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How Lean, Racy Chablis Unlocked a Wine Life

Best-selling author Jordan Mackay shares some of his longtime favorite Chardonnays

Janice Williams By August 17, 2021
Photo illustration by Allison Kahler.

Jordan Mackay didn’t understand much about the Cold War espionage that filled the pages of Ian Fleming’s James Bond books when he read them as a kid, but he was completely enthralled with the author’s descriptions of the extravagant dinners, cocktails and bottles of fine wine the M16 agent often indulged in. Granted, it would be years before Mackay would be old enough to legally enjoy similar luxuries, the novels opened his mind to the world of food and wine and would essentially serve as a major influence on his career.

“When I was in college and old enough to drink, I started to learn more about wine. I would procrastinate doing my homework by going to the library and reading old books on wine,” Mackay says. “It’s really grown with me for most of my life even though I don’t come from a wine-collecting family.”

Mackay spent the earlier years of his career as a general news journalist in San Francisco before he pivoted to wine-writing full-time. Since then, his byline has appeared in a number of esteemed publications from Food & Wine magazine to the New York Times. Mackay has also published several books on wine and food, including his first, 2009’s Passion for Pinot, and two collaborative imprints — Secrets of Sommeliers and The Sommelier’s Atlas of Taste — with James Beard Award-winner Rajat Parr. His 2015 book Franklin Barbecue, which Mackay co-wrote alongside James Beard Best Chef Southwest Award-winner Aaron Franklin, spent weeks on the New York Times Best Seller’s List, and he’ll soon start his second book on grilling and smoking with Franklin in the fall. 

Reflecting on his career, Mackay credits the many sommeliers he befriended when he first started out as a wine writer for his growth in the industry. The time he spent with somms not only helped advance his knowledge and palate, but it was from hanging out with wine professionals that he met his wife Christie Dufault — with whom he has also written a book, Two in the Kitchen: A Cookbook for Newlyweds. And it was his sommelier pals who helped him unlock his love for the lean and racy wines of Chablis. 

“Being friends with all these sommeliers gave me great access to Chablis,” Mackay says. “I was in my late twenties and thought they were completely different from the Chardonnay I’d had from California or Oregon or other parts of Burgundy.”

Situated in the northernmost, cool climate wine district of France’s Burgundy region, wines from Chablis are predominately made of Chardonnay. While Chardonnay is a common grape and one that grows in vineyards all around the world, wines from Chablis are particularly distinctive in taste. “Chablis really puts its stamp of terroir on the grape,” Mackay says. 

“They’re not about oak. They’re not about any sort of sweetness or fatness. They’re about lean, racy expressions of limestone,” he continues. “They’re wonderfully versatile wines with all kinds of food. They can age remarkably well and develop complexity in the bottle, but they’re also refreshing and sharp when they’re young.”

Mackay has sipped numerous bottles of Chablis throughout his life, but three in particular have stood the test of time. He recommends them below.

bottle of Domaine Louis Michel et Fils Chablis 2018

Domaine Louis Michel et Fils Chablis 2018 ($26)

The grapes used for this wine originate from eight different plots — some of the best in the region —  that are mostly located on the left bank of the River Serein in Chablis. The wine is fresh with white fruit aromas and a clean, persistent mineral structure. “Domaine Louis Michel et Fils are especially known for the agreeability of their wines and the purity of their wines,” Mackay says.

Domaine Laurent Tribut Chablis 2018 ($45)

Having penned a book with his wife, Mackay knows a thing or two about spouses working together on something they love and enjoy. So this wine has particular significance considering it’s produced by husband-and-wife winemaking duo Laurent Tribut and Marie-Clotilde Dauvissat, the daughter of renowned winemaker René Dauvissat. “They’re a very small domaine but they make wonderful sort of lyrical and poetic wines that I find very delicious. This is just one of those wines that feel good in the body.”

bottle of ine Eleni et Edouard Vocoret, 'Bas de Chapelot' Chablis 2018

Domaine Eleni et Edouard Vocoret, 'Bas de Chapelot' Chablis 2018 ($46)

Produced by another married couple, Eleni and Edouard Vocoret, the Chardonnay grapes used for this Chablis are grown on soils composed of clay, limestone, and Kimmeridgian, which heavily influence the taste. “This wine is a beautiful blend of richness and racy acidity,” Mackay says. “It has this aromatic complexity, like a bouquet of flowers mixed with lemon and lime zest. And when you drink it, you can really taste this nice salinity too.”