2015 Domaine Rene et Vincent Dauvissat Chablis Vaillons 1er Cru

Year: 2015
Appellation: Chablis
Country: France
Wine Advocate: 92
Vinous Media: 90-92
Burghound: 91
White Wine
Alcohol by Volume: 13.0%
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"The 2015 Chablis 1Er Cru Vaillons was more closed than the Séchets at this point in time, gradually revealing scents of white citrus fruit, nectarine, beeswax and flint, those aromas drawing you in with each swirl of the glass. The palate is very harmonious with a honeyed opening, very concentrated with dried honey, quince and a ravishing ginger and lemongrass-tinged finish that lingers long in the mouth. As usual, this is a flattering Vaillons but that would be to overlook the complexity and precision within.

It had been a couple of years since I last visited what many cite as the doyen of Chablis winemakers, Vincent Dauvissat. In 2015 our appointment was scheduled but due to the incinerating heat that summer, with the mercury tipping 40° Celsius, Vincent was preoccupied by his parched vines. Of course they take priority over a pesky journalist comme moi. Still, this visit was compensation for our missed rendezvous and a chance to taste through his 2016s from barrel. Then I spied a wire basket of two-thirds full 2015s. These had actually been opened for Steve Tanzer two days earlier, however, aware that Vincent’s wines often require either a very long period of aeration and/or extended bottle maturation, I asked whether I could taste those open wines and if, for the winemaker, he felt that they were representative. As expected, broaching these wines 48 hours after opening, not a single one showed oxidation and clearly had lost not one iota of freshness. Perhaps they were better than when initially opened?

Vincent explained that all the malolactic fermentations for the 2015s had been completed by Christmas, so there was no reason to wait for bottling. “The 2016 is a small volume because of two bands of hail and mildew,” he said. “There were three consecutive stresses upon the vines from hail, frost and mildew—a kind of hyper-stress. But I find that biodynamic treatments give the vines protection. You have to be positive. The summer was warm and the bunches ripened successfully. It was a small harvest but concentrated and the berries were very healthy. There is not a huge level of acidity but there is good mineralité. The 2016s were picked from 26 September…I think. It was a Monday, anyway!” Vincent is not one for keeping records and statistics. When I inquired about pH levels he smiled and told me that he does not really measure anything, instead inspecting the vines to assess the right time to pick, armed only with his refractometer. As usual, the principle tenet here is to express each terroir and so the élevage is ceteris paribus, insofar that all cuvées are matured in around 10% to 15% new oak from village up to grand cru, aged in his plentiful reserve of ancient barrels, some over thirty years old.

The quality of his wines testified to Vincent Dauvissat's reputation as a winemaker with a special touch, a magician so sanguine about his knack of producing profound Chablis. Whereas many growers' Petit Chablis seemed handicapped by the Portlandian rather than Kimmeridgian limestone, his was on another level. Simplicity is key, coupled with devotion toward his vines who few equal, plus a deep contemplation of his wines. I noticed how with each cuvée he tasted, he sat on a stool, closed his eyes and momentarily departed the cellar as he lost himself in the wine. His 2016 Vaillons stood out as a potentially exceptional Chablis, a vineyard I feel too many commentators overlook due to its propensity to flattering in its youth.

Another vineyard where Vincent raises the bar above practically everyone is la Forest, a wine exuding so much class and precision. If you want one of the big guns there is les Preuses and les Clos. The 2016 les Clos is a candidate for the wine of the vintage, a "superlative magnet" that is nothing less than a thrill a sip. As is tradition chez Dauvissat, Vincent offered to crack open a mature vintage and following an exchange about acidity apropos the 2003 vintage, he opened a 2003 les Preuses that was honeyed and sumptuous. Yeah, maybe I’ll stick to my guns because it did remind me that great Chablis needs that spine of acidity but hey, it was damn delicious.

Readers should be aware that there is no Chablis grower more than Dauvissat whose wines tend to shut down a year or so after bottling, only to reopen after several years. Trust me, it has caught me out a few times during blind tastings. Therefore, anyone fortunate enough to have a cellar full of Vincent's wines should either assuage their inquisitive nature and open wines soon after bottling. Otherwise just forget about them and reap the rewards after seven or eight years, depending upon how patient you are. " (WA)

"Pale yellow-green. Reticent nose hints at ginger and stone. Juicier and more sharply delineated than the Séchet, in a much more taut, vertical style. Still, this wine also shows a stronger fruit character than the Séchet in the early going, with a flavor of grapefruit zest carrying nicely on the firm, long aftertaste." (VM)

"A cool, pure and overtly spicy, green apple and floral-suffused nose that offers good Chablis character leads to rich, concentrated and relatively powerful middle weight flavors while delivering fine length on the dry and saline-inflected finale. This reasonably precise and well-balanced effort should be capable of rewarding 5 to 8 years of cellaring while being sufficiently forward to be approached in its youth. Recommended." (BH)