Chablis by William Fèvre

William Fèvre is the best Chablis producer with a shop where it is possible to simply show up during opening hours for a tasting. There is a sign saying that you may have to pay 8 euro to taste, and that this will be deducted from the first purchase. If weren’t planning on buying, for example because of your luggage allowance, then you can surely afford such a tasting fee. This type of fee usually exists mostly to deter locals from drinking for free.

William Fevre 20130703 utifrån

William Fèvre started his company under the name Domaine de la Maladière, and his first harvest took place in 1959. He had strong views in two of Chablis’ controversies of previous decades. I have covered those to some extent in the introductory post to my visit. As president of Le Syndicat de la Défense de l’Appellation Chablis, he was against expanding Chablis beyond the area of Kimmeridgian soils. This was a battle he and the organisation lost, because already in 1978, INAO (the organisation responsible for the French wine appellations) to put more emphasis on the microclimate and the aspect of the Chablis vineyards and less on the soils. Since then, the vineyard surface has expanded considerably into Portlandian soils. The other controversy concerned the use of oak, where Fèvre was the leading proponent of fermenting and raising Chablis wines in oak barrels, including a proportion of new oak. In this case, Fèvre must be considered to have emerged at least partially victorious. Today, most producers – including some former non-oak producers – use oak barrels at the grand cru level, and it is rather common to encounter oak also at the premier cru level. It does seem, however, that this acceptance has happened only after the retirement of Fèvre, and most producers make a difference between new oak (which most consider incompatible with Chablis) and used, more neutral oak barrels.

In 1998 William Fèvre, then 67 years old, retired and sold his company to the Champagne house Henriot, although they only got a 25 years lease on the vineyards. The name of the company was changed to Domaine William Fèvre, but this was no big change as the William Fèvre name was on the labels previously as well. Already before this time Henriot had bought the Burgundy négociant Bouchard Père & Fils. Under Henriot’s ownership, the use of oak has continued, but more limited than previously and more adapted to the concentration of the wine, and the use of new oak has more or less stopped. The oak barrels used today have an average age of 6 years, which means that they definitely use old oak, probably older than the average in Chablis, and thus quite neutral oak barrels. It seems that the average age of the barrels is the the same at all levels – village to grand cru – and instead it is the proportion of oak that is varied between the wines. I could mention that in the 18 tasting notes below – 12 from July 2013 and 6 from July 2012, covering the vintages 2008-2012 – only one mentions oak, and then as “some hints of oak barrel notes”. Thus, Fèvre’s use of oak today is very well-handled and discrete.

William Fèvre was a very good producer in the 1990s, but most seem to agree that the company has been lifted to an even higher level since the Henriot purchase. Fèvre is a strong competitor for the third place in the pecking order in Chablis. If price and demand tells the truth, places one and two are occupied by Raveneau and V. Dauvissat, both considerably smaller producers than Fèvre, the wines of which are rather difficult to find, and almost possible to find if we’re talking about their grand crus. On the other hand, the grand crus of Fèvre are not too difficult to find, at least not the youngest vintage.

A factor contributing to the availability of the best wines of Fèvre is their impressive set of grand cru vineyard holdings. They control 15,2 ha (38 acres) divided among five of the seven vineyards, representing 15% of the total grand cru vineyard surface. They are by far the largest owner in Bougros (with 6,23 ha/50%, of which 2,11 ha Côte Bouguerots and 4,12 ha regular Bougros) and the largest owner in Les Clos (with 4,11 ha/16%). This makes them the largest grand cru owner, since the La Chablisienne cooperative (or rather its owners) only controls 14 ha (35 acres) of grand cru vineyards, of which 7,5 ha Grenouilles.

A label from Domaine William Fèvre. Picture borrowed from http://www.wine-searcher.com.

There are also négociant wines from William Fèvre, i.e., wines not sourced from their own vineyards, unlike the Domaine William Fèvre wines. However, the production of wines from bought-in grapes has decreased in recent years, and on their current price list there were only a few of these wines. The only négociant wine I tasted was their Petit Chablis. The only wine existing in two versions on their price list was their village Chablis. Earlier, some premier crus and grand crus existed both as Domaine William Fèvre wines and William Fèvre négociant wines.

A négociant wine from William Fèvre, same vineyard as above. Note that the only visible difference between the two labels is that the word “Domaine” doesn’t appear here. Picture borrowed from http://www.ps-wein.de.

The domaine wine have always been slightly better and slightly more expensive, and it is usually only those that have been rated by wine journalists. What has tended to irritate some wine buyers is that the labels of the two categories are almost identical. Typeface, foils and so on are exactly the same, and the only visible difference is the word “Domaine”, which is present on the labels of the domaine wines but not on the négociant wines. If the ambition was to make it simple for consumers to differentiate between the two categories, it would have been possible to use labels or print of a different colour. Well, this seems now to be a very limited problem with respect to the latest vintages, which is a step forward. However, there is still reason to be observant when encountering older vintages, since several négociant grand crus from William Fèvre were available only a few years ago.

