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Billaud-Simon Chablis Les Vaillons Premier Cru 2014
Critical AcclaimAll Vintages
Domaine Billaud-Simon was founded in 1815 by Charles Louis Noël Billaud upon his return from the Napoleonic Wars. He planted vines on his family holdings, which were later expanded through the marriage of his relative Jean Billaud to Renée Simon in the 1930s. Situated behind high walls near the river Serein, the winery is now helmed by Jean’s son, Bernard. Known as one of the top producers in Chablis, Billaud Simon’s 20 hectares include vineyards in 4 of the 7 Grand Crus: Blanchots, Les Clos, Les Preuses, and Vaudésir, and four leading Premier Crus: Fourchaume, Mont de Milieu, Montée de Tonnerre, and Vaillons. They also make AC Chablis of exclusively from estate fruit in the Kimmeridgean soils surrounding their 1er and Grand Cru vineyards.
At the age of 18, Bernard Billaud left Chablis for Paris to study fine art. He made a successful career in communications consulting, while continuing to find time for his artistic pursuits of painting, sculpture and jazz music. Eventually however the family biz siren song lured him back to Chablis in 1991 where he made it his mission to ratchet up the quality of the wine. He wanted to produce classically styled, ethereal Chablis of delicacy.
Bernard completely overhauled the winery at Billaud-Simon, installing a pneumatic press, all new tanks, and the most modern fermentation equipment available. Although they now have state of the art technology, they maintain an important balance with traditional practices. This includes the use natural yeast for fermentation, and natural advancement into malo. Most wines are vinified and matured in stainless and don’t see any wood. There are two exceptions: Premier Cru Mont de Milieu Vieilles Vignes and Grand Cru Blanchots Vieilles Vignes, which each see some large oak. Light fining and filtration result in Chablis of elegance, purity, balance and freshness. They are delicious when young, and even more beautiful with age.
The source of the most racy, light and tactile, yet uniquely complex Chardonnay, Chablis, while considered part of Burgundy, actually reaches far past the most northern stretch of the Côte d’Or proper. Its vineyards cover hillsides surrounding the small village of Chablis about 100 miles north of Dijon, making it actually closer to Champagne than to Burgundy. Champagne and Chablis have a unique soil type in common called Kimmeridgian, which isn’t found anywhere else in the world except southern England. A 180 million year-old geologic formation of decomposed clay and limestone, containing tiny fossilized oyster shells, spans from the Dorset village of Kimmeridge in southern England all the way down through Champagne, and to the soils of Chablis. This soil type produces wines full of structure, austerity, minerality, salinity and finesse.
Chablis Grands Crus vineyards are all located at ideal elevations and exposition on the acclaimed Kimmeridgian soil, an ancient clay-limestone soil that lends intensity and finesse to its wines. The vineyards outside of Grands Crus are Premiers Crus, and outlying from those is Petit Chablis. Chablis Grand Cru, as well as most Premier Cru Chablis, can age for many years.
One of the most popular and versatile white wine grapes, Chardonnay offers a wide range of flavors and styles depending on where it is grown and how it is made. While practically every country in the wine producing world grows it, Chardonnay from its Burgundian homeland produces some of the most remarkable and longest lived examples. As far as cellar potential, white Burgundy rivals the world’s other age-worthy whites like Riesling or botrytized Semillon. California is Chardonnay’s second most important home, where both oaky, buttery styles and leaner, European-inspired wines enjoy great popularity. Oregon, Australia and South America are also significant producers of Chardonnay.
In the Glass
When planted on cool sites, Chardonnay flavors tend towards grapefruit, lemon zest, green apple, celery leaf and wet flint, while warmer locations coax out richer, more tropical flavors of melon, peach and pineapple. Oak can add notes of vanilla, coconut and spice, while malolactic fermentation imparts a soft and creamy texture.
Chardonnay is as versatile at the table as it is in the vineyard. The crisp, clean, Chablis-like styles go well with flaky white fish with herbs, scallops, turkey breast and soft cheeses. Richer Chardonnays marry well with lobster, crab, salmon, roasted chicken and creamy sauces.
Since the 1990s, big, oaky, buttery Chardonnays from California have enjoyed explosive popularity. More recently, the pendulum has begun to swing in the opposite direction, towards a clean, crisp style that rarely utilizes new oak. In Burgundy, the subregion of Chablis, while typically employing the use of older oak barrels, produces a similar bright and acid-driven style. Anyone who doesn't like oaky Chardonnay would likely enjoy its lighter style.