Category: Wine Criticism

Why the Hell Don’t You Ever See a 100 point Chablis? pt 2/2

In this final article (here is the first) examining our curious critical prejudice against dry white wines, I examine our inability to fully appreciate perfect Chablis with Patrick Piuze and share tasting notes on four of my all-time favorites.

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If you’ve not yet tried a Piuze Chablis, you don’t know what you’re missing.

piuze

Patrick Piuze left his wine bar in Montréal in 2000 to make Chablis, and after working for Leflaive, Verget, and Brocard, he knocked it out of the park in his first solo vintage: the outstanding 2008. Some dubbed him the new Raveneau. In addition to his Grand and 1er cru bottlings and his absolutely stellar Petit Chablis, Piuze also vinifies AOC-level grapes that he purchases from growers in various Chablis regional terroirs that he groups in a single bottling: “Terroir de Courgis”, “Terroir de Fleys”, “Terroir de Chichée”, or “Terroir de Fyé”.

These subdivided AOC bottlings compel us to listen even closer to Chablis. “Talk to people in Courgis or in Fleys, and they’ll tell you it’s all the same. But it’s not,” Piuze notes. Piuze also notes how in one particular portion of the grand cru Valmur — where he purchases grapes from Domaine Vocoret — there is a significant difference in the size of the grapes based on the varying amounts of limestone and clay underfoot; he notes how this invariably affects drainage and drastically changes what ends up in the glass1.

One senses in Patrick Piuze a respect for his growers’ grapes and a deeply ingrained reverence for the Chablis terroir, a humble and passionate man before his task. He did have some slightly irreverent things to say, however, about wine critics’ inability to recognize perfect Chablis:

Aside from needing to be an authentic expression of terroir, what is a perfect Chablis? When does a Chablis distinguish itself from others to the point where it deserves to be considered perfect?

In Chablis, we produce Chablis, and the Chardonnay grape is only a vector to accomplish that goal. What deserves to be called “perfect” is when the wine talks about its origine — where it’s from. Chablis can be described as acidity and minerality, bonded together, lending Chablis its own particular personality.

Do you think Chablis must age its ten years and acquire tertiary characteristics in order to be considered perfect? Should a luscious, younger Chablis be judged perfect by critics?

In Chablis, vintage is a very important issue, quite simply because we end up with two distinct styles of wine. (Click to Read more)

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  1. http://www.patrickpiuze.com/Vendanges-2009-Grand-Cru-Valmur.html. []

Why the Hell Don’t You Ever See a 100 point Chablis? Pt 1/2

It’s not a silly question. It’s very important. One simply never sees a 100/100 or a 20/20 point Chablis. Why?

And why ask this of Chablis, rather than some other heralded dry white wine—when we all know that the wines given 100 points are ageworthy, massive reds from Bordeaux, California, or Piedmont; dusty, vintage Champagnes; or, if made of entirely white varietals, dessert wines1? (It would seem old, brawny and sweet are generally the orgasmic fancy of the 100 pointers).

And even for those critics who do not distribute 100 point scores like so many cheap after-dinner mints—the “serious” Old World critics, who seem to look down their aristocratic bifocals at us: Jancis Robinson, Hugh Johnson, Clive Coates, or even the Yankee outsider exception in the crowd, Allen Meadows—the greatest laurel Chablis can attain is a rare 98 points (Raveneau’s ‘98 Les Clos). Granted, Meadows is uniquely conservative relative to American critics: he has only attributed a 100 point score to the ‘45 DRC Romanée Conti2. For an idea how liberally someone like former Wine Spectator critic and cringeworthy barnstorming douchebag James Suckling applies a 100 point descriptor, see here3 :

But among Old or New World critics, only once did Chablis get a gold star. In November 20044, only weeks after Bettane and Dessauve split from La Revue du Vin de France5 in reaction to the Revue’s acquisition by the teen magazine publisher Marie Claire, the magazine awarded 20/20 points to the ’79 Raveneau Les Clos.

Pyrrhic victory for Chablis, perhaps, as makeup-covered, teeny-bopping Marie Claire was at the helm?

But, save for that: that’s it.

Really? Among the entire scored back vintage history of Chablis? Just one disputed, single instance of perfection, regardless of vintage and producer? “Even Raveneau was only able to get it together once in all those years”, you’d ask?

It’s odd, to say the least. But why not instead ask why there is rarely a 100-point dry Savennières? Keller Riesling6? Or Huet Vouvray7? You could just as easily prod our readiness to recognize perfection in those undeniably mesmerizing, ageworthy racehorses.

It’s because Chablis is the most amazing dry white wine in the world. It’s a standard-bearer for terroir-driven wines that show their minerality to nearly any taster (only Riesling gives Chardonnay growing in Chablis a run for its money regarding transparency). No one can argue with Chablis when it manages to transmit its Kimmeridgian or Portlandian limestone terroir in an indelible, recognizable aroma of the sea and its minerality.

Les Clos: a lunar landscape.
Follow the treeline: Les Clos, arcing down towards Blanchots on the right. A lunar landscape.

(Click to Read more)

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  1. I know what you’re thinking: what’s the highest rated Montrachet? For Burghound, it was the ‘92 Ramonet tasted 8/10 at 99 points, highest of all Montrachet. []
  2. http://www.princeofpinot.com/article/218/ []
  3. Aww, bummer. Suckling finally took the original video I’d cited, Searching For 100 Points, down. Well, not to worry, the following video illustrates the point. []
  4. http://90pluswines.com/Wine/1949KXJS979/Raveneau-(Domaine-Francois–Jean-Marie)—Chablis-Les-Clos/1979.aspx. Gilman also gave 98 to the 07 Raveneau Les Clos. []
  5. http://www.jancisrobinson.com/articles/inside1004 []
  6. Update below in the comments as of 10/2014! []
  7. Jancis gave the 1947 Huet Vouvray Moelleux Le Haut Lieu a 20/20 in ‘03. But: that’s sweet. http://90pluswines.com/Wine/22392449947/Huet-(Domaine-Noel-(Gaston)—Vouvray-Moelleux-Le-Haut-Lieu/1947.aspx []