Of Chablis, Oyster Cebiche, Ocean Floor and Sensorial Glory


“I prefer the 2007 Chablis wines to the 08’s. They are more classic, with acidic minerality. 2008, which some favor, shows more fruit. But what makes Chablis different is the electric acidity, unlike that of any other white wine in the world”. I heard those words last night, tasting a flight of Jean-Marc Brocard Chablis wines. Today, enjoying a sip of the 2007  Montmains Premier Cru next to a Royal Miyagi oyster cebiche, I fully understand their meaning. Frederic Brouca, Brocard’s Manager Sommelier for North America, planted the idea in my head, when he saw my card. More precisely, when he heard my accent. “Where is that accent from” asked Frederic, with an accent. “Peruvian. Ok. Taste this. Would this pair well with cebiche?”. As it turned out, Frederic knows his Peruvian cebiche as well as his white wines. I tried to imagine the combination, sipping the Montmains. That intense minerality, like the memory of the soil itself, has connotations of marine scents. Which is not strange at all, given that what makes Chablis’ terroir unique is the presence of billions of marine fossils in the Kimmeridgian subsoil where the vineyards thrive. The acidity exacerbates those “memories” on my palate, tingling with very subtle fruit and a brushstroke of salinity. The finish is long like time itself, memories of ocean floors that have been, of floods, of previous episodes of earth warming. That is what the wine transmits, the vine only acting as a way for the earth expressing itself. “Oysters” I think. “Oyster cebiche.” I have a plan in my mind.

Besides the extremely lean and mean Montmains, Frederic poured a glass of the Boissonneuse, a Chablis of lesser appellation that is yeasty, richer. The lees are stirred on this one, which has also the hallmark acidity but allows the fruit to show more, in a nice balance. A good wine to discover the beauty of Chablis at an affordable price ($36-40). Next in the flight, the Grand Cru Le Clos shines on the nose, a breeze of green apple crushed in a stone mortar. The palate is equally delicious, and had not Frederic told me that this wine spends some time in very old oak vats, I may have not noticed the almost imperceptible trace of wood. Sfumato is the word that comes to mind. The acidity and marine minerality, impeccable. Magnifico. This wine is available in Vancouver in the 80-90 dollar range.

After saying goodbye to Frederic, I walk home with a demi-bouteille of the Motnmains ($25-28), already thinking of the half dozen Royal Miyagis waiting at home. I also think “damn, I wish I could speak French.” Somehow, talking to Frederic about wine, I felt the need for expressing myself in the language of romantic, culinary and enological endeavors. How can you speak in English of la finesse et la mineralite without sounding hopelessly clunky?

THE RECIPE

Enough of that; to the Cebiche. Shucked the oysters with a New Haven style oyster knife, the only kind that really works. Saved every bit of the liquid, the oyster’s “blood.” I used very little hot pepper, a quarter of a red Thai. I could have used even less, as any excess in the heat will negate the subtleties of the wine. Squeezed half a lime, perhaps a bit more. A few flat (Italian) parsley leaves, chopped very fine. Half a shallot, again, sliced very fine and rinsed in cold water. I waited not; oysters are at their best raw. The cebiche was stupendous. Would the pairing work?

I held the glass of Montmains near my mouth. My nose was aflame with the vapors from the lime, the Thai pepper, the oysters: The sea itself. Like a river that meets the ocean, those aromas blended with the ones coming from the glass. The intense acidity of the wine equaled that of the cebiche, the traces of marine minerality from the Chablis encountered their match in the flavor of the oysters still reverberating on my palate. I thanked God for making Chablis possible.

A bientot.

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