When it comes to chardonnay, nowhere does the grape produce more distinctive wines than in France’s Burgundy. While many of them are prohibitively expensive for value-conscious wine drinkers, it is entirely possible to find good white Burgundy for not too much money.
The wines of the Mâcon region in Burgundy’s southern tip are one possibility, including such appellations as St.-Véran and Mâcon Villages. Another is Chablis, Burgundy’s northernmost subregion. I was reminded of this recently at a Chablis tasting that featured a sampling of the wines paired with some superb seafood and other dishes at New York’s Gotham Bar and Grill.
Among the seven wines in the tasting, two were listed at $20, which is around the minimum I would expect to pay for decent Chablis (the others ranged from $29 to $105). One of the $20 wines was the clear standout — the 2010 Chablis from Domaine des Malandes, which was also among my favorite wines of the evening.
There are four appellations within the Chablis region. In ascending order of importance and prestige, they are Petite Chablis, Chablis, Chablis Premier Cru and Chablis Grand Cru. Although Chablis is the most common, Domaine des Malandes shows that it can be superb.
This was quintessential Chablis, crisply acidic and full of minerals from the region’s largely limestone soils. Basic Chablis is the world’s most famous un-oaked chardonnay (oak aging is not permitted), and while the style has been widely imitated in recent years, most un-oaked chardonnays from California and elsewhere are far less interesting because their soils lack the minerality that defines Chablis. Since chardonnay tends to be a fairly monochromatic grape on its own, it benefits from an additional layer, whether from inherent minerality or from oak aging (with Premier Cru and Grand Cru Chablis it can be both).
The Domaine des Malandes Chablis had white flower, grapefruit and lime notes that combined beautifully with the wine’s minerality. It was a superb pairing with a first-course roasted cauliflower salad that included lentils, almonds, red grapes and curried golden raisins. I kept going back to it throughout the evening and enjoyed it as well with Nantucket bay scallops in a lime-butter emulsion and mushroom-crusted halibut.
Chablis is a great wine to think about as we head into the warmer months and, come to think of it, not a bad choice to start off your Easter dinner. If you can’t find the one I mentioned, there are any number of choices in the $20-or-under range.