Mark Smyly, Wantage, Oxfordshire, UK, asks: Modern-day Chablis is nothing like the heaven-in-a-glass, stony mineral wines that used to be my favourite white wine by a long way in the 1960s. What has changed?
Andy Howard MW, a contributing editor to Decanter and a DWWA Regional Chair, replies: Like you, I have long been a fan of the structured, fine acidity and discreet (if at all) oak of Chablis, and that salty, pebbly, gunflint character. I agree the style has changed since the 1960s – it was this change that drove me to write my Master of Wine dissertation on Chablis.
On balance, I think the changes have been for the better, with fewer harsh, green and lean wines. In the vineyard, new rootstocks and better frost-prevention systems have been introduced.
As mechanical harvesting has been brought in, many producers have moved away from pressing whole bunches, though some observers feel this has encouraged oxidative characters. Modern presses are cleaner and highly efficient, although there are arguments that this may remove some of the body and character of the wine.
These changes are set against a background of warmer growing seasons. I suggest you focus on ‘classic’ vintages (2010/2012/2014/2017) and avoid those more marked by heat (2016/2018/2019).
Try some long lees-aged wines (Daniel-Etienne Defaix, Bernard Defaix), or those where fermentation in wood harks back to earlier times (Vocoret) – or some of the concrete-egg-matured Chablis from Jean-Marc Brocard.
Also consider a cooler, north-facing vineyard such as premier cru Les Lys.
This was first published in the May 2021 issue of Decanter magazine.