Chablis that Dares to Stand Up to Red Meat
By Denise Reynolds
One can never be too rich or too thin, the saying goes. And in South Florida, one might add too young to the trifecta. In many ways, Chablis reflects this sensibility. Like the taut sun-splashed bodies drawn to our shores, it’s intensely fresh, with a steely minerality reminiscent of crushed seashells—and it begs to be paired. Tension grips the tongue with undeniable energy, as surely as a penetrating gaze across a sizzling South Beach dance floor just before dawn.
While lovers look to small boxes for jewels to proclaim their devotion, French Chablis fans who limit their food pairings to classic matches like oysters or chèvre are missing out on some surprisingly bold combinations. Even red meat works with certain Chablis, notably wines from Chablis Grand Cru. Recently, a sultry evening dinner at Flagler Steakhouse at The Breakers in Palm Beach proved this seemingly preposterous point in a memorable fashion, as winemaker Grégory Viennois from Domaine Laroche shared a stellar lineup of Chablis that both reinforced and shattered pairing preconceptions. These complex white wines can be a good choice for wine drinkers who, nine times out of ten, reach for something red.
Chablis comprises four appellations located in northern Burgundy, France: Petit Chablis, Chablis, Chablis Premier Cru, and Chablis Grand Cru. The most esteemed Chablis wines are Chablis Grand Crus, which are further divided into seven climats, all of which fan out in the commune of Chablis, facing the sun at varying altitudes along the right bank of the Serein River.
At Domaine Laroche, a Chablis producer dating back to 1850, chardonnay grapes are pampered from start to finish. Like all white Burgundy, Chablis is pure chardonnay, yet the expression of Domaine Laroche wines varies widely based on micro-terroir factors—including vineyard elevation and sun exposure—just as children born from the same parents often have completely different personalities and achievements. The common ground in Chablis is coveted Kimmeridgian subsoil—layers of clay, chalky limestone marl, gravel, and nutrient-dense fossilized oyster shells dating back 150 million years—that imparts unmistakable minerality, a bracing characteristic that distinguishes French Chablis in blind wine tastings.
As in South Florida, the real estate mantra: “location, location, location” echoes throughout Burgundy, separating great vineyards from profoundly great vineyards. “It’s very important to secure the best blocks,” says Grégory Viennois, wine- maker for Domaine Laroche, “the best vines to produce the best wines. Buying new plots today is très cher, so it is a true asset to have plots in premier and grand crus.
“We have a lot of old vines in our estate,” says Viennois. “These grow grapes with thick skin. In the skin we find all the good
natural compounds that give remarkable minerality to the final wine and protect it against oxidation.” In 2001, in response to cork pollution concerns, Laroche decided to embrace screwcap
closures. Today, corks from tightly controlled suppliers are found only on their premier and grand crus, which will improve for at least ten years with cellaring.
Laroche adapts winemaking techniques to each individual plot. Grapes grow in tiny single-vineyard plots of land, each with its own dedicated viticulturist who oversees all aspects of their care. Organic concepts prevail, as this one grower nurtures vines by double pruning, debudding, and soil conditioning. To further ripen grapes, these vine nannies selectively remove leaves to aerate the canopy, maximizing sun exposure for baby grapes—so essential in Chablis’ continental climate, where warm days are punctuated by chilly nights during the growing season.
Laroche perpetually searches for the best fruit, segregating all plots of premier and grand crus from harvest to bottling. Yields are kept low, ensuring vines produce top-quality fruit that typifies its origin. Plot-by-plot, vines are hand-harvested and grapes arrive at a sorting table to ensure even more control over fruit selection before being gently whole-bunch pressed. After malolactic fermentation and settling, wine is kept partially in stainless steel tanks and partially in mostly older French oak barrels for nine months until it is time to birth the final blend. “We declassify plots we are not perfectly satisfied with,” says Viennois. At this stage the wine is transferred to stainless steel tanks where it ages on fine lees for the next year.
Domaine Laroche owns nearly 100 hectares (247 acres) of vineyards in prime locations, including eleven premier crus and three grand cru climats: Les Blanchots, Les Bouguerots and Les Clos. Laroche’s most acclaimed wine, La Réserve de l’Obédience, is a blend of separate steep-slope plots of Les Blanchots with southeastern exposures that protect the fruit from late afternoon sun. Formerly a village monastery, monks made wine at l’Obédiencerie as early as the ninth century.
Daring au Pairing
All this obsessive attention to detail in the vineyard and the winery beautifully translates terroir to the glass, making Chablis one of the world’s most food-friendly wines. Perfect to serve year-round in South Florida, Domaine Laroche pairs wonderfully well with a wide variety of dishes. Pour Chablis for friends who eschew chardonnay for whatever reason and watch their surprised expressions when the label is revealed.
