Sunday, 26 February 2012

Pascal Bouchard Chablis “Les Champs Blancs” (2010)

At the moment it is somewhat fashionable to dislike Chardonnay. After years of experiencing heavily oaked, tropical fruit bombs bulked out with prodigious alcohol from the New World, no-one is supposed to like Chardonnay anymore (at least this is what market research companies tell us). The average consumer is alleged to dislike the almost cloying oak influence and is more likely to be drinking something crisper and fresher (like a Pinot Grigio or Sauvignon Blanc) rather than a rich and textured Chardonnay.

Such is the supposed average consumer’s dislike of Chardonnay, that people have even stopped naming their babies after the grape variety – not since 2003 has anyone named their baby Chardonnay (there were around 80 babies christened “Chardonnay” in that year in case you were wondering)!

However, what UK wine sales figures tell us is that despite the supposed consumer hatred of Chardonnay, is that it remains one of the top three most consumed grape varieties in the UK (along with Pinot Grigio and Sauvignon Blanc). This is somewhat at odds with the market research and tells us a couple of things... Perhaps people say they dislike Chardonnay, but aren’t aware of the fact they are drinking it (one retailer told the Independent Wine Review that he was shocked that so few people realised that Chardonnay was a major component of many sparkling wines). Or, perhaps that people have seen past the Chardonnay stereotype of oak and alcohol and have “rediscovered” more subtle examples of the grape. In truth, it is likely that a little of both explanations may be true.

Regardless, Chardonnay is back (if it ever went away!) and it is the more subtle and nuanced European styles of Chardonnay that many UK consumers seem to find more palatable than the more tropical and overt new world examples. One such subtle, European example of Chardonnay is Chablis and it is from Chablis that this Pascal Bouchard Chablis “Les Champs Blancs” hails.

Considerably further north than the rest of Burgundy, Chablis is notable both for its cool climate and its almost unique Kimmeridgean soil that is made up of limestone and fossilised oyster shells. Frost is a regular risk to the vines in Chablis through spring and it is either this tendency to frost, or the white Kimmeridgean soils that have given their name to this Pascal Bouchard Chablis “Les Champs Blancs”, which literally translates as “The White Fields”. Chardonnay is the only grape used within the Chablis AOC (and this Pascal Bouchard Chablis “Les Champs Blancs”) and wines labelled simply as Chablis (rather than “Grand Cru” or “Premier Cru”) rarely see oak aging.

Pascal Bouchard is a family-run winery, with a family history of winemaking running back five generations. Currently winemaking at Pascal Bouchard (and for this Pascal Bouchard Chablis “Les Champs Blancs”) is overseen by Damien Bouchard and his brother Romain.

Looking at the bottle of this Pascal Bouchard Chablis “Les Champs Blancs”, it can immediately be seen that this Pascal Bouchard Chablis “Les Champs Blancs” is a Chablis with one eye on tradition and one on the future. A traditionally low-shouldered “Burgundy-shaped” bottle is sealed with a not-so-traditional screw cap. A simple black and white label is adorned with a sketch of the village of Chablis.

In the glass, this Pascal Bouchard Chablis “Les Champs Blancs” is a clear, pale, lemon colour with the merest hint of a gooseberry green also showing. Certainly reminiscent of its origin in this respect, wines made from Chardonnay that hail from significantly hotter climates tend to be far richer in colour than this Pascal Bouchard Chablis “Les Champs Blancs”, as are examples of Chardonnay that have seen oak aging. On swirling, the legs of this Pascal Bouchard Chablis “Les Champs Blancs” appear minimal (partly due to the pale colour of the wine). The declared alcoholic content of this Pascal Bouchard Chablis “Les Champs Blancs” is 12.5% abv – average for a wine from Chablis.

On the nose, this Pascal Bouchard Chablis “Les Champs Blancs” shows clean citrus and white fruit notes of moderate intensity. Lemon citrus notes are prominent initially with riper and less crisp white peach becoming more apparent as air permeates this Pascal Bouchard Chablis “Les Champs Blancs”. The fruit notes are pure throughout this Pascal Bouchard Chablis “Les Champs Blancs” and are not disguised or artificially thickened by the overt application of oak, although this Pascal Bouchard Chablis “Les Champs Blancs” does offer significantly more depth on the nose than many less accomplished wines from this region.

Once in the mouth, citrus and white fruit remain prominent. This Pascal Bouchard Chablis “Les Champs Blancs” is dry, with a pleasingly refreshing high level of acidity. Just medium bodied, the fruit notes of this Pascal Bouchard Chablis “Les Champs Blancs” are moderate-to-long with a real sense of minerality showing through. Imagine the taste of a smooth pebble in your mouth - that is sensation that titillates your taste buds once the initial sense of fruit in this Pascal Bouchard Chablis “Les Champs Blancs” fades. This is what wine tasters mean when they describe “minerality”. Once this Pascal Bouchard Chablis “Les Champs Blancs” is swallowed it is this sense of minerality, along with a faint lingering citrus that lingers at the back of your throat.

In all, this Pascal Bouchard Chablis “Les Champs Blancs” is an accomplished bottle of wine. Readily identifiable as a Chablis from the moment it is first tasted, this Pascal Bouchard Chablis “Les Champs Blancs” is certainly representative of its region and style. There is depth and a degree of intensity in this Pascal Bouchard Chablis “Les Champs Blancs” over and above much Chablis, although the degree of nuance that one might expect from a Chablis Premier Cru or Chablis Grand Cru are missing.

Eminently approachable (although perhaps too crisp for those who prefer an oaked style), this Pascal Bouchard Chablis “Les Champs Blancs” would pair well with seafood or white meat that is accompanied by a creamy sauce. Alternatively, this Pascal Bouchard Chablis “Les Champs Blancs” would make for pleasant drinking with no food accompaniment.

This Pascal Bouchard Chablis “Les Champs Blancs” is a wine that meets the clear expectations that Chablis generates, although perhaps is not a wine which will greatly exceed them.
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Pascal Bouchard Chablis “Les Champs Blancs” (2010)

Score: 84/100 – Accomplished style, pure fruit is laced with minerality

Value for Money: 6/10 – At £15 per bottle this Pascal Bouchard Chablis "Les Champs Blancs" is at the top end of the “basic” Chablis price range
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