Wednesday, March 18, 2009

WBW 55: North vs. South, Chablis vs. St. Aubin

It was difficult to meaningfully fulfill the North vs. South theme of Wine Blogging Wednesday 55. It sounds simple: Wine Case asked us to focus on "vinegrowing climate" and compare "how more northerly and more southerly vineyards produce different results with the same grapes."

And thus the challenge. If I can find a syrah from the Northern Rhône easily enough, can I find a pure syrah from the same vintage from the Languedoc or the Southern Rhône? How can I measure the effects of climate if the winemaker in the more northerly vineyard picks her grapes at much higher brix than the winemaker down south? Mesoclimate is more important than macroclimate, but even on a larger scale, everything's upside down in places like California: traveling north to south, Mendocino is warmer than Rutherford, which is warmer than Carneros, which is warmer than Santa Cruz, which is warmer than Sta. Rita Hills.

My solution was to compare somewhat similarly styled wines from the same vintage from two appellations that experience meaningful climate differences: Chablis and Saint-Aubin. Chardonnay is grown in both places but Chablis is a slightly cooler region, with July temperatures at least one degree F cooler than in the Cote d'Or. Rain is also more prevalent at harvest. (Of course, the Kimmeredgian chalk of Chablis isn't the same as Saint-Aubin's limestone, and in contrast to the Saint-Aubin the Chablis I consumed saw no oak, but let's just move forward, OK?)

2006 was a low-acid vintage in both the Cote d'Or and Chablis. If the wines weren't blowsy, they were atypically round and ripe, and men better than me say you have to choose carefully with the 2006 whites. But both these wines were successful examples of the good side of 2006.

Domaine de Chantemerle Chablis 2006
I really dug this. It has a beautiful nose of lime, orchard fruits, chalk, and smoky gray sea salt — the Chablis terroir really comes through. The wine is zesty and creamy in the mouth, but there's plenty of taut acidity to power the lemon and Fuji apple fruit to the back of the palate, leaving a pure, mineral energy in its wake. This does fade a bit quickly at midpalate but this is otherwise a complete wine. This'd be perfect with light fish.

Sylvain Langoureau Saint-Aubin 1er Cru En Remilly 2006
I admit that I drank this last summer, but I think the notes apply. This Langoureau, like the Chantemerle, is neither fat nor blowsy, and it also shows a pure minerality that really hums on the finish. Still, its frame is larger, in part because this received an artful touch of barrel toast — it's subtly smoky and nutty — and in part because the fruit is inherently more generous. The finish also shows cinnamon-inflected spice, which is quite different from the higher-toned finish of the Chantemerle.

In sum, while both wines are minerally and transparent, the Chablis shows a tautness that the Saint-Aubin does not, while the latter shows more voluptuous fruit and brown spice on the palate. One is not "better" than the other — each is excellent in its context. But the best I can tell, they do show the north-south climate difference fairly well.

Given that both wines are ultimately from northerly latitudes, it seems right to conclude with this video from Antipodean superstars The Bats. Just scroll back to the top of this post to see it — appropriate given that so much about this theme is, or can be, upside-down.

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