of guidelines and regulations. However, the rule of thumb that the more focused the regional designation, the higher the quality of the wine
The areas surrounding the town of Chablis are part of the Petit Chablis appellation; Petit Chablis wines tend to have higher acidity and bright, citrus flavors. These wines are produced to be consumed within a couple of years of release to showcase the freshness and delicate fruit profile.
Closer to the village of Chablis is the main Chablis Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée, which was designated on January 13, 1938. The majority of the wines can be quite good, showing flavors of citrus, pear and amplified mineral notes, due to the more prevalent limestone soils.
Premier (1er) Cru Chablis
Only 15% of Chablis vineyards have Premier Cru status. Currently there are 40 officially recognized climats or officially named vineyard plots that may appear on Chablis labels. Ideal positioning (towards the sun) and a higher prevalence of limestone marl soils set the Chablis 1er Cru vineyards apart; they tend to exhibit a bigger fruit (starfruit and lemon) along with a more substantial, flinty minerality.
Grand Cru Chablis
The Grand Crus, the best vineyards in the area, all lie in one small southwest facing slope located just north of the town of Chablis; there is just one slope with seven climats. The grand cru vineyards are located across the Serein River from the village of Chablis. The vineyards have southern exposure, ideal for ripening Chardonnay, and the slope has clay marl. Grand cru Chablis vary widely in taste, depending on the climat and winemaking technique. Some producers opt to oak-age Chablis, which adds a savory unctuousness to Chablis. The fruit in the Grand Cru wines range from intense orange-rind, apricot and passion fruit to more savory aged flavors of bruised apple and even some Sauterne-like qualities with bottle age.
The following Chablis are among my favorites:
Corinne at Jean-Pierre Grossot Chablis, 2012
"A steely version, delivering mineral, green apple, lemon and oyster shell aromas and flavors. Stays taut and linear through the long, stone-tinged aftertaste. Drink now through 2022. "
90 Wine Spectator
Domaine de la Meuliere Chablis 1er Cru Fourneaux, 2013
Moving up on the Chablis ladder, this more complex bottle is a mineral premier cru with typical Chablis aromas of citrus and peaches. Very subtle on the palate with a long finish. This is a wine that expresses the great quality of its specific terroir.
Domaine William Fevre Chablis 1er Cru Vaillons, 2014
Mineral and fresh, a perfect vintage for purists and Chablis lovers. It has a leesy, well-defined nose with plenty of green apple and citrus fruit. The palate is round, harmonious and approachable.
89-91 Robert Parker
Domaine William Fevre Chablis 1er Cru Montée de Tonnerre, 2014
"The 2014 Chablis 1er Cru Montée de Tonnerre, which is vinified in 50% barrel and 50% stainless steel for six months before maturing in stainless steel only, comes from three lieux-dits with the Premier Cru. It has a very precise, harmonious, feminine bouquet that gently unfolds in the glass, just a touch of shucked oyster shell in the background. The palate is medium-bodied with crisp acidity, a mouth-watering salinity in the mouth that compels another sip. This is a very well crafted Montée de Tonnerre."
91-93 Robert Parker
Try one-or several-and discover the beauty of Chardonnay in its purest form!
Baroness of Booze
People love beer. This is understandable. The beverage has roots in early civilization and is even credited as the fuel that built the pyramids. The discarded, soaked grains that early humans found to have fun and un-inhibiting properties are now known to have simply been fermented with wild yeast. The rest, as they say, is history.
Yeast is an extremely important part of the brewing process.
The fungi turns what would be an average syrupy, sugary drink into what we all know as beer. In very, very unscientific terms yeast eats sugar molecules and excretes alcohol as a byproduct. A living organism, yeast reproduces exponentially and works tirelessly to provide humanity (and a few other lucky fauna) with an enjoyable, tasty adult beverage.
There are two types of yeast found in the brewing process. First is ale, or top fermenting, yeast. This culture thrives in warmer temperatures and does its work at the top of the liquid, forming a foamy cap over the fermenting beer. This yeast type is used to brew anything from pale ales to imperial stouts.
The second type is lager, or bottom, fermenting yeast. This fungi is only active in colder temperatures and sits at the bottom of the fermenter. Bottom fermenting yeast work slowly and methodically, as lagers generally take a few months longer than ales to finish fermentation. This yeast type is used to brew anything from pilsners to marzens.
Alcohol isn’t the only byproduct of yeast. Different strains of yeast will impart varied and unique flavors and aromas into each beer. Why can German hefeweizens have a tinge of banana and Belgian tripels blossom a bouquet of clove? Yeast!
Making beer is similar to making bread. The term liquid bread for (early) beer is an apt one. Just as yeast plays a role in taking a lump of dough and raising it into a fluffy loaf of bread, it also takes viscous liquid and turns it into the wide array of beer we are able to enjoy today.
Hopefully this brief tutorial took some of the mystique out yeast. And perhaps even armed you with the skills to begin to notice, and even appreciate, the nuances provided by our friendly little micro-organisms.
