The Somm Journal

Dec 2015-Jan 2016

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Page 90 of 124

90 { THE SOMM JOURNAL } DECEMBER/JANUARY 2015/2016 Nestled in a sleepy, patina-hued village at the foot of the "hills of the Grands Crus", one of the oldest, most progressive wineries in Chablis recently held a festival to celebrate the stellar 2015 harvest—and with it took another noble step forward in its illustrious history. Founded in 1850 by Jean Victor Laroche and continuously managed by five generations of Laroches, Domaine Laroche is no stranger to prestige or progress (it was the first Burgundian winery to bottle all wines with screwcaps). From 247 acres of Chardonnay vineyards across Chablis's four classifications, including 15 acres of Chablis Grand Cru and 73 acres of Chablis Premier Cru vineyards, Domaine Laroche consistently produces highly-rated and age-worthy wines that serve as benchmark examples of Chablis terroir—that seemingly luminescent connection between fruit, acidity, and piercing minerality derived from Chablis's distinctive limestone and marine fossil-infused Kimmeridgian soil. Grégory Viennois, Laroche's Technical Director, says purity and typicity are at the heart of the Domaine Laroche philosophy. In an effort to reach deeper into the soul of Chablis terroir, the winery is currently converting to organic viticulture. The critically-acclaimed 2012 Domaine Laroche wines, currently available on the U.S. market, offer stunning ele- gance, vibrancy and complexity and are best paired with oysters and shellfish, as well as veal, pork and poultry dishes: Domaine Laroche Saint Martin Chablis ($26) delivers steely citrus, tangy acidity, and aromas of spring blossoms on a smooth, well-defined mineral structure. The Domaine Laroche Chablis Premier Cru Les Vaillons Vieilles Vines ($52), is lush and juicy with fragrant pear, citrus and flint notes and a silky, vivid finish. Domaine Laroche Chablis Grand Cru Les Blanchots ($100) is elegant and smooth with lingering flavors marked by spicy pear, meadow flowers, vanilla, and oyster shells. The Domaine Laroche Chablis Grand Cru Les Clos ($118) is vibrant and complex, with sultry layers of ripe apple, pear and citrus laced by white flowers and powdered chalk. Finally, the Domaine Laroche Chablis Grand Cru Réserve de L'Obédience ($135), produced from select Les Blanchots Grand Cru barrels, is iridescent and complex, with intense fruit, searing acidity, and an elegant, balanced finish that recalls grapefruit, apples and sea salt. The Climats of Chablis Grand Cru What of the Chablis Grand Cru Climats? There are seven of them clustered together in the middle of the Right Bank. Some of the names may not be that familiar, which is not surpris- ing given that they cover only 106 hectares (262 acres) and produce just two percent of Chablis wines. Vaudésir (The Valley of Desires—what a thought!) where the vines grow on two oppo- site sides of a small vale. The sun beats down here producing high maturity in the grapes and early harvests but the thin soil means the wines retain their freshness. Valmur, enjoys less intense sunshine and gives wines that are more edgy, even slightly austere when young. Bougros is more masculine in style, with a long saline finish Preuses, higher on the slope than Bourgros, gives wines of less weight, but more elegance and great length. Les Clos, the most emblematic of the Chablis Grand Cru Climats and the largest (25 hectares; 62 acres) is perhaps the largest too on the palate, with lots of fat and notes of honey and coffee. Blanchot, next to Les Clos but on a different slope of the hill which gets sun only in the morning, is quite a shy wine, more saline, with a touch of ash. And finally is Grenouilles, a tiny 7.5-hectare (18.5-acre) estate owned by La Chablisienne, the cooperative that produces nearly 25% of all wine in Chablis. If it's possible to generalize, one might say that the Chablis Grand Cru Climats are more consistent, more complex and more complete than the other crus, but there's one thing on which everyone in Chablis seems to agree and that is that despite the general tendency for people to drink their wine young these days, Chablis Grand Cru Climats need time to real- ize their full potential, and the the same is true for the Chablis Premier Cru Climats as well. A lot has been learned (and tasted) in a short time, yet the more one learns, the more one realizes that, behind the name which sounds so familiar, Chablis will always hold a few mysteries. The locals are certainly right when they say that Le Chablis aime jouer. It's tempting to think one can learn all there is to know about Chablis with just a cursory glance DOMAINE LAROCHE: A PIONEERING SPIRIT IN THE HEART OF CHABLIS Writer Cliff Rames also visited Chablis to report on this important producer.

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