Part of what makes my day job so exciting is the chance to travel and visit wine regions. Not only does one get to sample great wines, but one also gets the opportunity to sample the local cuisine and see how hundreds of years of wine pairing can really make a difference. Last month I visited Chablis, the northernmost part of Burgundy, which was once divided between Champagne and Burgundy. The grape is Chardonnay, like Burgundy, but the soil is much more like Champagne with a high proportion of limestone. Our host at Chateau Maligny, Jean Paul Durup likes to differentiate Chablis from the southern parts of Burgundy by saying in the south, they look to the flavors of the grape, the fruit, but in Chablis it’s the flavors of the terroir, the minerality. This also gives Chablis longevity, time spent in bottle, unheard of in New World Chardonnays.
Jean Paul also took us to a one star Michelin restaurant in the town of Chablis called Hostellerie des Clos for a real lesson in pairing with Chablis. Seven courses, including an amuse bouche and a palate cleanser, gave us plenty of chances to see how Chablis works with a variety of plates. To start, the amuse bouche (or “happy mouth”) was a Gaspacho Tomate paired with the Ch. De Maligny Petite Chablis 2012. Petite Chablis is from the environs of Chablis, not the centrally located 1er or Grand Cru vineyards. They tend to be a little lighter in flavor and significantly less in price. This Petite Chablis was bright and crisp, hints of lemon zest on the nose with green apple notes on the palate. The light touch of this elegant wine paired well with the classic gaspacho.
Our second course was a Roulette de Saumon, salmon cured in house at the restaurant served with crisp fried vegetables. Served rolled, and vertical, with the veggie chips making a bouquet out of the top. The plate was splattered with olive oil, balsamic vinegar and a light avocado sauce. Jean Paul paired this course with his Maligny Chablis La Vigne de La Reine (or “Chablis of the vine of the Queen”) 2012. A little richer and riper than the Petite, La Reine is still an elegant, feminine style of Chablis. Herb butter on the nose and then clean and bright on the palate with a perfect acid balance and a long finish. The clean briskness cut through the fattiness of the salmon in a very pleasing way.
Our third course was simple, Asperges Vert avec Sabayon de Chablis, “Green asparagus in a Chablis Sabayon.” Sabayon (“Zabaglione” in Italian) is like Hollandaise, but made with wine. The Italian version is generally sweet, using Marsala as the wine. Here the Chablis gives a drier character, making this a frothy savory sauce. This course was paired with Maligny Chablis Fourchaumes 1er Cru 2012. Generally asparagus can be problematic to pair, having sulphur notes, but here the minerality of the wine harmonizes. Mirrored in the sabayon, this simple yet elegant dish really comes together.
Our main dish was fish, and again Chablis is the perfect Chardonnay to pair with fish, since it’s not going to overwhelm delicate flavors with heavy oak. Dourade avec Sauce Buerre Blanc Sea Bas in a Buerre Blanc with julienned vegetables paired with Maligny Chablis Les Clos Grand Cru 1990. I sampled the 1990 Chablis first and was surprised at the life left in this 24 year-old wine, and it tasted well aged, perhaps a little too well to drink alone. It truly came to life when consumed with the sea bass and the Buerre Blanc. The years melted away leaving a richer, almost honeyed youthful character with a tart, mineral finish. The dish changed my perception of the wine significantly.
For our finish they served a classically French, plat du fromage, otherwise known as the cheese trolley, paired with his wife, Stephanie’s, Pinot Noir from Irancy. Followed by a quick palate cleanser of Jeu de Pomme avec Caramel Au-dessus. Topped with a sprig of mint, the apple juice had just a little gelatin to give it a thicker mouthfeel, like a very classy “jell-o shot” with no alcohol, just a kicker of salty caramel sauce. Dessert was a trio: Fondu Gâteau au Chocolat (Molten Chocolate Cake); Sorbet de Frais Sur des Frais (strawberry sorbet over strawberries); and Chiboust Gâteau (sweet biscuits sandwiching crème anglaise) paired with really good coffee. Now that was a meal to remember! And it changed my view of older Chablis and wine pairing. Check out the slideshow for pictures of the courses.
The Chateau Maligny is available locally at ABC Fine Wines and Spirits and range from under twenty up to sixty dollars per bottle, so you can find the right one to work with your budget. Remember to check out Northwest Seafood for outstanding fresh fish. Enjoy your own Chablis wine dinner!