Wine producers come in three types; negociants, domaines and co-ops. Negociants (merchants) buy grapes and/or wine from growers and then make a finished wine from all the brought in components. This may or may not include their own grapes if they have any. Domaines (Estates) are self contained producers; they grow their own grapes and make their own wine from them. Finally there are co-ops, who have grower members supplying grapes to the co-op who in turn make wines on behalf of their members. There are some dire co-ops around it must be said, but there are also some superb ones, offering excellent value. Alsace has some great co-ops as do several regions in Italy (Alto Adige and Abruzzo to name but two), but the one I want to mention today is the co-op in Chablis, La Chablisienne. With over 300 growers contributing to the wines they are by far the largest producer in the region, accounting for over 25% of Chablis. They consistently produce really good value and decent quality Chablis at all levels.
I love Chablis. It's understated, mineral, austere, not at all flashy. But it has great staying power and it always seems to get better and better and you never want the bottle to end. It's either completely unoaked or the oak should not be overt and it's beautifully lean and crisp. It's in the North of Burgundy and made from 100% Chardonnay, but it would be daft to label it as such, as its character come from everything that is wrapped up in Chablis; the soil, the climate, the variety and the style of wines made.
This weekend we were away cherry picking staying in the depths of rural East Sussex at the lovely White Dog Inn in a village by the name of Ewhurst. Refreshingly they had a wine list with very reasonable mark-up indeed (less than 100%, as opposed to around 300% for many restaurants) and some decent wines to choose from. There was a Macon Lugny Les Charmes for £16 or so that tempted my friend, but what caught my eye was the Chablis 1er Cru Montmain 2007 from La Chablisienne for £24. Now you might baulk a bit at the price, but armed with the knowledge that a) the Inn's mark-up was very reasonable, b) La Chablisienne are very reliable, and c) 2007 was a great year in Chablis, it made sense to trade-up and go for the more expensive wine, one that would cost over £40 in a London restaurant. What a good decision! It had a terrific nose, mineral and lightly floral, great structure with a full body (but no oak), very crisp acidity and fine length. I shall definitely return to the White Dog to have some more with their splendid fish and chips and home made tartar sauce.