Featured in this issue

Let Bourgognes be Bourgognes!

When Americans hear the word “Chablis,” often the first thing that comes to mind is the kind of insipid white wine made from generic, mass produced grapes from California’s Central Valley that is commonly used as a house wine in too many restaurants throughout the heartland or poured by the gallon into all manner of “fine cuisine,” from Creamed Chicken to Glazed Country Pork Ribs. The French government has been fighting the rest of the world on this nomenclature for years, but the nicked name is so ingrained in the American lexicon that it will probably get under the (grape?) skin of the French for a long time to come. Before Prohibition in the U.S., just about any recognized wine name from Europe was fair play for marketing, including not just regions, but sub-regions (Margaux, St-Julien) and even well known châteaux! Australia has been transitioning away from labeling by style (“Burgundy”, “Claret” and so on) for roughly thirty years, and the practice of varietal labeling is mostly de rigueur now in the states with usually only the cheapest supermarket jug wines in the U.S. resorting to such marketing techniques (although legally, labels must state "the actual place of origin" nearby, as when calling a sparkling wine “California Champagne”).

All of this name calling can stir up strong emotions for fans of actual Chablis and can make the eager proponent sound like a real rube in a room full of real rubes. Chablis is, of course, the world renowned region in Northern Burgundy famous for its crisp, steely, dry and largely un-oaked Chardonnay. In fact, the use of oak for other than storage was not traditional, as with other regions in Burgundy, and only came into fashion in the last 40 years or so. Even today, while many producers still experiment with a few months’ worth of barrel fermentation, generally it’s the grands crus and premieres crus that are aged in wood, as they are the wines that have enough structure and extract to withstand the powerful taste of oak.

Chablis is classified into four ranks which actually do fairly reflect the richness and quality of the wine as advertised (not always a sure thing in government wine classifications). The top grade Chablis Grand Cru has seven named vineyards and is an extremely age worthy wine, often needing a decade in the bottle to show its true glory, then comes Chablis Premier Cru (79 vineyards, though only 12 or so get used most often on labels), then Chablis (the most common label), and finally Petit Chablis.

The region is really closer to Champagne than to the rest of Burgundy, and being so far north, is especially susceptible to climate changes from vintage to vintage, sometimes compromising both quality and quantity. The lucky thing for consumers, however, is the very good quality to price ratio offered by the finest grands crus as opposed to that of the grands crus of Chablis’ southern neighbor, the Côte de Beaune, whose wines are twice the price.

The Blend’s Monthly Featured Producer: FRÉDÉRIC MAGNIEN

Frédéric Magnien is a fifth generation winemaker, who in addition to making wines for his father’s label Domaine Michel Magnien, has his own label of diverse wines made from select grapes from roughly 25 different high quality parcels throughout Burgundy. 

A native of Morey-St-Denis, Magnien has the good fortune of long established family relationships with growers and consequently is able to get grapes from some of the very best plots, including small amounts from top premiers and grands crus.  He is known to ride around on his bicycle in the early morning hours scoping out the vineyards that interest him most, tracking the habits of the vignerons, and making deals by showing the growers the respect they deserve for the cultivation of their fine grapes.  The quality is high in the winery too -- he uses top-grade oak that is allocated to exclusive estates only, such as Domaine de la Romanée-Conti and Comtes de Lafon.  According to his importer, Magnien selects only the best-situated vineyards with older vines, he makes sure to perform rigorous green harvesting and control yields, and he ensures meticulous grape selection, in the vineyards and in the cellar.

Recommended Wines:

wine labelWhile Magnien crafts beautiful red Burgundies, about half of his production is made up of whites. He apprenticed in Chassagne-Montrachet, as well as with Calera in California, so Chardonnay is a grape he’s well familiar with. To preserve freshness, Magnien chose to block a percentage of the malolactic fermentation for his Chablis cuvees in 2006. Retaining some of the malic acid helps give the wines their pure, citrus-like flavors and balance. The Montée de Tonnerre, made from 40-year old vines, has been described as “noble and complex … silky, dazzling … with notes of red fruits, melted butter and minerals, ripe pears and apple skins.” Frédéric’s considerable skill and access to quality vines has gone into creating a top notch line up of Chablis for 2006. Any one of these wines, from the Chablis through the Chablis Premier Cru to the Chablis Grand Cru are worth tracking down.

Pairs well with grilled fish (such as King salmon), oysters, stuffed mushrooms, pasta alla carbonara, roast chicken – even sirloin steak! About $44 USD. (Importer: North Berkeley Imports)

Catalog this wine in The Personal Wine Curator cellar software like this:

  • Producer: Frédéric Magnien
  • Wine Name/Appellation: Chablis, Montée de Tonnerre
  • Vintage: 2006
  • Varietal:Chardonnay
  • Type: White
  • Vineyard/Sub-sub:Montée de Tonnerre
  • Sub-region:Chablis Premier Cru
  • Region:Bourgogne (Chablis)
  • Country:France
  • Body: Full
  • Drink after: 2007
  • Drink by: 2016

PWC Tips and Tricks

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Did you know: February 23rd is Open That Bottle Night?

Here’s an item from the Wall Street Journal that sort of tickled the imagination. Now in its ninth year, Open That Bottle Night (OTBN) was invented by the Journal’s wine writers Dorothy J. Gaiter and John Brecher as a sort of Hallmark Card holiday to nudge us into opening those particularly precious bottles that we cling to for sentimental reasons, yet never quite have the courage to open and enjoy. As each special bottle finds its way from a cherished wine country vacation, anniversary party, or favorite uncle’s musty old cellar into our own storage bins, the reluctance to actually pop the cork becomes an almost Herculean effort to overcome. It doesn’t even matter if the wine is very good or very expensive, it’s just difficult sometimes to let go of the past and risk it all for the pleasures of the moment.

Participation in OTBN is easy, it’s just the commitment to uncork that poses the biggest obstacle. Gaiter and Brecher make a few suggestions that are worth noting to make your evening fun and memorable, including choosing the right setting and company, selecting a bottle that has personal significance rather than simply prestige, sharing your personal stories with your friends and family, and, just in case you’ve opened a real stinker, having a backup bottle at the ready.

While The Wine Curators likes to think of the opening of a special bottle as an occasion unto itself without the need for an actual special occasion, we’re certainly not put off by the idea of inventing special occasions whose very raison d’être is to open another bottle wine!


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