As the leaves are slowly changing and there’s a bit of a chill at night, my tastes run toward richer, more complex whites. For me Chablis is an excellent bridge between light summer quaffers and the heavier whites from Rhone, California, Burgundy or Savenierres.
The Chablis we’re discussing bears no resemblance to the “Mountain Chablis” your parents might have drunk from jugs in your youth. It also bears no resemblance to many of the oaky California Chardonnays on the market. Frankly, if you’re a fan of Sancerre, you should definitely “visit” Chablis.
Chablis is the northern-most appellation in Burgundy. In fact, aside from Champagne and Alsace, there are no other vineyards that far north in France. The region is known for vineyards that are planted on primarily Kimmeridgean soil, which is composed of limestone, clay and fossilized oyster shells.
Like Burgundy proper, the wines are made from the Chardonnay grape. These wines just tend to be a lighter version. New oak is rarely seen in wines from Chablis. These are wines of purity, clarity and finesse. The best show laser-like focus, beautiful minerality and lovely fruit flavors.
There are four designations for Chablis: Grand Cru, Premier Cru, Chablis and Petit Chablis.
Grand Cru wines are obviously the highest, most sought after and expensive. There are seven crus (or vineyards) located on the same southwest facing hill overlooking the town of Chablis. The elevations are between 490–660 feet above sea level.
Premier Cru comes next. There are 40 vineyards but they only use the names of seventeen umbrella vineyards in the area. They are generally about ½ degree lower in alcohol, without the intense aromatics of the Grand Crus.
Generic AOC Chablis is the district level appellation for these wines, and it is the largest appellation in the region, exhibiting a lot of variability between producers and vintages.
Petit Chablis vines grow on the outskirts of the region. The soil is generally different, Portlandian, which is a limestone-based soil that is slightly younger than the Kimmeridgean. Don’t dismiss these out of hand, some of the best values in the area come from this appellation.
Over the years, I’ve had the pleasure of sampling so many wonderful wines from Chablis that it’s almost impossible to make recommendations.
Therefore, I’ll recommend some producers you should look for (in alphabetical order). This is not an exhaustive list:
- Jean-Claude Bessin
- Jean-Marc Brocard
- La Chablisienne (best for Premier and Grand Cru)
- Vincent Dampt (especially good Petit Chablis)
- Jean Paul & Benoit Droin
- Joseph Drouhin
- William Fèvre
- Olivier Leflaive
- Louis Michel
- Christian Moreau
- Louis Moreau
- Vincent Mothe
- Francois Raveneau