How an Evening of Chablis Made a White Wine Lover out of Me

white grapes on the vineI have a confession to make. Well, quite a few, probably, but only one that is relevant to my purposes here.

I’m not a wine expert. There, I’ve said it. My ignorance is not for lack of “research,” mind you, but what little I do know mainly revolves around the world of red and can pretty much be summed up in three sentences:

  • Nothing good can come from a £4 bottle of Cotes du Rhone.
  • Do not, under any circumstances, drink red wine on your friend’s new white couch. That second bit I learned the hard way—as did my friend.
  • I’ve never met a Chateauneuf-du-Pape I wouldn’t drink to the last drop. Then again, I’ll drink most anything to the last drop, as evidenced below.

The current contents of my liquor cabinet. When I say there’s nothing I wouldn’t drink, I mean NOTHING. Well, except maybe my bottle of Spisska Borovicka, which I’m fairly certain is Slovakian for “liquid death.”

Years ago, however, white wine was my tipple of choice. Of course, back then, it generally came from a box. That all changed when a friend of mine vowed to turn me into a red wine woman by uncorking three beefy bottles in one night. (No, that’s not a euphemism). But anyway, it worked.

Now, over the course of an elegant evening at the Andaz London Liverpool Street hotel, my oenophilic education is about to come full circle at an event dedicated to the veneration of pure Chablis.

Douglas Blyde

My host is sommelier and restaurant critic Douglas Blyde. Clad in a velvet blazer and burgundy tie, he paces the room like the love child of a fevered poet and an evangelical preacher, passionately, extemporaneously extolling the virtues of tonight’s favoured French region.

First, though, the bad news. “Chablis has had an annus horribilis,” Blyde admits. The region has suffered hail, floods, frost—nearly every tragedy you can image, aside from a Biblical plague of locusts. Up to 50 percent of this year’s crop has already been devastated.

“But that doesn’t mean that what does come out will be troubled in taste,” Blyde maintains. “If anything, it will be the golden child, the survivor.”

“Chablis is dead! Long live Chablis!”

The good news is that this wine is incredibly versatile. “Chablis can really take you through the entire meal,” Blyde insists. “It’s not just about classic French food.”

To prove his point, he’s paired Pas Si Petit (“not so little”) Petit Chablis 2014 from La Chablisienne with Norwegian fishcakes and crab and avocado salad cradled in curled cucumber from NORDISH.

Whiting and veggie salad

The Scandinavian-inspired canapés are followed by a summer vegetable salad with roasted radishes, brown butter dressing, pan-fried whiting and tempura samphire from Pickled Plates, complimented by Alain Geoffroy’s 2014 Chablis.

Incidentally, the Geoffrey family has founded a corkscrew museum featuring more than 1,500 models from around the world—which isn’t to say that even the wine experts always have one when it’s needed.

In fact, Blyde himself apparently once resorted to using a biro pen when he found himself sans screw and facing three luscious vintages. (If you know what you’re doing, supposedly you can perform an emergency tracheotomy using a ballpoint pen, too. In fact, given a ballpoint pen and a paperclip, MacGyver could’ve ruled the world.)

But I digress. I often do. Let’s get back to dinner before the food gets cold.

The highlight of the meal is a Japanese-inspired soy and miso-glazed pork chop with spring onion rice, raw slaw, rice vinegar and spicy chili dressing, prepared by Rosie from A Little Lusciousness.

Seriously the best pork chop I've ever eaten. Lightly salted by my tears of joy.

Seriously the best pork chop I’ve ever eaten. Lightly salted by my tears of joy.

Blyde pairs the pork with Julien Brocard’s La Boissonneuse 2014 Chablis, which stands up admirably well against the main dish’s bold flavors. “This is more ripe, and it’s been edged with a little oak,” Blyde says. “Some people believe that bringing oak to Chablis is heresy, but here it brings a sort of frame which I don’t think overwhelms the minerality.”

La Boissoneuse, it’s worth noting, was one of the first organic, biodynamic vineyards in Chablis. What this means, essentially, is that in lieu of commercial fertilizers, the vines are treated with a combination of nettles, sage and lavender mixed with manure. This is something I try not to think about when I take my first tentative sip—although I’m pleased to report that it tastes nothing like what Blyde rather romantically refers to as “the cow’s ‘final process.'”

As adaptable as Chablis may be, our host admits that dessert is its Achilles’ heel. “It doesn’t go terribly well with sugar,” he concedes.

So, deftly sidestepping the culinary equivalent of kryptonite, we finish our meal with heaping, dripping, positively oozing cheese boards—and I mean that in the nicest possible way.

cheese board

It’s a veritable fromage face-off, with British cheeses going head-to-head—or curd to curd, as it were—against their French counterparts. Here’s the line-up:

Stichleton from Nottinghamshire vs. Bleu d’Auvergne
Baron Bigod from Bungay vs. Camembert from Normandy
Montgomery Cheddar from North Cadbury, Somerset vs. Comté

These are washed down with some of the finest vintages yet. “We’re drinking upwards in flavour and boldness,” Blyde explains, as he reveals a chilled fleet of the following:

Domaine William Fevre Vaulorent, Premier Cru 2012
Jean Paul et Benoit Valmur Grand Cru 2012
Clotilde Davenne Les Preuses Grand Cru 2008
Domaine Laroche Les Blanchots Grand Cru 2007

While Chablis has a newfound fan in me, I implore you not to take my word for it. The only way to get to the bottom of the thorny issue of white versus red is to, well, get to the bottom of a few bottles yourself.

Can’t find the good stuff at your local shop? Here’s where Blyde sourced our evening’s libations:

Learn more about Blyde’s tips on how to properly “taste” wine—which is, apparently, somewhat more involved than opening your mouth and swallowing—by clicking here.

Finally, you’ll find more reviews regarding this decadent evening of Chablis from these pros: (gorgeous photography)



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