Chablis wines typically suffer a negative image in the United States due to their association with inferior mass produced brands. As a result, Chablis only represent 16% of the white wine market. France’s Chablis Winemakers are working to fix this perception gap which is great news for us…an abundance of top quality reasonably priced bottles!
Where Chablis Wines Come From
First a short etymology lesson: Chablis stems from two Celtic words: CAB (house) and LEYA (near the woods). Human settlements in this littlecorner of France’s Bourgogne region extend back to Neolithic times and then looking forward it was the Romans who began Chablis production in earnest. Chablis appellation vineyards now abound in the French département of Yonne equidistant between Paris and Beaune.
What Makes Chablis Special
Chablis is made from Chardonnay grapes but not every Chardonnay is Chablis. According to renowned Chablis Winemaker Jean-François Bordet, “Chablis' finesse, purity, minerality, their freshness and sometimes salty taste are things we don’t usually find when Chardonnay grows in other places. Here in the northernmost part of Burgundy, Chardonnay grapes reach a state of maturity that's just the right balance between acidity and sugar.”
Bourgogne winemakers use the term Climats to broaden what most simply refer to as terroir. Getting to know Chablis vineyards involves much more than geography and soils. French history, archeology, genealogy, family customs, and localized viticultural practices are all taken into account. There are thousands of “Climats” (land with precise boundaries marking specific geological and climatic conditions) extending back as early as the 7th century. Now lower your magnifying glass to examine a particular climat andyou'll discover lieux-dits, small parcels of land further within one or straddling multiple climats distinguished by topographical or historical peculiarities.
Appellations to Look For:
- Petit Chablis, situated on a more recent soil, contains limestone from the Portlandian period.
- Chablis Grand Cru grows on steep slopes where an exceedingly rich subsoil supplements the Kimmeridgian variety which lies more toward the surface.
- Chablis and Chablis Premier Cru appellations are primarily rooted in Kimmeridgian limestonesoil formed in the Upper Jurassic era filled with Exogyra virgula (small oyster fossils).
I experienced very specific mineral overtones tempered with a springy freshness and elegant purity across all 4 appellations. Here are 2 of my favorites:
Simonnet-Febvre Premier Cru Chablis 2010 – From the Vaillons climat, steely and unwavering. Steadiness sets the stage for a light and playful fruity minerality. Limestone effervesces...pops on the tongue. Fresh biting greens like arugula finishes off an otherwise fruity burst as it hits the palate. Well-rounded fruit nectar flashes so sharply with flavors that it seems preposterous that it could possibly mellow out on the palate...but it does crescendo in a well-balanced fruit.
Domaine des Malandes Chablis 2010 – Fresh pepper and greens envelop the palate along with a light mint...leaves the tongue perky and tingly...a light tanginess persists like eating a tasty salad with super fresh ingredients. A bit of chalk on the mouthfeel with a definitive citrusy zest. Drinks nice and clean yet nectar-like...light fruity floral...sweet and crisp....delightful with cheeses and light meats.