Chablis that Dares to Stand Up to Red Meat
“One can never be too rich or too thin, the saying goes. And in South Florida, one might add too young to the trifecta. In many ways, Chablis reflects this sensibility. Like the taut sun-splashed bodies drawn to our shores, it’s intensely fresh, with a steely minerality reminiscent of crushed seashells—and it begs to be paired. Tension grips the tongue with undeniable energy, as surely as a penetrating gaze across a sizzling South Beach dance floor just before dawn.
“While lovers look to small boxes for jewels to proclaim their devotion, French Chablis fans who limit their food pairings to classic matches like oysters or chèvre are missing out on some surprisingly bold combinations. Even red meat works with certain Chablis, notably wines from Chablis Grand Cru. Recently, a sultry evening dinner at Flagler Steakhouse at The Breakers in Palm Beach proved this seemingly preposterous point in a memorable fashion, as winemaker Grégory Viennois from Domaine Laroche shared a stellar lineup of Chablis that both reinforced and shattered pairing preconceptions. These complex white wines can be a good choice for wine drinkers who, nine times out of ten, reach for something red.
“Chablis comprises four appellations located in northern Burgundy, France: Petit Chablis, Chablis, Chablis Premier Cru, and Chablis Grand Cru. The most esteemed Chablis wines are Chablis Grand Crus, which are further divided into seven climats, all of which fan out in the commune of Chablis, facing the sun at varying altitudes along the right bank of the Serein River.
“At Domaine Laroche, a Chablis producer dating back to 1850, chardonnay grapes are pampered from start to finish. Like all white Burgundy, Chablis is pure chardonnay, yet the expression of Domaine Laroche wines varies widely based on micro-terroir factors—including vineyard elevation and sun exposure—just as children born from the same parents often have completely different personalities and achievements. The common ground in Chablis is coveted Kimmeridgian subsoil—layers of clay, chalky limestone marl, gravel, and nutrient-dense fossilized oyster shells dating back 150 million years—that imparts unmistakable minerality, a bracing characteristic that distinguishes French Chablis in blind wine tastings.
“As in South Florida, the real estate mantra: ‘location, location, location’ echoes throughout Burgundy, separating great vineyards from profoundly great vineyards. “It’s very important to secure the best blocks,” says Grégory Viennois, wine- maker for Domaine Laroche, “the best vines to produce the best wines. Buying new plots today is très cher, so it is a true asset to have plots in premier and grand crus.
“We have a lot of old vines in our estate,’ says Viennois. ‘These grow grapes with thick skin. In the skin we find all the good natural compounds that give remarkable minerality to the final wine and protect it against oxidation.’ In 2001, in response to cork pollution concerns, Laroche decided to embrace screwcap closures. Today, corks from tightly controlled suppliers are found only on their premier and grand crus, which will improve for at least ten years with cellaring.
“Laroche adapts winemaking techniques to each individual plot. Grapes grow in tiny single-vineyard plots of land, each with its own dedicated viticulturist who oversees all aspects of their care. Organic concepts prevail, as this one grower nurtures vines by double pruning, debudding, and soil conditioning. To further ripen grapes, these vine nannies selectively remove leaves to aerate the canopy, maximizing sun exposure for baby grapes—so essential in Chablis’ continental climate, where warm days are punctuated by chilly nights during the growing season.
“Laroche perpetually searches for the best fruit, segregating all plots of premier and grand crus from harvest to bottling. Yields are kept low, ensuring vines produce top-quality fruit that typifies its origin. Plot-by-plot, vines are hand-harvested and grapes arrive at a sorting table to ensure even more control over fruit selection before being gently whole-bunch pressed. After malolactic fermentation and settling, wine is kept partially in stainless steel tanks and partially in mostly older French oak barrels for nine months until it is time to birth the final blend. ‘We declassify plots we are not perfectly satisfied with,’ says Viennois. At this stage the wine is transferred to stainless steel tanks where it ages on fine lees for the next year.
“Domaine Laroche owns nearly 100 hectares (247 acres) of vineyards in prime locations, including eleven premier crus and three grand cru climats: Les Blanchots, Les Bouguerots and Les Clos. Laroche’s most acclaimed wine, La Réserve de l’Obédience, is a blend of separate steep-slope plots of Les Blanchots with southeastern exposures that protect the fruit from late afternoon sun. Formerly a village monastery, monks made wine at l’Obédiencerie as early as the ninth century.
Daring au Pairing
“All this obsessive attention to detail in the vineyard and the winery beautifully translates terroir to the glass, making Chablis one of the world’s most food-friendly wines. Perfect to serve year-round in South Florida, Domaine Laroche pairs wonderfully well with a wide variety of dishes. Pour Chablis for friends who eschew chardonnay for whatever reason and watch their surprised expressions when the label is revealed.
“Ramp up the reveal by pairing a hearty red meat with a Laroche grand cru Chablis. Chef Thomas Laimo from The Breakers shares his recipe for Marinated Veal Chop with Leek and Chive-Infused Risotto and Ricotta Salata, surprisingly yet stunningly coupled with 2012 Domaine Laroche Chablis Grand Cru Réserve de l’Obédience. Or try one of the winemaker’s own unconventional red-meat pairings for Laroche grand cru Chablis: Asian Beef Tartare with ginger, coriander, soy sauce and lime. Either pairing will reflect Stephan Tanzer’s 95+ point review: ‘outstanding mineral lift, giving the wine a penetrating quality and keeping its fruit under wraps today. Most impressive on the smooth, dense, palate-saturating finish. This very long but tight wine will need at least several years in bottle to unfold.’ Sure sounds like the South Beach scene, where unexpected pairings are often the most fascinating of all.”