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Home Winners > Winners 2012 > FRANCE: Chablis

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FRANCE: Chablis

A lot of ‘misses’, as always, but some strong medal winners, too – and the first time two Golds have been awarded for three years

Is ‘Chablis’ the French word for ‘cash-cow’? Possibly. Certainly, it’s one of the few wine styles that even non-engaged wine consumers have heard of; a shorter, more sophisticated way of saying ‘hit me with the white wine, Gaston’.

The problem, of course, is that with this popularity has come highly variable quality. Some producers, it’s clear, are working their little chaussettes off to make great, characterful, food-friendly wine. Others are just there for a buck rapide.

Add in the effect of being chilly and northern, and it’s perhaps no surprise that this is a category that has proved troublesome for SWA tasters in the past.

Last year the problem was the rather-too-ripe 2009 vintage, which gave wines that were drinking fine, but our tasters tended to dismiss as ‘not sufficiently Chablis-like’ in style. This year, made up almost entirely of 2010s, our tasters were expecting rather more typicity.

Well, in one sense, they got it. A lot of the wines had nothing to say at all. ‘I know Chablis is a bit neutral, but some of these were just too much that way,’ said consultant Richard Bampfield MW.

To paraphrase Tom Jones’s epic hit, Sixteen Tons, ‘A lotta wines entered, and a lotta wines died…’

As well as ‘whispering wines’, there were wines with ambition that were still too young and, particularly, ones that had an unhealthily close relationship with oak. ‘It’s designed to make them taste expensive,’ said Restaurant Gordon Ramsay’s Jan Konetski, with a cynicism to gladden the heart of any journalist.

The prices, too, raised eyebrows. ‘I had a question mark over the more expensive wines,’ said Soho Wine Supply’s Kyri Sotiri. ‘I was unsure because of the pricing, not because of the quality.’

While the premier and grand cru wines were reckoned to be ‘great in a few years’ time’, this was of little help when putting together a wine list for the here and now, and few picked up medals.

That said, by the time our tasters got to the medal-winning wines, they were very happy with what they had to select from for the Gold List, and were pleased to choose two wines – a cheaper ‘workhorse’ Chablis and one with a bit more ambition, guessed (wrongly) by the tasters to be a premier cru wine.

La Colombe is a great value wine,’ said WineChap’s Tom Harrow. ‘People would be very happy with this, at this price. It’s a great entry Chablis on the list.’

The Jean Defaix, meanwhile, was described by Andaz’s Joris Beijn as ‘more restrained and steely in style, a textbook minerally Chablis and one that would sell itself’.

The Malandes Montmains, which narrowly missed out on Gold, was felt to be a good trade-up option – one to put on for £15 at the higher end of the wines By the Glass. And of course, when Chablis gets it right, it’s a powerful weapon to have.

‘While Grand Cru Chablis is quite expensive, it is still far cheaper than top white Burgundy,’ pointed out Konetski.

‘Chablis remains an absolute must list, and also provides useful tiers on the list if the customer wants to trade up.’ Jan Konetski, Restaurant Gordon Ramsay