A Scintillating Discovery in Chablis: Jean-Claude Bessin

The joys of frequently visiting a region comes in two parts:

  1. You can keep up with producers you want to follow regularly.
  2. You can squeeze in time to meet new people, especially as visits might take less time the better you get to know the producers (I’d never rush a visit), or you keep adding days to your agenda.

It is both parts of Part Two above that allowed me to meet Jean-Claude Bessin last year. I added him to my Part One list with delight. This was hands-down my favorite discovery of my 2017 visits!

Jean-Claude and his wife oversee 12 hectares and run their miniscule winery based in La Chapelle-Vaupelteigne north of the town of Chablis. Jean-Claude took over from his father about 30 years ago, and his son, Romain – a drum-playing jazz musician – now works with him. It’s comforting to know this estate founded in 1880 will remain in the family. I hope Romain continues to work with his father’s precise and elegant touch, but I’ll certainly be calling there to see what he choses, whenever the reins are fully turned over to him.

2016 Wine Notes From July 2017

Chablis Vieilles Vignes 2016
A blend of 15, primarily 50-68 year-old, parcels from around La Chapelle Vaupelteigne, this is chiseled, clean and very Chablisienne Chardonnay fermented and aged in 600 liter demi-muid barrels. It is bottled after 18 months, and there should be no rush to pop the cork. The wine is delightful already, but it will hold very well, too. Now, it tastes vividly minerally with donut peach and yellow plum nuances leading to a white pepper finish.
Drink: 2018-20

Chablis Montmains Premier Cru 2016
Due to the unusually miniscule yields of the vintage, the La Fôret portion of the estate’s vines was combined with the larger Montmains cuvée. This is not unprecedented, as prior to 2005, the winery had always combined the two parcels. After all, they are rather close to each other. However, they are distinct – as Burgundian parcels should be, so Jean-Claude decided to showcase their different qualities. However, it is very hard to make excellent wines with low volumes, so the decision for this peculiar vintage is understandable. The wine was fermented in regular Burgundian barrels and larger demi-muids. It almost sparkles with freshness and brisk, lemony acidity. Though chiseled in structure, it has that welcoming fruit that southeast-facing Montmains always shows.
Drink: 2018-26

Chablis La Fourchaume Premier Cru La Pièce au Comte 201
Hailing from the heart of Fourchaume, this piece of land was gifted to Jean-Claude’s father-in-law, who had worked for a Comtesse. The oldest vines in the family stable, its soils are turned over and all labor is done by hand to encourage an elegant fruit expression. And, wow, do that nail that effort! This wine shows laser-like acidity with a bewitching minerality and moreish peach and straw palate. Though I adored it, it is still a bit closed after two years of aging in demi-muids, 25% of which were new. With its vigorous concentration yet perfect polish, this will unfold beautifully in the coming years. Fourchaume isn’t a cool site (and that is a huge understatement, once you’ve walked its vines over many years in late July), but if this were the only one you’d ever tasted, you’d surely be tricked into thinking it was.
Drink: 2018-26

Chablis Valmur Grand Cru 2016
Tight, focused and assertively structured, this medium-bodied Grand Cru smells of lime blossom and white apricot. Its palate shows an astonishing dimension of minerality, in part due to its northwestern exposition (what the locals would call the “L'Envers” - or southern - side of the Valmur Valley), despite that its elevation is in line with the bottom of Les Clos (meaning its rather close to the base of the hill.) A portion of the vines sits beside the Raveneaus’. Though seeing nothing but barrel and demi-muid, the presence of the French forests is modest here. It’s all terroir and, moreover, respect for terroir.
Drink: 2018-28