Chablis is the northernmost outpost of Burgundy, fully an hour by car north of the Côte d’Or proper. It is a white wine appellation, with a style most often explained by how it differs from the rest of Burgundy. In a word, the difference is oak. In Chablis there’s less. Traditionally there was none at all: wine was raised either in enameled tanks (later, stainless steel) or in large foudres, where the wood contributed only oxygenization, not oak flavor. The grape is Chardonnay, always with a healthy dose of acidity — the product of its higher latitude and colder climate. For most Chablis, this makes for racy, lively wine, brisk and refreshing and perfect companion to oysters on the half shell, steamed mussels, or steamer clams dipped in butter. It’s a wonderful choice in the summer, when its freshness pleases particularly well in the hot weather.
Less well known is the sublime subtlety of Grand Cru Chablis with a few years under its belt. Time rounds out the acidity, and the result can be wonderfully complex and elegant. Recent years have made the grapes riper and more like those of the neighbors to the south.
We have bought wine from the Domaine Jean Collet on and off for a long time. In recent years praise for the domaine has increased markedly as the new generation’s Romain Collet has taken a more direct hand. He is handling the warmer weather there with great skill, producing a wider range of wine from his family’s fine terroir. At the Grand Cru level, there are now two choices: the family’s longtime holding in Valmur and wine from a new, smaller parcel in Les Clos, the vineyard that many regard as the finest Grand Cru in the appellation. At the premier cru level, he uses different winemaking techniques for different vineyards: some measure of small oak barrels in the Montée de Tonnerre; none at all in Montmains. And some less well-known and oak-raised premier crus might be mistaken for a wine from Puligny-Montrachet. The village wines also ranged from unoaked Chablis to Chablis Vieilles Vignes, whose greater density does well with a bit of oak. There’s truly something for every lover of white Burgundy at the Domaine Collet these days.