In the clammy summer months, unless I’m lucky enough to be on vacation sampling microbrews out west, I gravitate toward bracing, minerally white wines. They go perfectly with lighter summer fare like salads, pastas based on fresh vegetables, fish, shellfish and even grilled chicken. And on their own, they’re as revitalizing as a gin and tonic. My short list of favorite summer wine categories includes sauvignon blanc (mostly those made in stainless steel), dry riesling, Chablis and the occasional Txakoli from northern Spain. (Of course, rosé is also useful and I’ve been known to gulp down chilled Beaujolais.)
Of all of the above, Chablis is my favorite, especially when vintages cooperate. These taut, invigorating wines, especially when they’ve been made with little or no contact with oak, belie their chardonnay heritage with their light touch and vivacity. And they typically retail for a fraction of the price of their richer, oakier siblings from the high-rent neighborhoods on the Côte de Beaune.
I recently published extensive annual coverage of Chablis in the current issue of the bimonthly International Wine Cellar. Here are some of the best wines I came across for $30 or less—mostly “village” wines but also including an outstanding premier cru value. All are from the splendid 2010 vintage, a growing season that yielded a small crop of concentrated grapes and wines that combine atypical density and complexity with great charm. I challenge you to find fresher, more satisfying chardonnays from California that can stand up to these.
The Domaine Billaud Simon Chablis Tête d’Or ($30; Langdon Shiverick), from a producer long known for its penetrating wines made entirely or mostly in stainless steel, shows an inviting pale yellow-green color and ethereal aromas and flavors of citrus peel and ginger. This juicy, tightly knit, intense wine finishes brisk but not austere, with very good tension and length. It wears its bit of oak gracefully.
The Domaine Jean-Paul & Benoit Droin 2010 Chablis Vaillons ($30; Eric Solomon Selections/European Cellars) is a terrific premier cru at a very gentle price. Its reticent nose offers classic scents of citrus fruit and saline oyster shell minerality. In the mouth, the wine begins penetrating and taut, but the citrus and steely mineral flavors show a creamier aspect toward the long, spicy finish.
The village Chablis from Domaine Christian Moreau Père et Fils ($25; Frederick Wildman & Sons), done entirely in stainless steel, is a perennial winner. The 2010 release displays cool yet sweet aromas of peach, orange and minerals. It’s in a rather gentle, round style, showing a slightly exotic character but very good lift from its orange blossom and mineral flavors. The persistent finish offers surprising grip.
The aggressively priced Domaine Gilbert Picq et Ses Fils 2010 Chablis ($22-$26; Polaner Selections; Vintage ’59 Imports), from the last bottling, done in March of this year, delivers tangy aromas of orange and lemon zest with a whiff of hazelnut. It’s juicy and serious, with firm acidity giving definition and cut to the flavors of lemon and white flowers. This bottling offers terrific sex appeal for early drinking. (If you’re lucky enough to find a bottle of Picq’s Chablis Vieilles Vignes or Chablis Dessus La Carrière, snap it up. These wines are denser, richer and more concentrated than the basic village offering and they cost only a few dollars more—IF you can find them.
I also like the non-filtered version of Domaine Servin’s 2010 Chablis Les Pargues ($23; Weygandt-Metzler Importing), sealed with a screwcap for the American importer. This wine is thick, intense and penetrating, with aromas and flavors of menthol, crushed stone and toasted baguette. It’s more about dusty minerality than easygoing fruit and is an impressive village wine, not to mention a great bargain.
Finally, the Joseph Faiveley 2010 Chablis ($30; Frederick Wildman & Sons) offers classic Chablis aromas of hay, honey, acacia flower and green apple. It’s lemony, energetic and youthfully austere, with a cutting steely freshness that will stimulate your G-spot on a hot summer day.