If you’re tired of drinking oaky, high-alcohol chardonnay from the New World treat yourself to a glass of 2007 Domaine Louis Michel & Fils Montee de Tonnerre Chablis.
Chablis is a name that was seriously tarnished in America by jug wines so labeled, made in some of California’s wine factories and sold at bottom shelf prices, where the jugs were often found. Authentic Chablis is a world away from that plonk.
Chablis is a large village situated at the northern tip of Burgundy. While legally part of that world-famous region, it is geographically and climatically closer to Champagne, another equally famous region. Chablis is made only from chardonnay, which is one of the grapes of Champagne, and both share France’s coolest wine growing area, yielding grapes with substantial acidity.
Domaine Louis Michel has approximately 60 acres of vineyards spread across the four classifications of Chablis: Petit Chablis, Chablis, Chablis Premier Cru, and Chablis Grand Cru. Dating from 1850, the domaine is headed by 65-year old Jean-Loup Michel and his 36-year old nephew, Guillaume Gicqueau-Michel. Two weeks ago, I visited Domaine Louis Michel and had an enlightened tasting with Guillaume Gicqueau-Michel.
In 2006, Guillaume decided to forego his Parisian lifestyle and communication career to return to Chablis and his family’s calling to make outstanding wine. While attending enology school that year, he worked alongside his uncle, applying the traditions developed by his grandfather of making all their wines in stainless steel tanks. Not one oak barrel is found in the cellars of Domaine Louis Michel. Gaining the confidence of his uncle, Guillaume augmented the organic techniques being applied in the vineyard by making the 2008 wines with the natural yeasts on the grape skins, instead of using purchased yeasts.
We tasted the excellent wines from the outstanding 2008 vintage; impressive Premier Crus from 2007 and 2006, and a memorable 2000 Grand Cru Grenouilles. In our market, the 2007 Montee de Tonnerre offers all the pleasures of Domaine Louis Michel wines. Montee de Tonnerre is a Premier Cru on the right bank of the Serein river that divides the vineyard area of Chablis. It is also my favorite Premier Cru vineyard as Montee de Tonnerre wines have great aging potential and complexity.
The Michels had a roller coaster ride in 2007. An exceptionally warm and sunny spring jump-started the vines, June’s hail storms damaged them, and July and August brought rains and northern cold winds. With harvest approaching, Chablis producers’ gloomy mood was suddenly lifted when the last days of August and the first 10 days of September were filled with sunshine and long warm days that ripened the grapes.
The 2007 Domaine Louis Michel Montee de Tonnerre has a substantial nose of pear and apricot scents; combined with its full body and intense fruit flavors, it would be easy to think that this wine was aged in oak barrels. Not a chance. And behind the mouth-filling fruit is a bracing citrus-like acidity that guarantees a decade of aging, and years more in a proper cellar. The Michel team has shown, once again, that Guilluame Michel’s grandfather knew that great Chablis needs only ripe fruit from the right vineyard with focused winemaking in stainless steel tanks to give consumers a unique wine. In this day of repetitive oak-filled wines, it’s a refreshing lesson to learn.
The 2007 Domaine Louis Michel Premier Cru Montee de Tonnerre retails for approximately $36.