When oysters die, the shells they leave behind litter the seafloor for millennia. Pretty inconsiderate. Only, the thing about oyster shells is that, when they crush together by the thousands, over geologic time they turn into a very useful rock called limestone. And the thing about limestone made from oyster shells is that it turns white wine into gold.
The village of Chablis sits on the river Sevein between two long hillsides, each of which has been carved away by the slow flow of that river, exposing a layer of this oyster-bed limestone for farming. The steepest slope is designated grand cru. A handful of surrounding parcels are designated as premiere crus. Only a few producers have access to these special slopes.
The consensus best among them? Domaine François Raveneau. Rare, magnificent. A few of which are currently resting comfortably in our shop.
Let's go back 150 million years, just for a second, to the Late Jurassic era. A little hook-nosed bivalve named Exogyra virgula was everywhere, living it up, spreading its seed across the ocean bed now known as France. But virgula left the place trashed, shells everywhere. When the next generation came along (the original Portlandians, literally) they had a different sort of lifestyle in mind, and slowly covered up all that embarrassing old folks' detritus. Layer upon layer, ad infinitum.
Which — whiplash — brings us up to the 20th century. Those virgula shells fossilized under the pressure of millions of years worth of sediment, forming a limestone we call by its epochal name, Kimmeridgian. Simply put, Kimmeridgian limestone is the magic rock that turns ordinary chardonnay into subliminal Chablis.
Chablis is profoundly different from other wines, and it has everything to do with the interplay of this one grape variety with this one chalky marl soil type and this one climate. Something about the way chardonnay vines drink from Kimmeridgian limestone, on these slopes, creates a kind of elixir, ushering the wines of Chablis into a dazzling greatness. Of course, the raw materials are only that until they find their way into the hands of an alchemist.
In steps Domaine François Raveneau. Raveneau developed a reputation early on, just after World War II, for his elusive personality and his wholly distinctive wines. He refused the industrialization of winemaking, both in the farm and in the cellar, favoring purity over affect, integrity over mass appeal. You might say the style of Raveneau wines, in a sense, is that they have no style. That is, no imposed style. They are precise, flawless, consistent; arising from a vision of this place, Chablis, its climate and geology and culture, without pretense. With his unwavering vision, F. Raveneau took Chablis from very good to great.
Simplicity is the most difficult virtue in craft — it requires a wisdom that must be earned, a confidence that cannot be faked — and in this respect, Raveneau makes some of the most finely simple wines in the world.
Enough! I'm making myself thirsty. Wanting for a dozen Shigoku and a bottle of Vaillons. What I'm saying is, if you're really into wine and you've never had the pleasure of a Raveneau, there's a good reason: They're highly sought after and made only in minuscule quantities. They're rare. They're peerless. And they're worth what I'm about to suggest.
Instead of buying three or four bottles of something else, splurge on a bottle of Raveneau. Make it an occasion. Give yourself something you really want, something you won't forget. It doesn't get much better.
Domaine François Raveneau Premiere Crus
Vaillons 2012, 2013 - $150
Mont-mains 2012, 2013 - $150
Butteaux 2012, 2013 - $160
*All bottles are being stored at cellar temperature.