Some 140 kilometres north-west of the heartland of Burgundy’s Côte de Beaune lies Chablis, another Burgundy wine region that only makes Chardonnay. Its distinctively cooler climate, combined with the clay-limestone marl soil that’s rich in marine fossils, produces more austere wines with purity and minerality. Often overshadowed by its more famous southern neighbour, some Chablis winemakers copy Côte de Beaune to produce a riper style of Chardonnay that loses the true identity of Chablis.
But then there’s Grand Calcaire Chablis, a project between cousins Laurent Delaunay and Dominique Gruhier, fifth-generation Burgundian winegrowers. Laurent calls himself a wine entrepreneur with a marketing vision, while Dominique is a pioneer of organic, biodynamic and sustainable viticulture in Chablis. They hope to recapture the essence of Chablis in a contemporary style that appeals to young consumers. “Cool climate” and “minerality” are key trends in the international wine market, and Chablis has both.
Grand Calcaire aims to produce vibrant, pure, delicate wines with a mineral salinity that is the typical expression of Chablis. These grapes come from the coolest terroirs that are north/north-east facing on the top of the slopes in order to preserve their acidity and minerality. By picking the grapes early, as soon as they’re ripe, and ageing the wine on lees in stainless-steel and old barrels for 9–18 months, the wine develops a creamy mouthfeel and complexity without sacrificing its freshness and purity.
To ensure that quality is not compromised, Grand Calcaire uses a technical cork that is free from TCA (a mould that spoils wine with cork taint) and, more importantly, only allows a small amount of air exchange so that the wine ages slowly in the bottle.
With the international market in mind, Grand Calcaire’s clean, modern label, without the traditional crest or ornate font, conveys freshness and minerality. The basic Chablis label features a distant church on a cool winter morning, giving the impression of cool-climate Chablis. On the Premier Cru label, the church is more in focus, with vineyards in the background, bringing consumers closer to the terroir. The Grand Cru label is a close-up of the vineyards, highlighting the exceptional quality of the wine.
The year 2019 is the first vintage for Grand Calcaire. This Chablis has floral, citrusy aromas, with smoky notes, a distinct savoury palate and a round mouthfeel. Premier Cru Fourchaume is elegant with notes of refined yellow fruits, more depth, a creamy mouthfeel and a citrusy palate. Both wines are expressive but not overwhelming, reflecting the skills of the winemakers. Grand Cru Les Preuses 2019 will be released later this year. Only one barrel was made, and each market has been allocated a mere 18 bottles.
Winegrowing, especially in cool-climate regions, is always at the mercy of Mother Nature. According to Laurent, while 2020 was a good vintage, 2021 was only a small vintage, especially for the basic Chablis, because of the spring frost. The 2022 harvest began in early September, but it will be a small vintage yet again, albeit good quality, because of the drought during the growing season. Let’s hope the weather holds up during the picking season to avoid any more hiccups.
Grand Calcaire is available in Hong Kong at Watson’s Wine.
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