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Billaud-Simon Chablis Les Vaillons Premier Cru 2014
Critical AcclaimAll Vintages
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 Grand Cru vineyards are all located at ideal elevations and exposition on the acclaimed Kimmeridgian soil while most of the vineyards in the outlying spots are referred to as Petit Chablis. Chablis Grand Cru, as well as some Petit 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’s grown and how it’s made. In Burgundy, Chardonnay produces some of the finest white wines in the world, typically tending towards minimal intervention in the winery and at its best resulting in remarkable longevity. This grape is popular throughout the world, but perhaps its second most important home is in California, where both oaky, buttery styles and leaner, European-inspired wines enjoy great popularity. Oregon, Australia, South America, South Africa, and New Zealand are also significant producers of Chardonnay.
In the Glass
When planted on cool sites, Chardonnay’s flavors tend towards grapefruit, green apple, minerals, and white stone fruit, while warmer locations coax out richer, more tropical flavors of fig, melon, and pineapple. Oak can add notes of vanilla, coconut, and spice (as well as texture), while malolactic fermentation can impart soft, buttery acidity.
Chardonnay is as versatile at the table as it is in the vineyard. The crisp, clean, Chablis-like styles go well with simple seafood, light chicken dishes, and salads. Richer Chardonnays marry well with cream or oil-based 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. These Old-World style wines have been dubbed the “New California Chardonnays,” and anyone who claims they do not like Chardonnay should give them a try.