Some weeks back I spotted an offer from September Wines that I couldn’t resist. Steve Flynn, the owner, happened across a few cases of two aged premier cru Chablis, lost and forgotten in the climate-controlled warehouse of one of his distributors. They were 1999 Mile de Noyers, one from the Les Lys vineyard, and another from Côte de Léchet. At $20 a bottle, I bought two of each.
Chablis, considered part of Burgundy, is a non-contiguous region about 100 miles to the northeast of the Côte d’Or, halfway to Paris. The cold climate produces wine, made exclusively from chardonnay, that is generally more acidic and less fruity than its southern cousins, with characteristic flinty notes. It is also less influenced by oak, although the grand and premier crus do see some barrel aging.
In addition to the mighty crus, the two other rankings of Chablis are the basic Chablis and the lesser Petit Chablis. There are 7 grand crus, all located on one southeast-facing hillside, and 40 premier cru Chablis sites. Ordinarily, a premier cru Chablis will drink at its best after 5-6 years. I was at a loss to predict what 12-year-old Chablis would taste like. So Margaret and I planned a dinner to find out.
On Saturday night, despite the continued heat, Ellen and Mercer came over, bearing a cold tomato soup and J. Lassalle Brut “Cuvée Préférence”. We’ve been sampling this grower champagne for about 6 months and noticed that as it ages its lime notes have gotten louder and the overall texture more creamy, yet it remains elegant and delicious.
Margaret put Mercer to work frying up squash blossoms dredged in flour and seltzer, while Ellen ladled out the soup and I opened both wines and poured, starting with Les Lys. The blossoms, crispy, hot and salty, were exquisite. Between mouthfuls of soup, I found myself reaching for more until they were all gone.
The Les Lys tasted something like pear, and had overtones of honey and toast. The Côte de Léchet, more characteristically, tasted of apple and had a freshness that belied its age.
With the main course of sea scallops, pureed sweet potato and green beans, I returned to Les Lys, preferring the softer wine with the briny shellfish. With salad and cheese — gouda and fontina — the Côte de Léchet seemed to work better for me, the acidity cleansing the fatty cheeses from my palate between mouthfuls. Opinion around the table was mixed. Ellen, who compared the Les Lys to Chassagne Montrachet and the Côte de Léchet to Puilly Fumé, shared my view; Mercer gravitated toward the Côte de Léchet; Margaret seemed pretty happy with whatever was in her glass. There was unanimous agreement, however, that the wines were delicious, and not a little surprise that they were so different.
We took a rest before dessert, enjoying La Gaudrelle Crémant de Loire before returning to the table for a ginger plum tart. To beat the heat, Margaret had baked it early in the morning. She served it with a dollop of vanilla frozen yoghurt, as I poured the final wine of the night, 2008 Domaine de Beaumalric Muscat de Beaumes de Venise. This vin doux naturel from southern France is made by the addition of 190-proof grape spirits during fermentation, resulting in a sweet wine of about 15% alcohol. It had a floral nose and showed good balance, delightfully topping off the evening.
Considering all we’d had to drink, the four of us also showed good balance. At midnight, Ellen and Mercer walked home, while Margaret and I got horizontal, leaving the dishes until morning.