Ramp up the reveal by pairing a hearty red meat with a Laroche grand cru Chablis. Chef Thomas Laimo from The Breakers shares his recipe for Marinated Veal Chop with Leek and Chive-Infused Risotto and Ricotta Salata, surprisingly yet stunningly coupled with 2012 Domaine Laroche Chablis Grand Cru Réserve de l’Obédience. Or try one of the winemaker’s own unconventional red-meat pairings for Laroche grand cru Chablis: Asian Beef Tartare with ginger, coriander, soy sauce and lime. Either pairing will reflect Stephan Tanzer’s 95+ point review: “outstanding mineral lift, giving the wine a penetrating quality and keeping its fruit under wraps today. Most impressive on the smooth, dense, palate-saturating finish. This very long but tight wine will need at least several years in bottle to unfold.” Sure sounds like the South Beach scene, where unexpected pairings are often the most fascinating of all.
INSIDER GUIDE TO CHABLIS, FRANCE
Stay at Hôtel du Vieux Moulin in Chablis. Situated in an 18th-century mill over a rushing millstream, this charming boutique property offers bucolic views overlooking gently sloping grand cru vineyards. Seven spacious rooms, including two suites, are modestly decorated and encourage relaxation, as do the cozy robes and slippers. Continental breakfast is served in
the lounge or on the sun terrace, and an honor bar is stocked with wines from Domaine Laroche. Centrally located yet ideal for a romantic getaway, it’s within walking distance of the Obédiencerie. www.larochewines.com/en/vieux-moulin-hotel
Sample Domaine Laroche wines. An impressive 13th-century wooden wine press — one of the last two existing in perfect working order — is still used to ceremoniously crush chardonnay grapes during the annual Harvest Festival in Chablis. View the press during a Domaine Laroche tour and tasting at Obédiencerie, a former monastery that houses the oldest wine ageing cellars in Chablis. (See also page 76 for a selection of monasteries around the world that have been converted to luxury hotels.) Designated as a French National Heritage site, these cellars are used today to age premier cru and grand cru wines. Discover these wonderful wines at Boutique Laroche wine shop at Obédiencerie. www.larochewines.com/en/wine-shop
Dine at Au Fil du Zinc. Located in the hotel, this unassuming modern bistro restaurant dazzles diners with culinary skills honed at Joël Robuchon’s Michelin-starred restaurants in Paris. Über-talented chef Ryo Nagahama and his wife Vanessa, pâtissière extraordinaire, use pristine seasonal ingredients to prepare delightful dishes worthy of their own star. Robust attractively priced wine list, especially the Chablis. Menu changes every ten days and offers six-course dégustation or à la carte selections. Serves lunch and dinner daily, closed Tuesday and Wednesday.
2 12-ounce bone-in center-cut veal rib chops
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 tablespoon meat seasoning
6 ounces veal marinade (recipe follows)
Cooked risotto (recipe follows)
2 teaspoons unsalted butter, sautéed until browned
¼ teaspoon sea salt
Position oven rack about 3 inches from heat source; preheat broiler to high (or preheat grill to medium-high). Rub veal chops with vegetable oil; sprinkle both sides with meat seasoning. Place veal chops on hot grill or ridged cast-iron grill pan; grill or broil for 2 minutes. Without flipping, rotate chops by 45 degrees to create hatch marks, then cook 2 more minutes. Turn chops over. Grill or broil second side of chops for 2 minutes; rotate for hatch marks. Cook 2 more minutes until browned and meat thermometer inserted horizontally into center reads 125° F. Remove from heat; transfer chops to a wire rack, let stand.
To serve, spoon cooked risotto onto center of individual plates. In a large, shallow broiler-proof baking dish, place veal chops; pour marinade over chops. Heat under broiler until lightly charred. Remove dish from broiler; top chops with browned butter. Season to taste with sea salt. Arrange chops on top of risotto, slightly off to the side. Top chops with remaining marinade. Serve immediately.
TO MAKE THE VEAL MARINADE
2 tablespoons Parmigiano – Reggiano
1 ½ tablespoons fresh rosemary, chopped
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 tablespoons garlic cloves, minced
In non-reactive mixing bowl, combine all ingredients; mix well. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Set aside.
TO MAKE THE RISOTTO
2 tablespoons olive oil
¼ cup onion, minced (½ of a small onion)
1 cup Arborio rice
2 cups chicken stock, heated
¼ cup ricotta salata
Trim root ends and tough dark greens from leeks; discard. Slit remaining white and pale green leeks lengthwise and then into
quarters. Rinse well to remove dirt; cut into 2-inch matchstick julienne. Set aside.
In a heavy bottomed pan over medium heat, warm olive oil. Add diced onions to pan; sweat until translucent. Add Arborio rice; with wooden spoon, stir to coat. Add hot chicken stock, 2 ounces at a time, allowing rice to completely absorb stock each time, stirring constantly until rice is tender yet firm to the bite with a creamy consistency.
Add ricotta salata and butter, a little at a time; stir gently. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. Fold in leeks.
Add chives to garnish. Plate immediately.