I recently had the pleasure of attending one of the events hosted by much esteemed wine connoisseur, Douglas Blyde. Held at The Chancery restaurant, a hidden gem in Holborn, the dinner was themed Gastronomy and Geology, where we were invited to indulge ourselves in an evening of Chablis wines paired with a menu specially devised by Head Chef Graham Long.
The Chablis region is located in the northernmost wine district of Burgundy in France. The climate is continental, with no maritime influence, which results in the region experiencing very cold, harsh winters, and fairly hot summers. However, as much as climate dictates the style of wine, the soil of the region also plays a key factor.
Chablis is known to produce the most distinctive wines, which are often said to take their characteristic stony, mineral flavors from the Kimmeridgian soils which are rich in limestone formed from millions of fossilized sea shells deposited millennia ago.
Produced exclusively from Chardonnay grapes, the light, dry white wines are famed for their minerality and crisp acidity.
The wines fall into four very distinct appellations: Petit Chablis, Chablis, Chablis Premier Cru, and Chablis Grand Cru.
As much as I enjoy the occasional glass of wine during dinner, I have never been very knowledgeable about wine. When it comes to white wines, I usually go for my safe options of Sauvignon Blanc or Riesling – don’t judge me. I was rather intrigued to discover more and sent a quick RSVP reply and penned the date in my diary. After all, I generally find it hard to turn down good food and wine, and despite not knowing much about geology I assumed that the evening would be more sophisticated and interesting than learning about rocks – my inner instinct proved to be correct.
The first to arrive as always, I gracefully accepted my glass of Petit Chablis at the bar as the other guests and some familiar faces slowly trickled in. Some smart-looking men in suits arrived – ‘They must know a lot about wine’, I silently thought to myself. I seem to have the idea that all well-dressed men know a lot about wine. I introduced myself to a few fellow bloggers and admitted that I had a vague understanding of wine in general and had never tasted Chablis – thankfully I was not alone as I heard murmurs of those in the same position as I.
Petit Chablis has been described to be a brilliant pale gold, the colour of rye-straw, sometimes flecked with green. I held the glass close to my white summer dress to check, careful not spill any on it, knowing how unsurprisingly clumsy I can be at formal events. I had only had a couple of sips so far – my coordination was still en pointe.
More of a starter-wine, and not quite as highly ranked as the other wines that followed, but this was probably my favourite wine of the evening – Vincent Dauvissat, 2012,
which was fresh and had lovely mix of floral and citrus notes. My inexperienced palate for wine tasting notes probably ends there, but it is also often described as light and lively, with a well-balanced acidity and chalky finish. Thankfully not the same kind of unpleasant chalky sensation that you get with old-school chalkboards.
I must say that those Zalto glasses were rather elegant, with their delicate, long and thin stems – if there was such a thing as an erotic glass, then this would definitely be it.
I was sober and very reserved throughout the evening, I promise.
This was served with some irresistible canapes of truffle arancini and crab beignet.
My blogger multi-tasking skills proved to be useful – camera hanging from my neck, canapes within reach of my free left hand, and glass of Petit Chablis secured in my right which was never empty for long, thanks to Manager and Sommelier, Sylvain Gergeaux.
We later proceeded into the underground private dining room, seating ourselves along the long table set with numbered glasses and tasting sheets. With the clanking of bottles, or some sort of glass object (it was hard to tell with the wine clouding my senses), conversation was put on hold as we all turned our attention to the head of the table, a flurry of phones and cameras flashing as Mr Blyde commenced his mission to charm us into becoming Chablis converts.
There were also some rocks passed around the table, samples from the grounds where Chablis is produced – and a platform where Matt’s little friend had a little nap after having a few too many sips of the wine…
He sure had some fine balancing skills for a creature with such tiny hands.
We were served two wines with our first course.
Garnier & Fils, Grain Dores, 2012: a crisp and dry wine, with tasting notes described as citrus, grapefruit, salty sea spray, gunflint, and steel (what does steel even taste like?)
Louis Moreau, 2014: a nice, brilliant golden colour with floral and citrus notes and a hint of white fruit (apple, pear).
These were paired with a stunning dish of marinated raw hand dived scallops, with cucumber jelly, avocado cream, sesame filo and shiso dressing – vibrant and refreshing.
We then moved on to Chablis Premier Cru, a higher classification of the Chablis white wine, typically less intense than the Grands Crus but finer and longer-lasting than normal Chablis.
Jean Marc Brocard, Montée de Tonnerre, 2011: one of the finest of all the Chablis premier crus, made using the principles of biodynamic agriculture, and described to be minerally and intense, with nutty, honeyed characters emerging with age.
Val de Mercy, Beauregards, 2012: described to be nuttier and more rounded than other wines from Chablis due to the vineyard’s sheltered position among the hills.
The second course was tartare of trout, with poached apple, nettle puree, macadamia nuts and trout eggs. I do love a good tartare dish – smooth with a melt-in-your-mouth sensation, contrasted by the crunchy texture of the nuts.
Taking it to the next level, we were then served the Grand Cru Chablis flight, the appellation
for the highest-quality dry white wines produced around the town of Chablis. Grown on just 250 acres of exceptional vineyards, the wines come from seven distinct plots that are located on the south-west facing hillside overlooking the town of Chablis, and constitute approximately 3% of the total Chablis output.
William Fevre, Les Clos Grand Cru 2012: a pure, pale coloured wine, fresh and supple, with white-fleshed fruit and floral notes. The Les Clos vineyard particularly has been known to have made Chablis’ reputation as offering an exceptional combination of refreshment and longevity.
Samuel Billaud, Les Preuses Grand Cru 2013: made from vines that are nearly 70 years old, this is a full, bright lemon and lime colour.
Usually paired with dishes that use more luxurious or intensely flavoured ingredients, in this case, a dish of roasted quail, canneloni of the leg and foie gras, sweetocorn, hazelnuts, pickled mushrooms and wild garlic – my favourite dish of the night.
And finally we had a taste of the 2003 Domaine Pinson, Chablis Premier Cru
Forêts – categorised as ‘Mature Chablis’, so I’m guessing that it must be pretty old…like a Chablis grandfather.
The theory of matching of food and wine still puzzles me, but if there’s one thing I know that generally goes well with wine, it’s CHEESE. And indeed we were served a tantalizing selection of British cheeses from Neal’s Yard Dairy.
It was about time for me to head off, and I was tempted to shove a couple into my bag…
Probably wouldn’t have gone down very well with the people on the tube.
Or the Mulberry gods.
I had lost count of how many glasses of wine I had downed, but I was clearly close to my limits. Damn my inferior Asian alcohol tolerance genes.
After a quick round of goodbyes at the table, I made my way to bid farewell to Mr Blyde on my way out. He asked me if I had seen ‘The Shell’, or something along those lines I was not too sure as my mind was by then slightly hazy. Reaching into the mouth of the seashells, I picked up three tags containing suggested keywords that I should include in my review, with a chance to win six bottles of Chablis.
‘Chablis, Chalk, Maritime’ – I thought about composing a little poem on the tube home in my alcohol-induced state of poetism.
Inspiration does sometimes come to one when one least expects it.
I may have made that word up.
I looked at my empty tasting sheet stuffed in my handbag, and later discovered a random phrase of ‘finest motorways’ that I hardly remembered typing onto my phone.
My poor attempt of recollecting memories of the evening two weeks later clearly has not helped much either.
I may have to resort to some other method of bribery.
The Cheekster, signing out x