Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Exploring Burgundy: Petit Chablis

Petit Chablis, Domaine d'Elise 2005 (Wine Traditions, Falls Church, VA)
By Burgundian standards, Domaine d’Elise, established in 1970, is an estate in its infancy. Current proprietor and winemaker Frédéric Prain acquired the property in 1982. As well known, perhaps, for his collection of sports cars as for his wines, M. Prain came to wine late in life after a career as a civil engineer. His 13-hectare property consists of a single parcel that abuts the Premier Cru Côte de Lechet and spans into Petit Chablis. Two things distinguish Frédéric's wines from the norm in Chablis: late picking and late bottling. The former provides, obviously, very ripe fruit and the potential for roundness in the finished wines; the latter is more complicated, as it entails not only lees aging but also results in wines that show an autolytic character in the bottle. All of the estate’s wines are fermented and aged in vat; oak does not play a role.

My relationship with the wines of Domaine d’Elise could be characterized as one of benign neglect. I sold the wines for years yet rarely took them home or drank them. I’d been meaning to try the ’05 Petit Chablis, though, for a while. When we took a spur of the moment trip to a local Japanese BYOB a few nights ago, the opportunity presented itself as I found it the only remotely appropriate wine in my little staging fridge. When planning allows for a preparatory shopping trip, I’ll often take a sushi session as an opportunity to enjoy good Sake. Otherwise, German or Austrian Rieslings are my usual go-to options. Chablis has also worked out in the past. Crisp texture, nervy acidity, citric tones and clean minerality – classic elements of Chablis – are all complementary to the palette of flavors and textures in a typical sushi/sashimi assortment. In this case, however, the match was not fortuitous. The wine was certainly interesting though it seemed to be going through a bit of a funky stage. It was intensely stony, quite fleshy and showed persistent acidity. What made it unusual was its relative lack of fruit, the expected lemony and herbal hints being usurped by a somewhat bitter earthiness reminiscent of the aromas and flavors of washed rind cheese. Armed with some technical knowledge of the producer’s cellar practices, I might chalk the funk up as an expression of autolysis, replacing the primary flavors of fruit with a more secondary aspect of yeastiness. In retrospect, the wine would have paired better with, well, a washed rind cheese, or perhaps a small, roasted game bird. Sushi wine it was not.

If I had another bottle in the larder, I’d love to revisit d’Elise’s 2005 Petit Chablis in another couple of years. As this was a lone ranger, I’ll just have to chalk it up as a good wine opened on the wrong occasion. Not the first… and I’m sure not the last.

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