Though technically part of Burgundy, Chablis is adamantly its own place, not only for its colder, grimmer climate, or its entirely different geological origins, but for its distinct traditions of élevage. Chablis oaked like a Chassagne-Montrachet loses the ability to articulate its Kimmeridgian intricacies, while a stint in thermoregulated stainless steel often sacrifices texture, resulting in Chablis that feels more like Sancerre—just with slightly different aromatic and flavor signifiers.
Our longtime partner Sébastien Dauvissat takes the tried-and-true middle path, aging his resoundingly classic Chablis largely in neutral oak barrels of seven to ten years of age. This methodology, employed by many of the most coveted old-school growers in the region, allows for maximal terroir expression without transforming the wines into caricatures of high-acid zip. We at Rosenthal Wine Merchant began working with Sébastien’s father Jean back in 1982, and this family—a branch of one of the oldest families in the region—have provided us with exemplary, age-worthy Chablis from their enviable holdings ever since.
Sébastien, diligent and unassuming in demeanor, cranks out reliably letter-perfect Chablis year after year, but the past few vintages have been particularly dynamic as he has seemed to fully find his stride. We have just received his 2016s into inventory, supplemented by the ever-reliable villages-level “Saint-Pierre” in 2018, and a splash of premier cru Séchet in the fabulous 2015 vintage. As we have always done, we relish in working “current” vintages from the Dauvissat family that have experienced a few years of positive bottle evolution already, and we are excited to share these with you. The difficulties of the 2016 growing season in Burgundy have been well-documented, and indeed Sébastien suffered immensely from the late-April frost, harvesting a mere 15 hectoliters per hectare and bottling no premier cru Montmains or premier cru Séchet. However, the natural concentration imparted by such a weather event, combined with Sébastien’s non-flashy cellar regimen, resulted in a collection of notable density and expressiveness.
2018 Chablis “Saint-Pierre”
Dauvissat’s villages-level Chablis is produced from 15- to 20-year-old vines planted in five different parcels: two next to premier cru Montmains, two near premier cru Montée de Tonnerre, and one in the commune of Préhy. In contrast with the premier and grand crus, “Saint-Pierre” is vinified and aged entirely in steel tanks, and bottled after one year. This 2018 bears the vintage’s solar character, with richly textured fruit and a sense of concentration imbued by the latter part of the season’s drought conditions. Still, the terroir’s inimitable seashell minerality emerges, and will only magnify with age.
2016 Chablis 1er Cru “Vaillons”
The premier cru Vaillons is actually a climat, comprised of a handful of adjoining vineyards, and Sébastien’s bottling comes from 40-year-old vines from the vineyards of Minots, Chatains, and Vaillon (the namesake vineyard). Aged for one year in steel followed by a second year in seven- to ten-year-old barrels, the 2016 is cool and stony on the nose—deeply Kimmeridgian, with a saline edge. The palate shows excellent density, but an airy and lifted character keeps it from coming across as lead-footed, and this should evolve beautifully for the next ten years.
2015 Chablis 1er Cru “Séchet”
Séchet is a vineyard within the larger climat of Vaillons, located just about smack in the center, and Sébastien works just over a hectare of 35-to-40-year-old vines here. Although he was unable to produce a separately bottled “Séchet” in the frost-ravaged 2016 vintage, Sébastien was kind enough to offer us a bit of 2015 to compensate, and this wine is in the zone. Like the “Vaillons” above, this spent its first year of élevage in steel and its second in used barrels, and it shows a similarly saline character to its brother, but with a greater sense of precision and finesse—typical for this vineyard.
2016 Chablis 1er Cru “Vaillons – Vieilles Vignes”
The Dauvissats have long bottled their oldest vines in Vaillons separately, and indeed this 2016 “Vieilles Vignes”—from 0.7 hectares worth of vines averaging 70 years of age in the Sur Vaillons vineyard—is a notable step up in power and intensity from the regular bottling, with a slightly more unctuous texture and greater length. The élevage inverts the order of the basic bottling, with fermentation as well as the first year of aging taking place in barrels, and the second year spent in steel tank.
2016 Chablis Grand Cru “Les Preuses”
Sébastien owns three quarters of a hectare in the grand cru vineyard Les Preuses, sandwiched between Bougros and Vaudesir in the north of the grand cru zone. Produced mainly from 50-year-old vines but with a portion that was replanted a decade ago, this mimicks the regimen of the “Vaillons – Vieilles Vignes” above, with fermentation and the first year of élevage in barrels and the second year in steel. While no richer than the old-vines Vaillons above, Les Preuses combines elegance and intensity in a way that fully justifies its grand cru status. There’s a white-pepper edge here, a soaring quality to the aromatics that outclasses its premier cru counterparts, and, as the many bottles we have enjoyed over the past 40 years have demonstrated, cellaring will be more than amply rewarded.