The tasting was quite generous, and I tasted these twelve wines:

Petit Chablis 2012, € 9,30 on location
No oak.

Nose: slightly flowery, green apple, some wine gum?
Palate: apple, gooseberry, high acidity, a hint of grapefruit bitterness, a hint of spice, some mineral, aftertaste with a hint of bitterness.
Summary: slightly atypical, 84 p?

By the way, the only 2012 I tasted during my visit. Some of the atypical notes could have been due to its youth. 2012 was apparently a very difficult year for the Chablis producers. At Fèvre they mentioned that the volume was 40-50% less than usual.

Chablis Domaine 2011, € 12,10
Approx. 10% oak at this level.

Nose: green apple, mineral, a small hint of flowers
Palate: green apple, citrus, strong mineral notes, good concentration, long aftertaste with mineral.
Summary: quite good for a village Chablis, rather young, 88 p.

Fèvre’s village-level Chablis, in particular “Chablis Domaine” from their own vineyards, is usually very good and of a consistent quality, and may often be better than premier crus from less reliable producers. The 2011 was no exception and in my opinion, is just as a Chablis should be.

Chablis Premier Cru Vaillons Domaine 2011, € 24,50
Approx. 50% oak.

Nose: mineral, rather ripe fruit, some flowery notes, elegant
Palate: stony mineral notes, citrus, only green apple, rather high acidity, slightly “creamy”, good concentration.
Summary: a slightly bigger wine than the village Chablis, rather young, 90(+) p

Both Vaillons and Les Lys are premier crus from the left bank.

Chablis Premier Cru Les Lys Domaine 2011, € 24,50
Approx. 50% oak.

Nose: mineral with a clearly stony note, green apple, a hint of flowery notes, quite elegant
Palate: stony mineral, some apple and citrus, high acidity, good concentration, aftertaste with citrus and mineral.
Summary: more minerality than Vaillons. Rather young, 90(+) p

Chablis Premier Cru Montée de Tonnerre Domaine 2011, € 29,50(?)
Approx. 50% oak.

Nose: mineral with smoky notes, green apple, a firm and classical nose
Palate: stony mineral notes, spicy, rather concentrated and powerful, green apple, high acidity, long aftertaste with mineral.
Summary: more powerful and foody style than the two left bank premier crus. Young, but approachable, 91(+) p

Montée de Tonnerre, Fourchaume, and Vaulorent are premier crus from the right bank.

Chablis Premier Cru Fourchaume Domaine 2011, € 27
Approx. 50% oak.

Nose: mineral, slightly smoky, some yellow apple, a hint of spice.
Palate:  stony mineral notes, powerful, spicy, high acidity, very mineral-dominated aftertaste.
Summary: mineral-dominated but slightly more coarse than Montée de Tonnerre. Young, but approachable, 90(+) p

Chablis Premier Cru Vaulorent Domaine 2011, € 33,50
Approx. 50% oak.

Nose: mineral with impressions of smoke and dust, some yellow apple, just a hint of spice and a hint of flowery notes, some elegance.
Palate: mineral with impressions of smoke and dust, quite concentrated, high acidity, some apple, long aftertaste with mineral.
Summary: both powerful and elegant, very mineral-driven. Young, but rather approachable, 91+ p

Vaulorent is one of the premier cru vineyards that also can be called Fourchaume. It borders the grand cru vineyard Les Preuses, and is the only premier cru vineyard located directly on the grand cru hill rather than on a neighbouring hill, separated by a narrow valley, as is the case for Montée de Tonnerre and the rest of Fourchaume. Fèvre therefore considers it as in a class of its own among the premier crus, and it was presented as being “between premier cru and grand cru”. In other cases, they have also used the designation “the eighth grand cru” (a phrase that would usually be used to refer to La Moutonne). It is priced slightly higher than their other premier crus.

Chablis Grand Cru Valmur Domaine 2011, € 48,50
Approx. 80% oak.

Nose: mineral, some yellow apple with hints of baked apple, small hints of flowery notes.
Palate: mineral, quite concentrated, some yellow fruit including citrus, high acidity, some spice.
Summary: mineral-driven but with slightly more fruit than the premier crus, and slightly softer than the three right bank premier crus. Rather young, somewhat approachable, 92(+) p

Chablis Grand Cru Bougros Côte Bouguerots Domaine 2011, € 48,50
Approx. 80% oak.

