Thursday 23rd of June. That was the date when we in the UK voted for Brexit – a vote for separation from our European neighbours. As the final figures came in and the enormity of this decision became apparent an awful sound filled the air, a wrenching and groaning noise the likes of which had never been heard before as the tectonic plates surrounding our nation started to shift. Huge overlapping shards of granite burst out of the sea one after the other surrounding our island nation with an armadilloesque shield until we were completely cut off, alone and isolated. The Channel Tunnel collapsed in on itself and air travel was deemed too dangerous because of the radiation risk from this granite ‘barrier’. The consequences were immediate. The London restaurant scene collapsed almost overnight due to the lack of burrata. Provincial dinner parties were thrown into chaos as gift boxes of Belgian chocolates were no longer available creating social unrest in Penge, Pinner and Padstow. Worst of all, branches of Waitrose were ransacked as people fought for the last bottle of Albariño.In the face of this incipient anarchy there was only one man for the job…Douglas Blyde. Douglas’ cover job was writing about wine for the Daily Telegraph but actually he fronted a secret organisation known only as G.R.A.P.E. and it was in that capacity that he had invited me along with an international band of crack operatives to the organisation’s secret headquarters at the Andaz Studio in the fabulous Andaz Hotel next to Liverpool St station.We looked nervously at the ‘Honour Wall’, pictures of colleagues ‘missing in action’ as Douglas outlined the plan codenamed ‘Bacchus On A Knife Edge’. We would dig a tunnel through to the village of Chablis in France’s Burgundy region using what power tools we had to hand as well as some of the finest cutlery available to man. Fortunately many wine glasses were available for removing the soil. This patriotic mission would guarantee supplies of the finest continental produce to our tables-nothing could be more important. I was so ready…We were to be supported by three of London’s leading supper club cooks at the stoves who would provide nourishment and encouragement as the digging and clearing proceeded. Progress was quick. Within a couple of hours we had reached Dover, hitting the chalk layer that took us speedily under the Channel through to the Loire Valley. Our first stop came when we arrived at the outlying areas of the region with its distinctive limestone-based Portlandian soil. We celebrated with chilled glasses of the ‘Pas Si Petit’ Petit Chablis 2014 from 300 grower-strong cooperative La Chablisienne. We were thoroughly revived by this surprisingly full-bodied aperitif and its citrus/yuzu notes which perfectly matched our Scandinavian-inspired canapés by Martina and Magdelena of NORDISH supperclub- miniature Norwegian fishcakes with a spiky remoulade sauce, and cucumber rolls filled with crab, avocado and mayonnaise.
Digging continued as we moved closer to the hallowed slopes of the Serein River. Exhaustion was starting to hit some of the team so it was clearly time for another reviver.Hana of Pickled Plates excited our tastebuds with patriotic and healthy reworking of fish and chips. Pan-fried whiting was served with tempura samphire and a summer vegetable salad featuring roasted radishes and a brown butter dressing. Douglas urged us on with glasses of Alain Geoffroy’s 2014 Chablis with its butter and caramel notes as we hit the first traces of Kimmeridgean soil, a melange of limestone, clay and fossilised oyster shells that gives this particular expression of the Chardonnay grape its trademark flintiness. The clay elements of the terroir were proving troublesome and so we used corkscrews from the Geoffroy family’s 1,500+ strong corkscrew museum for essential boring duties. But soon it was time for the final push through to the surface and the ever-glamorous Rosie of A Little Lusciousness provided us with the sustenance for the job with a Japonaise take on the humble chop. Soy and miso-glazed pork chop on the bone came with spring onion rice, Japanese raw slaw, rice vinegar and chilli dressing. Protein levels suitably enhanced we slaked our thirst with Julien Brocard’s Chablis, La Boissonneuse (also 2014) an oaky ‘biodynamic’ number, a heady concentration of citrus, vanilla and flint.As we broke through to the surface we were met by cheering crowds of Italian producers of Mustard di Cremona, German Schneckensuppe suppliers, and from the Ardèche in France purveyors of the finest Marrons Glacés. Our job was done-Britain’s fine dining establishments and delicatessen’s shelves would be restocked with deliciousness from our European gastro-brotherhood. We celebrated with platters of unpasteurised cheeses from England and France in a cross-Channel curd-off; a Stichleton blue in Nottinghamshire had much more depth of acidity than a Bleu d’Auvergne, a creamy Baron Bigod from Bungay that trounced a Normandy Camembert, and a Parmesanesque Montgomery Cheddar from North Cadbury in Somerset that saw off a rather too young Comté from the Swiss Jura. Chablis is not a dessert wine but is wonderful with cheese so we were lucky to be able to toast our success with bottle upon bottle of Premier and Grand Cru Chablis, the veritable apotheosis of the Chardonnay grape within this terroir. We experienced a Domaine William Fevre, Vaulorent, Premier Cru 2012, a Jean Paul et Benoit Valmur Grand Cru 2012, the Clotilde Davenne Les Preuses Grand Cru 2008 and finally the Domaine Laroche Les Blanchots Grand Cru 2007.
These were powerful, confident wines but still displaying that steely quality that characterises Chablis, and it is my belief that it was that steely quality that saw us through our mission, the diversity of expression even within the same year of production matching our diverse team. So thank you to Douglas for allowing us to reestablish our cross-Channel links with La Manche now flowing with fine wine rather than the salty brine of post-Brexit tears.
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