“This is why we drink Chablis”
Last Saturday a customer came in late night to grab a bottle of wine (a killer Anjou from Rene Mosse) and to chat with us. Over the course of the bottle we got to chatting about “correctness” in wine, both in the sense of grape varieties and, more importantly, the notion of terroir.
Without a word he disappeared, leaving us to wonder where he had gone when he showed back up laden with bottles from his private collection. We quickly decanted two bottles (a still spry ’83 E. Guigal, a 1985 Dauvissat Grand Cru “Les Clos” and a cooked bottle of ’94 St. Joseph from a producer that i had never heard of that was tearfully poured down the drain like the dead fish it was). The Dauvissat was closed and it sat for a while until the customer excitedly called me over to try it again.
“This is why we drink chablis” he proclaimed.
Of course this could be taken to mean that we drink Chablis because it is so fucking good, as this wine certainly was. That, however, was not exactly what was meant. We drink Chablis, as opposed to other expressions of chardonnay, because it tastes like Chablis. Stripped down to its essence Chablis shouldn’t taste like conventional chardonnay, just as Charmes-Chambertin shouldn’t taste like pinot noir.
What has happened, you realize when drinking something this stunning, is that so many vignerons have abandoned the delicacies of terroir for stylistic uniformity (what my customer refers to as a “recipe”). This is, of course, a topic that has slowly been (almost) beaten to death (what would a dead horse drink if he was dragged to Chablis?) but it bears repeating because, while it is one thing to argue the philosophical merits of terroir, it is quite another for a wine to come up and hit you over the head with the idea like this wine did.
Without wines like this being made (and many still are, despite the lure of wood, yeast, micro-ox and so one) there isn’t even a point to calling something Chablis, or Cote-Rotie vs. St. Joseph. We drink these wines because they are good, but also because they represent a unique section of the spectrum of what we have decided is “good.” Without those delineations in taste there occurs a flattening, the heartsinking feeling when you leave Rome and the kaleidoscope of graffiti on the train walls begins to thin, lose it colors, and eventually turn into poorly scrawled monotone.