Nose: mineral, some baked yellow apple, spice, some hints of oak barrel notes. Slightly more spicy than the 2011 Valmur, but otherwise rather similar in the nose.
Palate: mineral, yellow apple, citrus, noticeable spice, high acidity, hints of grapefruit bitterness, aftertaste with mineral.
Summary: powerful and spicy. Rather young, somewhat approachable, 92(+) p

Fèvre produces both a regular Grand Cru Bougros and this Côte Bouguerots. As the name implies, this wine comes from a part of Bougros that consists of a steeper slope.

Chablis Grand Cru Les Preuses Domaine 2011, € 48,50
Approx. 80% oak.

Nose: mineral, slightly smoky, some green apple, some spice. More mineral-dominated that the other grand crus.
Palate: mineral, citrus, spice, high acidity, long and mineral-dominated aftertaste.
Summary: young, not very accessible, 91+ p?

Chablis Grand Cru Les Clos Domaine 2011, € 55
Approx. 80% oak.

Nose: mineral, yellow and green apple, some spice.
Palate: mineral with a stony character, mint, quite concentrated, green apple, high acidity. Long aftertaste with mineral and mint.
Summary: a young and well-built grand cru with all the pieces in the right places, 93+ p

Yes, this was where I awarded the highest score during my visit to Chablis. Perhaps not too surprising that the combination of William Fèvre and Les Clos proved to be unbeatable. It simply didn’t help that some 2010 or 2008 grand crus were offered for tasting elsewhere.

Chablis Grand Cru Vaudésir Domaine 2010, € 51
Approx. 80% oak.

Nose: mineral, slightly smoky, citrus, some yellow winter apple, hints of spice, slightly more “muted” nose than the 2011s.
Palate: mineral with mineral water character, quite concentrated, some apple and citrus, long aftertaste with mineral.
Summary: more mineral than the 2011s, and more closed than most of those. Young, 92+ p

There is no doubt in my mind – this was definitely the best producer out of the five I visited. During my visit, I scored five wines 92-93 points, in all instances with some sort of plus sign sunce they showed additional potential for development. (And a whole range of wines were scored 90-91 points.) As can be seen above, four of these were Fèvre wines. Naturally, it did contribute that I tasted the largest number of grand crus – five – here. However, I also rated their village Chablis and their premier crus higher than the rest, so my overall impression is based on a solid impression of their entire range, and not just of their generosity at the grand cru level. Their wines are not cheap, but I find them very reasonably priced compared to their quality.

Wines from William Fèvre tasted in February 2012

I attended a large tasting at their Swedish importer Bibendum in February 2012, where six William Fèvre was among the wines available. Since I haven’t written about that tasting before, I thought I might as well include those tasting notes here. Since all wines were tasted in February 2012, they may be more developed today. This was a walk-around tasting with many wines and many participants.

Petit Chablis 2010
No oak.

Smoky, some tropical fruit (?!), firm on the palate, good acidity, 85 p.

Chablis Domaine 2010 (from magnum)
Approx. 10% oak.

Nose with a lot of mineral, green apple, citrus. Palate with good concentration, apple, good acidity. Classical Chablis, 89 p.

Chablis Premier Cru Les Lys Domaine 2008
Approx. 50% oak.

Mineral, slightly flowery, elegant, firm, still young, 89 p.

Chablis Premier Cru Vaulorent Domaine 2009
Approx. 50% oak.

Nose with honey and yellow apple. The palate is concentrated, shows good acidity and yellow apple and is classical. 90 p.

Chablis Grand Cru Bougros Domaine 2008
Approx. 80% oak.

The nose is flowery/aromatic and concentrated, some green apple, elegant. Palate with good concentration, apple, good acidity, some spice. Still young, 91+ p.

Chablis Grand Cru Les Clos Domaine 2009
Approx. 80% oak.

The nose is aromatic, with honey, ripe yellow apple and some baked apple, some spice. The palate shows high concentration with minty minerality, and good acidity (although not extremely high). Young, but rather accessible, 93+ p.

Looking back, I’m a little surprised that I didn’t score the two 2008s even sightly higher, since this should be top vintage. Perhaps the combination of slightly closed wines (3 1/2 years old, one premier cru and one grand cru) and the tasting format played in. I did however describe both as “elegant”, which is a good sign. The two simple 2010s performed well, as a top vintage should, and there was fine balance in the 2009s although they also showed a more approachable style as is to be expected from a ripe vintage. Taken together, I got the same impression of the Fèvre wines then as I did when I tasted on location in Chablis, although I was probably even a little more impressed in Chablis, when I tasted them under more calm circumstances. And that same impression is that these are wines of the very highest class.

The Swedish version of this post can be found here.

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One Response to Chablis by William Fèvre

  1. Pingback: William Fèvre Chablis Grand Cru tasting | Tomas's wine blog

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