Why buy Chablis now

Chablis vineyards. Photo BIVB

I had the opportunity recently to select the Chablis wines for a series of media events here in San Francisco and the Napa Valley, and it helped me focus on why now is a great time to buy these wines, namely:  1), the availability of a string of great vintages and 2), demand for Burgundy in the US is at an all-time high while producer stocks are relatively low.

Chablis wines have generally become more attractive in recent years, not only in price, but in taste.  Yes, they’ve always been food friendly because the majority are un-oaked wines and are generally lower in alcohol compared to other 100% Chardonnay wines from France.  But due to gradual warming of the climate where acidity levels have dropped 15-20% from 40 years ago, the wines are fruitier today with more body, making them more approachable for today’s modern palate.  Chablis wines are less likely to be described as simply “linear” or even “austere”, and more likely to be described as elegant wines with striking minerality and fresh acidity.

Here in the SF Bay Area, the youthful 2011 Chablis wines are on the shelf, ready to drink, while the Chablis Premier Cru and Chablis Grand Cru are in pre-arrival.  The latter wines show best with age, revealing more honeyed and nutty complexity over time.

A string of great vintages

One can still find a good supply of 2008, 2009 and 2010 Chablis Premier Cru and Grand Cru wines in the SF Bay Area (in ascending availability), and they’re worth scooping up as some of the best vintages of the past decade along with the 2000’s and 2002’s, and there’s something for everyone.

Classic 2008’s.  While Chablis saw a mix of sun and rain during the summer, the weather was better here than the rest of Burgundy to the South.  The season ended with a fine September and drying North Wind, resulting in wines with a purity of fruit, minerality and vibrant acidity.  This is a classic vintage for Chablis lovers.  The 2008’s are showing beautifully now but will continue to improve with age.

Fruit-driven 2009’s.  After a variable July, Chablis enjoyed a hot August and warm, sunny September, leading to concentrated, aromatic and balanced wines.  For those who love fruit-driven Chardonnay, the 2009’s are open and ready-to-drink.

The modern classics of 2010.  Cool weather during flowering resulted in lower yields for 2010.  July was warm while August was more cloudy and rainy, but sunny conditions returned for harvest.  The 2010’s combine the concentrated fruit of 2009 with the classic structure and minerality of the 2008’s.  They are ready to drink but will age beautifully.

Supply & Demand

According the the Burgundy Wine Board (BIVB), the US is now the largest export market for Burgundy overall with sales growing 13% for the first 8 months of 2012, to ca. 94 million euros.  At the same time, producer inventories of 1.35 million hectoliters at the end of the 2011/2012 year is relatively low and on top of a 9% drop from the previous year.  Production from the 2012/2013 will not alleviate stocks as harvest yields declined at least 20% (and up to 40-50% depending on location) due to frosts and hail earlier in the season.  But while 2012 vintage conditions were difficult, quality remains high, placing more pressure on demand, and prices, going forward.

The closest economic scenario to this was back in 2003 when yields were crushed by a devastating springtime frost; however, global demand was lower then and producer stocks were higher.  In addition to growing US demand today, Asia is adding to the pressure, with Japan growing 34% and Hong Kong/China growing 44% in value over the same 8 months of 2012.  Japan and Hong Kong/China are now the #3 and #5 largest export markets for Burgundy by value, respectively, and growing.

Bottom line:  Buy Chablis – and Burgundy – now.