The 2017 Chablis Grand Cru Valmur is brilliant, unwinding in the glass with a complex bouquet that mingles aromas of Meyer lemon and white peach with notes of oyster shell, iodine, wet stones, blanched almonds and wheat toast. On the palate, it's full-bodied, deep and searingly concentrated, with racy acids, chewy structuring extract and a long, precise and mouthwatering finish. Cropped at a mere 13 hectoliters per hectare, it nonetheless retains superb balance and a very promising sense of reserve.
In last year's Chablis report, I wondered aloud how one explains the Raveneau magic? Yields here aren't excessively high, but they're not the region's lowest. Fermentation at between 18 degrees and 20 degrees centigrade in tank, followed by élevage in used barrels define the very elementary outlines of the winemaking process—a description that would equally apply to Vincent Dauvissat's stylistically different wines. The devil, presumably, is in the details.
This year's visit with Bernard Raveneau, with whom I passed a fascinating two hours, revealed a new piece of the puzzle. When I inquired about the importance of lees during the wine's time in wood, Raveneau's response was memorable: "I've never understood why we change babies, whereas we leave a wine in its excrement!" Clearly, therefore, the Raveneau wines go to barrel after their fermentation in tank with very little in the way of solids, and perhaps this provides a point of distinction—in addition, of course, to different approaches in the vineyards—with Vincent Dauvissat's more reductive wines. In any case, as I wrote last year, I'm content to ponder the domaine's mysteries for the foreseeable future, as the Domaine Raveneau is undoubtedly the source of some of Chablis's greatest wines—and its most dependably long-lived.
The 2017s, which were bottled during my two weeks in Chablis, increasingly resemble the domaine's 2010s, though they're a touch more extroverted and expressive in style. While acknowledging that "people will fixate on the Clos and Montée de Tonnerre," I suspect Raveneau may have shared my preference for the Butteaux and Valmur over their more famous siblings in this year's collection. Tasted from barrel, where they had only just begun their élevage, the 2018s—which represent the first copious yield chez Raveneau for several years—were already quite put-together, supple and incipiently delicious. It doesn't appear to be a vintage built for the long haul, but it will deliver immense near- and medium-term pleasure, as well as what appears to be, at this early stage, a more classically Chablisien profile.
Readers looking for more on this important estate and its history are directed to my article published in the End of March issue of The Wine Advocate, which includes information previously unpublished in English.