I’m in nirvana, “a place or state characterized by freedom from or oblivion to pain, worry, and the external world”. Actually I’m at the Datai resort, Langkawi Island, 30 kilometers off the coast in the northern part of the Peninsular Malaysia where the Straits of Malacca meet the Indian Ocean.
We are at the beach club, nestled amongst the jungle that would have its feet in the sea if it weren’t for a strip of ivory coloured sand. Our poolside table has a view to one side across the tranquil Andaman Sea towards the first islands of Thailand, the largely uninhabited Tarutao Archipelago, with its rugged peaks silhouetted in the evening sunset.
Even more dramatic, to our left flank is the Macincang range, a towering 600 million year-old chunk of limestone carpeted with some the oldest continuous and untouched jungle on the planet with soaring 500 year old tree canopies amongst a kaleidoscope of green bathed in the evenings golden sunlight.
I’m sitting with Josh Jensen, legendary Californian chardonnay and pinot noir practitioner and proprietor of Calera Wine Company. Jensen is a hero amongst us obsessed pinot drinkers, the man who revealed his resolution to conquer the vinous Holy Grail in Marq De Villiers brilliant book, “The Heartbreak Grape: A California Winemaker’s Search for the Perfect Pinot Noir “.
I have been worshipping Jensen and his Calera wines for decades but had never met him. And here we are, just he and I – in nirvana – breaking bread. It all seemed so surreal I nearly asked the waiter to tip the ice bucket over me, to wake me up from this dream.
Jensen and I are the advance party of ‘The Wandering Palate and Friends at the Datai’, a sybaritic gathering of gourmands and wine celebrities including Sam Neill, acclaimed actor and proprietor of Two Paddocks in Central Otago, and Allen Meadows (AKA Burghound), the world’s foremost expert on Burgundy. Jensen had made the prudent decision of arriving a few days earlier, to regain his equilibrium from travelling 36 hours and crossing the international dateline.
We had agreed the BBQ seafood night down at the beach club was the best option for dinner, also that we would go straight in to a wine, Jensen handing me the wine list. “You’re the wine expert. You chose”, with a perspicacious grin that suddenly had me feeling daunted by the prospect of selecting a sufficiently stimulating wine.
Simultaneously it brought to mind the anxiety of what wine to serve Jancis Robinson MW when she came to my place for lunch. What do you serve the paramount master of the wine universe!
So here I am sitting with the transcending sage of new world wine and he’s handballed the wine list to me. A rigorous scan of the list and regained levelheadedness recalled the ingrained rationale I always apply around those that know a hell of a lot more than me; forget trying to impress and just run with a wine relative to the mood – and the food.
I blurted, “How about a Chablis AC?” “Absolutely”, Jensen replied unequivocally with a nod of agreement. To which I ordered the Joseph Drouhin Chablis 2008, with its new Drouhin–Vaudon livery.
I guess the fact that we polished off the bottle before we got past the first course is proof enough it was a good choice. More the fact with spent the best part of half an hour discussing how “damn good the wine was”, as Jensen succinctly put it and perfectly simpatico with the moment.
The conversation expanded to how maligned Chablis is; moreover how many consumers completely miscomprehend the relevance of wholesome, everyday drinking wines, zeroing in on the wine snobbery that is frustratingly distorting evolving wine markets like Asia.
With each mouthful of this lubricous exhilarant, its slippery, oily smoothness teased by zesty citrus and an intriguing saline, minerally quality, it seemed almost insolent to think of this as humble Chablis, or even as an ‘everyday’ wine, with its seamless, svelte texture and lingering nutty complexity. You would swear it has been barrel-aged with a discernible biscuity, dried banana autolysis and yet not a plank of oak has come near this wine.
Granted, Chablis is the most plagiarised wine region on the planet, and its very success led to its own downfall and the exploitation of the region by blatantly increasing the appellation’s boundaries beyond sensibility. Consequently there was some very ordinary, lean and mean Chablis around for a good while.
But this has all changed in recent times and you could be fairly sure that most Chablis is reasonably correct these days and there is some exceptionally good Chablis to be had at all levels. Actually there has probably never been a better time to by Chablis and particularly among the top producers making unparalleled chardonnay of almost breathtaking, unadulterated purity – audible in its sense of place – more so from the 2008 vintage with its bright, invigorating acidity.
So how is it that two well-seasoned professional palates can experience compotation bliss or Cha-bliss – perfect serene joy from a bottle of wine – that many would-be wine connoisseurs would turn up their nose. How do we convey to the wine enthusiast and novice alike, that such wines are capable of certain greatness – expressing pronounced complexity – yet slip down with the greatest of ease that you don’t need to think too hard about it; just simply enjoy the wine and the experience.
Referencing our unmitigated leader on the subject, Burghound, Allen Meadow’s note on the wine reads intelligently and even enticingly, with the suggestion of a little time in bottle to show its depth, an accurate assumption as our bottle proved having had a year or so in bottle. “Tasting note: Here the nose is unmistakably Chablis with its ripe and pure nose of oyster shell and sea breeze. The flavors also are clearly Chablis with good cut and punch if perhaps a touch less depth than I am used to seeing in this wine though that may come with a year or two of bottle age.”
However, Meadows score of 87 out of 100 will relegate it to obscurity in Asia, as no self-respecting score whore is going to be seen drinking a sub-ninety point wine, little lone a white wine, in coterie without losing face.
I asked Jensen what he would hypothetically score this wine out of a hundred points. He replied deadpan, “One hundred and fifty – without question”.
A few weeks later I was in a supermarket and a row of Drouhin–Vaudon Chablis 2008 caught my eye, purchasing a couple of bottles. Yes, I know, the Wandering Palate buying wine at a supermarket; a moment of weakness! The justification was I wanted to try it again to see how it looked, back in prosaic Singapore.
There is a theory that some wines simply don’t travel well, of which I am a believer. Moreover the fact that a wine can be profoundly affected by its surroundings, i.e. rose drunk on the lakeshore of Geneva can taste brilliant at the time, and like pink vinegar when you open that bottle you carried all the way back home.
Well, I’m happy to report that our Drouhin-Vaudon Chablis 2008 was every bit as good as it tasted in nirvana, rationing the wife to a glass as I polished off the rest, and going down brilliantly with the Nonya style chicken curry she had whipped up for dinner.
And I might add it seemed to show even more pronounced minerality in this bottle with that fascinating nuance of dissolved Jurassic crustaceous seabed permeating the olfactories and the tantalizing citrus infused acidity leaving you gasping for another glass. Such a unique wine for so little outlay, surely this is one of the bargains of the wine world.
Drouhin is well known for its strength in Chablis, but I wonder if many realise how much painstaking work has been on-going in the Domaine Drouhin-Vaudon vineyards having embraced biodynamic viticulture since 1980 with the entire Domaine now certified biodynamic and clearly resonating in their wines, and that’s pretty impressive for the largest estate in Chablis. www.drouhin-vaudon-chablis.com
I’ll leave you with that, as I have to get on to the importer right now and order 5 cases, which might get us through to the release of the 2009 which they tell me arrives in ten weeks time!
More Cha-bliss at Domaine Billaud-Simon Chablis Villages 2008 Chablis, France