Good Things are Never Enough: Pure Chablis
Intellectual curiosity defines the best wine events. When exploration exceeds messaging, then space opens for authenticity. Distance and context together foster insight. So did Vancouver’s first ‘Pure Chablis’ event, hosted by the Chablis marketing board/regulator, allow itself to become one of the best wine dinner events of the year.
The dinner involved three of the city’s best upcoming sommeliers and three courses. Each sommelier had to choose a wine blind for each course, within established parameters, including a budget, and a choice of 1 village wine, 1 premier cru and 1 grand cru. Given all the wines were Chablis, pairing skills were put to maximal test. Diners, who were leaders in Vancouver’s wine community, voted on the best pairing for each course, with the results tallied at the end to announce the winner.
The three sommeliers were Brooke Delves from Wildebeest, Jason Yamasaki from Chambar, and Roger Maniwa from Hawksworth. I say kudos to all for participating and putting so much effort into the pairings.
I respect when marketing boards have the confidence to let their wines speak both for themselves and give local stars the opportunity to showcase their passion and talent. More wine marketing needs to follow in this vein.
As for the wines, Chablis is an easy sell. Each time I spend a dinner with these wines I marvel at the consistency and quality, particularly with the best producers. The premier and grand crus are unparalleled in their singularity and profundity – but it is the consistency, versatility and diversity that keeps me returning.
Chablis in Context
I’ve written fairly recently in depth about the virtues of Chablis, and I recommend you review that article for a more in-depth look at soil, site, and vintage. At this event I spent most of my efforts assessing the pairings and attempting to determine the quality of the wines on their own vs. paired with the dishes. The results were superb and a true lesson in context. More than blind tasting it is context that humbles me, as wines adored in one instance can become unloved in another. So it was with this dinner, with some wines performing better on their own than with food, but in all instances each wine performing differently with air vs. the salts, acids and proteins of the complex dishes prepared by chef Jefferson Alvarez, who did a superb job with each course.
The first dish was Lobster, freeze dried pea, green asparagus and 64 degree poached egg. It was rich, but also primary in its eggyness, posing perhaps somewhat of a challenge for the sommeliers who did not get a chance to taste the dishes beforehand.
The first wine, from Brooke Delves, offered honey, florality, and some oak richness. It was a full wine clearly of higher quality with a strong finish. It was maybe not as fresh as I’d like but its riper style went well with the lobster. Very Good+ to Excellent. The was revealed to be the Domaine Drouhin Grand Cru Vaudesir 2009.
The second wine, from Jason Yamasaki, was greener and more reticent. Green apple and floral notes but flatter on the finish than the first wine. A good wine, but the pairing was a bit average as it candied with food. Very Good to Very Good+. The reveal was the Billaud-Simon 1er cru Montee de Tonnerre 2009.
The third wine, from Roger Maniwa, was a good mid weight Chablis. It was not exciting compared to the other two wines, but was of decent quality. It may have been too young as it seemed a bit off key. I found the wine too lean for the egg, though it did have nice acid. I think this sort of Chablis would have been better with oysters. Very Good to Very Good+. Revealed as Domaine A’Dair Chablis 2008
The second dish was seared scallop, sunchoke puree, and squid ink rocks. This was a very challenging dish due to the contrast between the sweet scallops and the tangy high acid squid ink rocks.
Brooke’s wine continued her penchant for richer, more powerful Chablis: floral, nuts and honey. This rich wine had a mid length finish and strong mid palate. As much as it was powerful, it was also an elegant wine. The pairing was ok, but struggled with the squid ink rocks. Very Good to Very Good+. The reveal was Pascal Bouchard Chablis Premier Cru Fourchaume 2010.
Jason’s choice offered again a lot of greenness (though not in a bad way) and a profound savoury quality. This tasted quite high quality, though it turned out to be a village wine. It was my favourite village wine of the evening. The long finish completed the wine’s impressive balance. Again the pairing was ‘ok’ but struggled with the squid ink rocks. Very Good+ to Excellent. Revealed as the Domaine Louis Moreau Chablis 2011.
Roger nailed the pairing with this wine. It offered nuts and toast up front with a saline mid palate. The wine is balanced with nice length. This was a great pairing because the wine’s complexity survived the complexity of the food and had the perfect richness/acid balance to meld with the tough to pair squid ink. Very Good+ To Excellent. Revealed to be a Christian Moreau 1er cru Vaillons Cuvée Guy Moreau 2011.
The third course was a delicious and superbly prepared roast chicken with wild mushroom and shaved truffle. The dish was quite earthy and so paired superbly with a more earthy Chablis (in this case a Fevre Valmur ‘08).
Brook kept on with the potent Chablis. This wine was honeyed and immense on the palate. With the food the palate actually became a little candied tasting, and didn’t quite have the earthiness to pair ideally with the chicken. As such, with the meal it was good but not great. However, when I learned this wine was the Pattes Loup Chablis 2011 from Thomas Pico I was blown away by how context changes everything as I had just had this wine a few days earlier with a quail appetizer and it killed it. That was outside the context of this dinner where the wine was competing with two Grand Crus and didn’t quite have the layering necessary for this extremely well constructed dish. I rated the wine Very Good, though only Good with the food.
Jason’s choice had a fantastic nose with hazelnuts and cream. The very complex mid palate became a very long, salty and mouthwatering finish. This is precisely what you want from classic top class Chablis. Quite a nice pairing with the chicken. Excellent. On reveal this was a Jean-Marc Brocard Les Clos 2010.
Roger’s wine was the wine of the night and paired perfectly with the very earthy, umami characteristics of the food. The nose offered a little funk and cheese. The palate was saline, funky and earthy. Despite the cut of this wine, it also had hidden richness. The wine also clearly needs age but was superb quality. Excellent. On reveal this was the William Fevre Grand Cru Valmur 2008. A brilliant wine – testament to both Fevre and the 2008 vintage. This will become an Excellent+ wine with age.
The overall winner for me personally was Roger (which I selected before knowing the final result), who had a degree of sophistication to his wine selections that held up to the complexity of the dishes, utilizing Chablis’ diversity and subtlety to maximum effect. His pairings with the final two dishes were absolutely world class, picking up the subtlety of the complex flavours of the dish while letting the wine speak for itself.
Brooke from Wildebeeste preferred a richer style of Chablis and nailed it with the lobster and egg dish (and was my choice for best pairing with that course) but did not stand up as well to the earthy and high acidity dishes.
Jason’s selections showed a preference for elegance, harmony and a little more greenness, which in my opinion worked for the most part with all dishes. He is certainly a talented and exciting sommelier to watch.
I loved the stylistic choice distinctions of each of these talented sommeliers and commend them for their carefully considered choices. Perhaps viewing the dinner as a competition is unfair, as when it comes to Chablis, good things are never enough.
The winner selected by the audience was Roger Maniwa.