The Fun Guy of Fungi
Lord of Libations
As the summer approaches with its long, sunny days and sultry, warm nights, I find myself bolstering my regular wine and beer regimen with some apropos cocktails. I fancy myself an equal opportunity imbiber. Yes, I mix my spirits like I mix my music, and to that end prefer all of the options in lieu of picking one particular “poison." That being said, here are a few of my favorite summer sippers from across the map and booze spectrum. Enjoy!
Gin will make you sin, or so goes the old adage—in this case, sign me up!
The Silver Cloud
1 oz Nolet's Silver Dry Gin
½ oz Peach shrub
¾ oz Lavender simple syrup
½ oz Lemon juice
Tools: Shaker, Strainer
Garnish: 1 Dried Lavender Sprig
Add all ingredients to a shaker and dry shake (no ice).
Add ice and shake until chilled.
Strain into a coupe glass and garnish with a sprig of dried lavender.
Even with Derby season and the inherent Mint Julep behind us, I still can’t let go of my whisk(e)y; classy meets classic in this 1950s inspired scotch cocktail.
Combine all ingredients in a shaker with ice. Shake to chill then strain into a rocks glass and garnish.
Julian Goglia, The Mercury, Atlanta
*Ginger Syrup: Combine 1 cup of boiling ginger juice with 1 cup of sugar. Stir until the sugar dissolves. Fine strain the mixture and refrigerate for up to 2 weeks.
This fun little rum cocktail is hybrid between a Mojito and French 75, and will have you speaking in tongues!
1½ oz. Rhum Clement Select Barrel Rhum Vieux Argricole
¾ oz. Fresh Lime Juice
1 oz. Simple Syrup (1:1)
2 dashes Angostura Bitters
6-8 Mint Leaves
2 oz. Champalou Brut Vouvray Sparkling Wine
Tools: Muddler, Shaker, Strainer, Fine Strainer
Garnish: Mint Leaf
Combine all the ingredients except the sparkling wine in a shaker and fill with ice. Shake to chill. Double-strain into a chilled glass, top with the sparkling wine and garnish.
Audrey Saunders, Pegu, New York City
Bright and herbaceous, this simple vodka cocktail is the quintessential summer refresher.
Add all the ingredients to a shaker with ice and hard shake until chilled. Double-strain over crushed ice in a highball glass and garnish.
Boris Van Dyck, The Darling Oyster Bar, Charleston
A prime example of how a smoky mezcal can take the flavor of a classic drink to the next level; this brawny cocktail is further improved by shaking with a slice of serrano pepper in with the ice. Caliente!
Last Of The Oaxacans
¾ oz. La Niña del Mezcal Espadin
¾ oz. Freshly Squeezed Lime Juice
¾ oz. Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur
¾ oz. Green Chartreuse
1 Half-Centimeter Slice Serrano Pepper
Tools: Shaker, Strainer
Garnish: Serrano Pepper Slice
Add mezcal, lime juice, maraschino, Chartreuse, and serrano pepper to a cocktail shaker. Fill 2/3 full with ice and shake vigorously until the outside of the shaker begins to frost. Double strain into a chilled cocktail glass, garnish with additional pepper slice and serve.
Try one, or serve them all at your next summer soirée—guaranteed to leave your guests clamoring for more!
Baroness of Booze
The most common topic that is brought up when beer is the subject is hops. With so many varieties, and each containing different qualities, it’s hard not to geek-out about them. However, there is another ingredient that deserves some of the limelight. I’m referring to malts. Similar to hops, malts add flavor, aroma and in addition, color. Before I get too carried away, let’s start with the basics of malts.
Malt is a toasted cereal grain. These grains include barley, wheat, oat, rye, corn, etc. The style of beer and flavor profile a brewer is targeting will determine what malts are used in the grain bill (the equivalent of a mash bill in whiskey). Barley is the predominant grain used for malting. There are two types of barley, tworow and sixrow. Tworow refers to how the grain is stacked on the stock (one row of grain is on one side and the second row of grain is on the other side). Sixrow is the same formation but with six grains forming a circle around the stock. Between the two, tworow is the most commonly used for brewing as the grains are more consistent in size and slightly easier to work with. As I stated earlier, malt provides color, flavor, and aroma. However they also provide the much needed sugar content for the formation of alcohol. Now let's take a look at the actual malting process.
Malting starts with steeping the grain in water which starts the germination process. Then the grain is spread out in a cool, slightly moist area (typically a large room built specifically for malting but there are less extravagant methods for you home brewers) where they will complete germination. From there the grain is dried and depending on the malt style, eventually toasted. There are five categories that malts fall into;
Base Malts: These are the malts that make up the base for the beer. These malts will determine the amount of alcohol in the beer and create the base flavor. These malts typically compose most of the grain bill. Common varieties include Pale, Pilsen, Pale Ale and Vienna.
Pale and Light Malts: These malts will add additional aromas and flavors without adding alcohol.
