I’m working my way through a case of 2008 Chablis, unfortunately without much enthusiasm, even though most of them are from the legendary Fourchame vineyards. The problem isn’t the vintage, it’s the international plague—the blight of oak. I know the conventional wisdom is that winemakers are (finally) practicing restraint these days, but there’s still a lot of barrel in the glass. And it’s not just with Chardonnay, the usual victim. At a recent lunch celebrating Sydney’s chefs and restaurants, no one at our table got past the first sip of a very woody Clonakilla Viognier (Blockhead question: what attribute of Viognier might sensibly suggest an affinity for oak?). Last month, much of a case of 2006 Chianti Classico Riserva I drank had more wood in the wines than the box they came in, their Sangiovese character completely flattened.
But the biggest travesty may be over-oaking Chablis, which ought to be the most straightforward expression of Chardonnay. Twenty-odd years ago, when the winemakers of Chablis used to come to San Francisco for what were fascinating, unmissable tastings, they used to brag about their soils and climate, implanting the idea of terroir almost before anyone else did, and they disdained oak, or at least new oak, or very much of it at all. The wines backed them up. Now, too many of them are buried in oak coffins, their flinty minerality dulled into mediocrity. So far, only Domaine Alain Geoffroy and Domaine Pommier have stood out in style, while Louis Moreau was perhaps a half-step behind them, but a long way ahead of the pack. What a shame.