Monday, February 18, 2013

2009 Veuve Aubert Ainé Chablis

Producer: Veuve Aubert Ainé 
Varietal: Chardonnay 
Region: Chablis A.O.C., Burgundy, France 
Vintage: 2009 
Tasted: February 8, 2013 
ABV: 12.5%

The name "Burgundy" literally implies red wine, in that a shade of the color red is named after it.

There are many people who would argue against that little statement there. (Alright, the gig is up, I am one such person myself.) Some might argue that it is pointless to pursue such a linkage outside of any context. Others might point out that the color is only eponymous in the English language. (Interestingly, in Italian, the same hue is called bordeaux.) Still others might remind us that the region of Burgundy produces an extraordinary amount of white wine to similar standards and renown as its red wines.

Notice that the only rebuttal to refer to the facts of the region, the latter, is the most concrete and substantial of the three. The truth is, not only is the Burgundian white wine sector producing quality spirits at bountiful levels, but it has been doing so for many centuries to great acclaim, and is just as integral a part of Burgundian wine history as red wine production.

Chablis is farther north than any other French wine region except Alsace and Champagne - in fact, it is closer to Champagne than to its nearest sister region within larger Burgundy. Nevertheless, it is a part of the Burgundian tradition. Like the larger region, Chablis makes both red and white wines; and like the larger region, it almost exclusively uses Pinot Noir for the former and Chardonnay for the latter.

Burgundy, including Chablis, has been home to wine production since the time of the Romans. As in much of France, and indeed Europe, Burgundy saw her vineyards tended primarily by monasteries during the Middle Ages. The Cistercians first brought Chardonnay to Burgundy in the 1100s, when they planted it in the vineyards surrounding Pontigny Abbey in the Chablis area. By the mid-1400s, Chablis was being imported as far away as England, Flanders, and Picardy - no mean benchmark in a time when transporting wine was cumbersome, risky, and expensive - but the most important patronage came from Paris. Chablis's proximity to the capital gave it a vital advantage over other wine regions in the bid to slake the wealthy and noble - and royal - thirsts.

For the next five hundred years, though, the fortunes of history were reversed. In 1568 the Huguenots destroyed the area, so thoroughly decimating both the land and the winemaking houses that Chablis never really resumed its oenological traditions until the mid-1700s. Then, just as production seemed to approach pre-Huguenot levels, the region (indeed, France generally) was struck successively by the Little Ice Age, the French Revolution, the Jacobin Terrors, the revolutions of 1830 and 1848, foreign invasion (most notably by the Prussians), the twin natural disasters of oidium and phylloxera, and finally World War One. Against all odds, the region emerged from all of that miserable misfortune producing such high-quality wine that, when the authorities granted Chablis appellation d'origine contrôlée status for its Chardonnays in 1938, one of the main reasons given was that too many other white wines from all over the world (including many non-Chardonnays) were fraudulently labeling themselves "Chablis" so as to command a high market value.

Then, the very next year, World War Two began.

Thankfully, that was the last catastrophe to befall the region, ending half a millennium of trial and tribulation. Chablis emerged as strong as ever, and a global Chardonnay fad in the 1960s helped to give the region a chance to grow. Wineries were founded, land was planted (or re-planted), innovations in grape growing and winemaking were tested, and, even after the wine craze moved on to another grape, Chablis had successfully shown the world the persistence of the quality and distinction that stand behind her AOC designation. And she continues to thrive.

So, what is all of this hoopla about, anyway? The 2009 Chablis by the négociant Veuve Aubert Ainé offers some pretty good clues. The wine is a crisp, pale straw color. The aroma is also crisp, and comprised of a veritable bouquet of autumnal produce: golden apple, citrus around the edges, honey, white table grapes, even marzipan. An absolute medley of fresh sweetness. The palate is no less a cornucopia of delights: honeycrisp apple, tropical citrus, nectarine, and quince. Mild florals balance things out, and there is a finish of nectarine and citrus. The wine is smooth, even. The bite - there is alcohol in this beverage - appears in both the front and back of the mouth, but is mild, and appropriate. The wine as a whole, though clearly strong, is rather mellow in personality. The strength is almost latent. Imagine a classic beach bum: muscular, maybe even chiseled as though out of stone, but someone who would never even think about beating people up; just hanging out, relaxing, looking good. That is how this Chablis comes off: it is muscular, and powerful, and yet it would never imagine smacking around anyone's palate. It just wants to chill out with us and have some fun.

After twenty minutes, the wine has a new aroma, equally well endowed but slightly adjusted in character. The particulars have more to do with summer than with fall now. A whiff of white peach comes first, then citrus - smooth citrus - and then apples and pears. It is as pungent as ever. The palate, however, is no different in detail than before, nor in nature. Even smoother than before, the Chablis offers the same tasting notes of honeycrisp, tropical citrus, nectarine, quince, and mild florals. Even the finish is the same. The body has filled out, though, and is even more muscular, though equally relaxed and mellow in personality. Imagine that our beach bum has spent those twenty minutes tossing around some iron, and now he has returned to the beach, barely even aware of his bulging biceps, ready to chill.

This is a wine that has flavors to meld perfectly into any summer setting; body to hold its own against any autumnal evening; and a flowing, easy-going nature that is quite ideal to pair with just about any preparation of seafood at any time of the year. Is it any wonder, then, that come hell or high-water - or a combination of perpetual civil war, foreign invasion, global climate change, fungus, and pestilence, all within a century - the tide has hardly receded before all of planet earth is clamoring for some more Chablis? We can be grateful that no matter what the millennia may bring, there is always a monk or oenologist around to help fill the demand. Go get some today, and enjoy.

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