Caramel Malts: These malts will impart some flavor but their main purpose is to add color to the beer.
Dark and Roasted Malts These are the malts used to add richness to flavor and color without altering the alcohol content. These are the malts used in beer styles such as stouts and porters.
Other Grain Malts: This is the category for anything that is not barley, or the alternative grains such as rye, wheat, corn, etc.
So the next time you’re nerding it up with someone about beer, have some fun and hit them with some malt knowledge as you try to decipher your sudsy libations malt mix.
Yours in fermentation,
Fermented Beverages Savant
Sitting on a plateau just south of Bilbao in northern Spain is possibly wine’s best kept secret. La Rioja, despite lacking the name recognition of Burgundy, Bordeaux, and Napa, produces some of the world’s best red wine that won’t break the bank (although some of the older vintage Gran Reservas do indeed command significant price points).
Spain’s preeminent red-wine region produces a number of grape varieties but is primarily known for Tempranillo. Native to the Iberian peninsula, Tempranillo accounts for the vast majority of Rioja’s wine production. It’s a grape that boasts the structure and depth of Cabernet Sauvignon coupled with the fruitiness of Grenache (or Garnacha in Spanish). Small amounts of Garnacha, Mazuelo (Carignan), and Graciano are often blended in, as well.
The wine-producing region of Rioja encompasses roughly 63,593 hectares of land surrounding the Ebro River, which snakes through the northern part of Rioja. This area is split up into three regions: Rioja Alta, Rioja Alavesa, and Rioja Baja. While all three produce some wonderful wines, Rioja Alta and Rioja Alavesa are considered the best of the three. Both benefit from higher elevation and a more distinct Atlantic climate. Rioja Baja sits at the base of the plateau with very little elevation gains.
There are four levels of Rioja wine, with the differences centered around aging, something that the Rioja DOCa and vintners within the region take very seriously.
1) The first level, is simply Rioja, or Vin Joven (literal translation is "Young Wine"). This is the youngest Rioja and isn’t required to spend much time in oak and only one to two years aging in the bottle.
2) Next is Crianza. A minimum of one year in oak and a few months in the bottle is required of this style. They remain fruit forward with a good deal of structure and are priced very reasonably (around $15).
3) Reserva is the third highest tier and is required to age at least one year in oak and at least two in the bottle. This level is where Rioja begins to show its true talent. Only produced in years with the best harvests, Reservas are an understated mix between the fruitiness of Crianza and the oaky depth of Gran Reserva -- which is the highest classification. Think dried crushed rose petals and violets, with aromas of black cherry with hints of sagebrush and dried crushed herbs.
4) Gran Reservas spend at least two years in oak and three in the bottle and are the most elegant and rich of all Rioja wines. Produced only in excellent harvest years with grapes taken from only the best vineyards, these wines are the cream of the crop. It should be noted that vintners often age their wine for longer that the DOCa requires. These wines are some of the most elegant powerhouses on the market. Understated elegance that takes your palate by storm.
Now that your palate is properly tempted, one huge perk is that these wines range from around $10 for Vin Joven to as little as $35 for Gran Reserva. Rioja is too good to pass up. Get some before the word gets out!
Lord of Libation
Italy is currently the biggest producer of wine in the world. And while there is a multitude of grape varietals and styles attributed to Italy, it is perhaps best known for the Sangiovese grape varietal. Sangiovese comes from the Latin phrase "Sanguis Jove," or "The Blood of Jove," Jove being another name for Jupiter. Sangiovese is so beloved in Italy it is considered a gift from the gods. In Italy there are over 50 names synonymous with Sangiovese; almost every area having a its own unique name for this garnet gem.
One of the best known areas for Sangiovese is Tuscany: the sun-kissed, rolling hills of many a wine-lover's day dreams. Within this central Italian winemaking utopia lays one of my newest favorite appellations: Bolgheri.
Bolgheri is a region only recently recognized for its amazing red wines. Bolgheri earned its mark on the map for the 1976 Decanter event where a Bordeaux-style, 6-year-old Sassicaia (by Tenuta San Guido) beat out an assortment of top-notch Bordeaux wines. Since that time, Bolgheri has focused on mixing "Bordeaux-style" grapes, such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and Petit Verdot, with Sangiovese. The resulting product: big wine with copious fruitiness that is great for pairing with food, or sipping on its own. The style has unofficially become known as “Super Tuscan.” Unfortunately the Italian wine-powers-that-be do not recognize this as an official name, so these fermented gems will have to hold off on their official super hero status for the time being. But that doesn't stop them from being out of this world on the palate!
So while Italian wines can be confusing, with there seemingly being 100 different synonyms for every grape they use, a Bolgheri wine will never cause regret! Two of my favorites to check out are: Gaja Ca'Marcanda Promis 2013 and Tenuta dell'Ornellaia Le Serre Nuove 2011.
Saluti from under the Tuscan Sun!
Templar of Tonics