Domaine Raveneau • Chablis Grand Cru Clos 2015
94 points - Robert Parker's Wine Advocate, August 2017
The 2015 Chablis Grand Cru les Clos has a very tight bouquet with a subtle marine/estuarine influence, gradually opening to reveal walnut and hazelnut notes. Coming back after five minutes, there is a light minty note. The palate is powerful and very well balanced, a fine line of acidity struck through the lightly-spiced fruit with hints of nutmeg and even fennel that lead to a poised but very persistent and satisfying finish. This is just an extremely satisfying Les Clos that will give 20 to 30 years drinking pleasure.
Since 2010, Isabelle Raveneau has deftly slipped into the daily running of the most revered Chablis domain of them all. When we met up I wanted to know a little more about how she became the next generation to tend the vines. Her journey was certainly not a direct one. It rather zigzagged its way back to Chablis. Winemaking found her, not the other way round. Growing up, there was no expectation of continuing the winemaking tradition and instead she did what normal young people do: backpacked around Australia, working as a waitress then in an office job in England where she clearly honed her almost fluent English, enjoying hobbies such as handball where she played for the region. It was only after the passing of her grandmother, when she realized that her family's winemaking tradition might come to an end, that she accepted the baton from her father and uncle. You might assume that Isabelle must feel pressure upon her shoulders. She is a Raveneau (at least I assume so!). Yet she has what at first appears a carefree, not careless, sensibility and one that I find refreshing. Working alongside her father Bernard and her uncle Jean-Marie, she is all too aware of the standards expected by Chablis aficionados that hold up Raveneau as a standard bearer. She takes it in stride. Having experienced and savored life outside the oft parochial vinous world, she entered her profession when it suited her—much better than fledgling winemakers that are sometimes badgered into oenological studies as soon as they leave school and marched down to the cellars with the ink barely dry on their graduation papers. It was only in her late twenties that she finally enrolled at the University of Dijon. I assume her studies could not prepare her for the challenges that faced her and her family in 2015 and 2016. "The 2016 vintage was very complicated,” she explained with typical sangfroid as I commenced my tasting in their barrel cellar. “We had a spring frost like most people and it hit places that are usually protected. There was a lot of rain afterwards and then high mildew pressure that we were able to control because fortunately, we were able to spray on time and never had to delay it. Then came the drought in summer and the vineyard suffered a lot, with some of the young vines dying. Even the winemaking was complicated. Usually everything is racked and ready before Christmas, but the 2016s took their time so that some wine did not finish fermentation until March, which is something we don’t like. There is a big difference from one cuvée to another depending on the yield. Some parcels were at 15 hectoliters per hectare and others, where there was no spring frost, were at 45 to 50 hectoliters per hectare so that the wines feel more…Chablis-like. I think 2015 gives you a real idea of the vintage whereas in 2016, it’s all over the place. Some wines are still quite reductive and they need their time in barrel. It is one of those vintages where everything happened," Isabelle said. Pondering the 2016 vintage, she added rhetorically, "Maybe we only remember the bad things." I inquired about the 2015 vintage and how the domain coped with hail on the eve of harvest. “We started the picking on 3 September with the grand crus because they were badly hit by the hail and then moved on to the Montée de Tonnerre, which we finished a few days later," Isabelle explained. "The 2015s were bottled about two or three weeks ago [at the beginning of June]. The Petit Chablis and Chablis were racked before harvest and the rest stayed in barrel until February. The vintage was tender so we did not want to leave them too long in barrel. They were all bottled simultaneously.” I tasted through the domain's complete range of 2015s in bottle and 2016s from barrel. The 2015s have flourished since they were bottled, with one or two crus such as the Butteaux, Montée de Tonnerre and the ever-flattering Vaillons all surpassing my estimation from barrel. The 2016s are perhaps more inconsistent by comparison, although that is to be expected because I agree with Isabelle that they express terroir more than the growing season. But when good, the wines are fantastic. The 2015s are crowned by a thrilling Les Clos that must stand as one of the wines of the vintage, as predictable as that might be. I had a harder time getting to grips with the Blanchot that here was outflanked by a couple of over-performing premier crus but overall, they show great potential.
- Neal Martin
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