It is hard to name a restaurant worth its name that does not have at least one Chablis on its list. But other than being a French classic what makes it so popular with chefs and sommeliers alike? We joined a special pop up Chablis and food pairing night to find out.
Chablis was put through its paces at a special night featuring chefs from different pop-up restaurants that looked to pair their dishes with all styles of Chablis from Petit through to Grand Cru.
Considering the huge problems wine growers across the classic French wine growing region of Chablis are having this year it seems appropriate to shine the spotlight, just a little, on an area of land that continues to be the benchmark for white grape growing anywhere in the world.
Whether producers are making Gewürztraminer or Albarino, it is Chablis that has set so many white winemakers are their own individual roads of discovery. And it is to Chablis where they return to learn more.
OK many have ignored the lack of oak ageing in so many Chablis wines, but they have looked to copy its year in year out consistency and quality.
That said 2016 could be a year to forget for Chablis as bad weather, storms, frost, hail and recently floods have wreaked havoc in large areas of the region with reports suggesting yields could be down by over a half.
But one year is not going to turn people away from seeking out Chablis when they want something they can trust and know when eating and drinking out.
Chablis has long been a favourite of restaurants and leading chefs, for its versatility and suitability for so many different dishes. Chablis works with, never battles the cuisine is it up against. Its minerality, fresh acidity and citrus notes time and again come out well against all types of food, be it hot and spicy or soft and delicate.
This was very much illustrated at a recent dinner hosted by Burgundy’s promotional and representative body, the Bourgogne Wine Board (BIVB) under its Pure Chablis initiative that runs a series of similar events around the world to help showcase Chablis in different ways, but particularly its relevance and connection with food.
Which brought The Buyer to the Andaz Studio, Liverpool Street when a number of different styles of Chablis were paired with dishes with invited leading talents from the pop-up world of dining.
Leading events was the ever charming Douglas Blyde, who is not unlike a Chablis himself for his ability to find the right words, to match with the wines and food in front of him. Sommelier turned writer, turned presenter. It was his task to introduce not just the wines but the creative talents behind the stove.
He set the scene with some of his own carefully chosen words about Chablis. A wine that, he said, is unique and without a “doppelgänger” anywhere in the world.
He added: “The taught balance between acidity, citrus and minerality gleaned from the landscape of miniature fossilised oysters and ammonites make Chablis a particularly individual, even ‘feline’ wine. While it is not too hard to imitate, with success and acclaim, a rich, buttery, oaky Mersault elsewhere in the world, I do believe Chablis remains unique to the particular valley of Northerly France, where strings of Chardonnay vines fringe the serene-seeming Serein river.”
The night included dishes carefully matched to what Blyde described as the “four children of Chablis” namely Petit Chablis, Chablis, Premier Crus and Grand Crus.
So what went with what? Well, in a nutshell the appropriately named ‘Pas Si Petit’ Petit Chablis 2014 from La Chablisienne went up against Scandinavian-inspired canapés from the Martina and Magdelena double act of Nordish,with their take on Norwegian fishcakes and remoulade, along with cucumber filled with crab and avocado salad.
The indeed not so petit La Chablisienne, with some 300 growers to its name, represents a quarter of the region’s vines.
Up next were pop-up experts, Pickled Plates, who went for a simple, but winning combination of vegetable salad with the inspired touch of roasted radishes, a brown butter dressing and pan-fried whiting with tempure samphire. Surprisingly fresh and a salad so exciting I was tempted to break etiquette and ask for some more.
Which worked well with Alain Geoffroy’s classic 2014 Chablis, firmly from the richer, more classic style of Chablis.
But for me the star of the show was an Asian dish created by Rosie of A Little Lusciousness. This really worked well to show how versatile and canny a fox Chablis can be. On the face of it pork chop and Chablis does not sound that impressive. But throw in some soy and miso-glaze, and a host of no doubt hidden Japanese flavours and this was the stand out dish of the night.
For this Blyde chose Julien Brocard’s La Boissonneuse 2014 which comes from one of the first organic and biodynamic vineyards in Chablis. Whether it was the influence of the cow manure or the oak, this was the Torvill and Dean of the night. A great pairing.
Then for dessert. Or not as it turned out. Chablis may have its talents but pairing with desserts is not one of them, assured Blyde. Instead he turned to the cheese board.
Now Chablis and cheese may be a first to many. Particularly when the fromage came from both sides of the Channel.
But to pair with a selection of Premier and Grand Cru Chablis were a:
* Stichletonm from Nottinghamshire versus a Bleu d’Auvergne
* Baron Bigod from Bungay up against a Camembert from Normandy
* and a Montgomery Cheddar from North Cadbury, Somerset versus Comté.
Which mostly all worked with this fine line up inlcuding:
* Domaine William Fevre, Vaulorent, Premier Cru 2012
* Jean Paul et Benoit Valmur Grand Cru 2012
* Clotilde Davenne Les Preuses Grand Cru 2008.
Such a night may not help Chablis growers to be able to make any more wine this year than the weather allows, but it certainly whets the palate to go foraging for a bottle or two of your own to go up against you own favourite dish.
Nb Jean Paul and Benoit Droin