Chablis Diary: Global Warming Isn’t All Bad

“They were all so bad in Chablis twenty years ago. For me, concentration is important, lower yields and riper. But everyone said, we are making Chablis, it’s never ripe, the typical Chablis is green. People said, when you make ripe Chablis, it loses its character. But you can’t make wine from unripe grapes—all green wines taste the same,” said negociant Jean-Marie Guffens when I last visited Verget. Twenty years ago he was criticized because his wines had too much fruit to be considered typical of Chablis. But after two decades of global warming, Chablis has changed: fruit is more often at the forefront, although that crisp mineral acidity is usually not far behind.

Chablis1

Chablis is still a quiet town at the center of the vineyards.

Tasting the 2015 vintage at the BIVB tasting in London last week, and then again this week at many individual producers in Chablis, it was striking how attractive the wines are. Based on early reports of the vintage, it seemed that it might be like the 2009: very fruity and ripe, often lovely in their own right, but where the richness has obscured the character of Chablis. Also they tend not to be very long aged. I have been finishing off my Premier and Grand Cru Chablis 2009s in the past few weeks because many show signs of tiring.

“Our experiences with 2009 may have helped us to do better in 2015,” says Vincent Dampt at Domaine Daniel Dampt. Even Petit Chablis  in 2015 often offers attractive light fruits that make a splendid summer wine. I think it’s fair to say that many Petit Chablis of this vintage reach a standard equivalent to, or even better than, Chablis of a generation ago. Even the premier crus and grand crus, where you expect to wait a few years, are immediately approachable in 2015. Indeed, in visiting producers to update profiles for my forthcoming Guide to the Wines of Chablis, I became concerned that I might be misled by this vintage into describing the styles of the wines as more immediately approachable than they usually are.

Most Chablis producers are happy that 2015 shows so well now, but say quietly that they think 2014 is the better vintage, especially if you plan to age the wines over the next few years. I never had great expectations for this vintage because my memories of 2014 date from constant rain in Burgundy in June and July, but the last part of August and September gave an Indian summer that rescued the vintage. Aside from some wines that surprisingly show some over-ripe or tertiary notes, here is the crisp minerality associated with Chablis, but with enough fruit that the wines should come into good balance given another two or three years. The 2016s are somewhere between 2014 and 2016, with good fruits and balance acidity, often quite attractive and approachable if not as forward as 2016.

That said, the most interesting development is a much wider range of styles than I have seen in the past. This is a tribute to the much greater control that can be exercised over viticulture and vinification. Some producers have a light, elegant, fragrant style—none of these being descriptions I would used about Chablis twenty years ago—while others have more forceful acidity or herbal impressions. I suppose it is a matter of personal opinion whether you regard this as a loss of typicity or a change in typicity, or perhaps now one should say typicities. Asking producers about their stylistic objectives, the most common response is that the key point is to retain freshness, but even so, styles in Chablis have become significantly more diverse. Apart from some exceptional unusually hot vintages (which of course may yet become the norm) this broadening isn’t directly attributable to global warming, but global warming is the enabler that has given producers the flexibility to vary their styles. Even though today temperatures are into the nineties (Fahrenheit: thirties in Centigrade) today (6 July) in Burgundy, global warming isn’t all bad.

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3 thoughts on “Chablis Diary: Global Warming Isn’t All Bad

  1. Loved the part where you write >>I suppose it is a matter of personal opinion whether you regard this as a loss of typicity or a change in typicity, or perhaps now one should say typicities<< Sometimes dialogs (as they would say in the Socratic times) with other wine professionals and trying to have them understand the concept that "typicity " can change and HAS changed over time…is like pulling teeth. Steel fermentation didn't exist prior to the 1960's and yet today it is the most common vilification technique you will find world wide. And, steel fermentation has changed the style of wines. I love Chablis. It may be the best white burgundy under $40 USD. It has a sense of place with sticker shock.

  2. Benjamin, thank you for all your earnest work in these areas. I very much appreciate your books, as well as your continued commitment to helpful blog entries.

    What are your thoughts about the development of these insights in formal wine education? Do you think programs such as WSET, IMW, and CMS are doing what they should to keep up on shifting trends in viticulture and vinification in regions like Chablis? If not, is there a chance successful students in these programs (myself included) may maintain myopic views on what constitutes “proper” or “typical” Chablis?

    • I suspect there’s a tendency for education to be like the generals fighting the last war. It wouldn’t surprise me if, for example, Meursault is still represented as buttery and nutty compared to Chassagne or Puligny Montrachet, whereas the modern trend is for it to show minerality more in the direction of Puligny (of course, Coche Dury has always had this style: blog about that coming up). It is of course possible that the 2015 vintage is giving a misleading impression in Chablis and the wines are showing as atypically fruity, but I do have a similar impression of 2016, albeit not as pronounced as 2015. And there are some new producers whose wines definitely do not follow the modern trend of light, easy fruits (blog coming up tomorrow). I suppose it’s difficult to keep up with trends in all regions, and education is likely to be one step behind on the curve.

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