On the sixth day of the ICC’s Intensive Sommelier Training program class we we given an overview of International Wines which provided a summary of the countries we would be studying over the next few weeks. Thus far our primary instructors have been Eric Entrikin MS from the USA and Alan Murray MS from Australia.
On Day 6 we our instructor was Roland Micu – America’s youngest Master Sommelier. Roland is the first graduate of the ICC’s Intensive Sommelier Training program to earn his Master Sommelier certification. He is currently also the youngest Master Sommelier, and was recently awarded the 2012 Top New Sommelier title, which is granted to the premiere sommelier under the age of 30. Roland returned to The International Culinary Center serve as associate director of Wine Education.
Each instructor has a wealth of knowledge to gain from and they each have their own style of teaching. Eric and Alan seem somewhat relaxed and casual. But watching Roland teach is like watching a tennis match. He is highly energetic and paces the floor as he lectures and when he does the tasting grid he is intensely focused on the wine. It is as if nobody else and nothing else in the room exists but that wine. Although I have only been in the class for two weeks I have already learned a great deal from these men.
After the International Overview of the World of Wine we then practiced going through the Court of Sommeliers tasting grid in which we tasted imported 7 wines. The first was the 2011 Savry Chablis – Burgundy, France.
The Climate and Soils of Chablis
The Chablis region is the northernmost wine district of the Burgundy region in France separated from the Côte d’Or by the Morvan hills, 62 miles from the main Burgundian winemaking town of Beaune. The next closest wine region is the southern vineyards of the Champagne in the Aube department. In fact, Chablis was once considered part of the Champagne province as the two regions share many climatic similarities.
The grapevines around the town of Chablis are almost all Chardonnay. The cool climate of this region produces wines with more acidity and flavors less fruity than Chardonnay wines grown in warmer climates. The region has a semi-continental climate and it is too far inland to receive any maritime influence. Unlike California which tends to be more consistent form year to year, temperatures in Chablis during the Summer, during the peak growing season, can be extremely very hot. Likewise winters can be long, cold and harsh, with frost condition lasting well into Spring from March to early May. This wide vintage weather variation can cause dramatic vintage variation in both quality and quantity, particularly if there is an early front in the Spring. Years that experience excessive rain and low temperatures tend to produce wines excessively high in acidity and fruit that is too lean to support it. Conversely, vintages that are too warm tend to produce fat, flabby wines that are too low in acidity.
Chablius is home to particular vineyard soil type known as argilo-calcaire. This same Kimmeridge clay is found across the English Channel in Dorset and is a composition of limestone, clay and tiny fossilized oyster shells. All of Chablis’ Grand Cru vineyards and Premier Cru vineyards are planted on primarily Kimmeridgean soil which imparts a distinctively mineral, flinty note to the wines. Other areas, particularly the vast majority of Petit Chablis vineyards, are planted on Portlandian soil - a limestone based soil of similar structure. The crusty limestone-based soil of the region give the landscape a chalky white appearance similar to some areas of Champagne and Sancerre. The result of these soils leads the wines to often described as “goût de pierre à fusil” (“tasting of gunflint”), and having “steely” minerality. This is a key to distinguishing a Chablis from a California Chardonnay or one from anywhere else in the world.
In comparison with the white wines from the rest of Burgundy, Chablis has on average much less influence of oak. Most basic Chablis is vinified in stainless steel tanks and never spends any time in oak. The amount of barrel maturation, if any, is a stylistic choice which varies widely among Chablis producers. Many Grand Cru and Premier Cru wines receive some maturation in oak barrels, but typically the time in barrel and the proportion of new barrels is much smaller than for white wines of Côte de Beaune.
In Maligny, a village between Paris and Dijon, just north of Chablis, Olivier Savary and his wife, Francine, have been vignerons since 1984. Many of Olivier’s family members were vignerons and Olivier pursued wine school in Dijon. Olivier and Francine arranged to farm some vineyard land en métayage (share cropping) in the Chablis and Petit Chablis appellations. With the assistance of his father, Oliver farmed the complex network of vineyards that were initially sold in bulk to a négociant. But eventually he began bottling under his own label.
The grapes from his vineyards throughout the Chablis appellation are blended into one complex village wine cuvée. He also bottles an extraordinary premier cru from Fourchaumes, as well as a separate cuvée of old-vine fruit in heavy, wax-sealed bottles after élévage in demi-muids.
The 2011 Francine Olivier Savary Chablis, imported by Kermit Lynch, is clear day straw-yellow with bright intensity of medium concentration and medium viscosity. On the nose it has medium intense aromas of apples, pears, melon rind and chalk, crushed shells with subtle under-notes of peaches and apricots. On the palate it has medium+ acidity, medium body, medium alcohol and a medium+ length finish with a very distinctive mineral structure – a key signature of Chablis. A very fine wine, it retails for about $30.