Regular readers of this site will know that I’m a card-carrying Chablis champion, having reviewed a fair amount of the sophisticated Chardonnay-based tipple in the past. But it’s always extra nice to sample a drop of Premier Cru — the second tier of the Chablis league table (which runs, in ascending order: Petit Chablis, Chablis, Premier Cru, Grand Cru).
Yep, for most of us ordinary mortals, Premier Cru Chablis is a special occasion wine — one that I’d choose over Champagne every time. And although they’re all made to specific standards in the relatively cool northern tip of the Burgundy region, each Chablis retains its own unique character, partly down to its storage but also its terroir.
The two wines I’m going to talk about here exemplify this level of variety beautifully. Although they’re both made in the same region by Maison Simonnet-Febvre, they hail from either side of the Serein river (pictured above) — and you can really taste the difference. And yes… although I loved them both, I did have a favourite. Let’s discover which one…
The Simonnet Febvre Chablis Premier Cru Montmains 2020 is from the left bank of the Serein, the waterway that flows through the heart of the Chablis region (it’s name translates as “serene”, which seems really obvious when you know). The south-east-facing location of the vineyard means the grapes enjoy the morning sun, but the vines cool down throughout the day, leading to the more restrained and mineral character I associate with classic Chablis. Lean, elegant, citrussy and with a slightly floral touch, this fine wine will definitely match most people’s expectations of good Chablis.
The Simonnet-Febvre Premier Cru Fourchaume 2018, meanwhile, grew up on the other side of the tracks — the right bank, where the generous amount of daily sunshine offers up richer-tasting wines with bold flavours. And that really comes across in this one. Although it’s been aged on the lees, it doesn’t overpower you with the dry, biscuity flavour you find in a lot of Chablis (and Champagne), instead it’s dominated by a soft, honeyed fruit feel which always reminds me of a freshly baked apple pie sitting on a window sill to cool (typing that made my mouth water). In fact, it’s rather reminiscent of a white from southern Burgundy. And that’s no bad thing.
So, if you haven’t guessed, my favourite was the Cru Fourchaume 2018. Maybe that’s down to the extra ageing, or perhaps it’s more to do with the soil, or the sunnier ripening conditions. But these really are two excellent wines and, as always, it’s a matter of personal preference. Cats or dogs? The Beatles or the Stones? Joe Rogan or Neil Young? We’ve all got a preference. So why not pitch them against each other yourself and see if you agree?
Simonnet-Febvre Premier Cru Fourchaume 2018 can be found at Tesco (£25-£30) and Thedrinkshop.com (£31.99)
Simonnet-Febvre Chablis Premier Cru Montmains 2020 is offered by WaitroseCellar.com (£25.49), Great Grog (£32.29), FL Dickins and Thedrinkshop.com (£28.54)
Visit https://www.simonnet-febvre.com/en/wines/chablis for more information.