Chablis is an exquisite white wine hailing from the Burgundy region of France – an area which, along with Bordeaux, is also home to some of France’s longest-established and most highly acclaimed vineyards. Whilst this wine is made with 100% Chardonnay grapes, it has very little in common with the powerful wines of the same name produced in the US and Australia for example. Indeed, Chablis provides a masterclass in the concept of ‘terroir’ and its importance for the resulting wine. This notion is generally understood as a wine’s ‘sense of place and can be resumed as the environmental and geographical factors that give a particular wine its unique character. In the case of Chablis, this involves the particularly calcareous nature of the soil in the region – a land full of marine fossils dating back over 140 million years to the Jurassic period. Indeed, the characteristic minerality of a Chablis wine, which calls to mind the sea, is generally attributed to the fossilised crustaceans which permeate the ground upon which these grapes are grown.
How is Chablis classified? Chablis has a special classification system which includes various categories, each with its own characteristics and area of production. These are Petit Chablis, Chablis, Premier Cru and Grand Cru, in order of increasing prestige (and, unsurprisingly, price). The grapes used to make Grand Cru Chablis wines are cultivated at around 200 meters above sea level, in more calcareous soils, whereas those used in Petit Chablis wines tend to be grown lower down on the slopes, where the ground is marlier. When it comes to flavor, this results in greater minerality in the case of the former, and fruitier notes in the case of the latter. A good compromise can be found in the Premier Cru Chablis wines, of which a greater amount is produced (relative to the Grand Cru). Indeed, around 40 vineyards hold this status, making this a more accessible but immensely delicious entry point. Try Samuel Billaud’s ‘Les Vaillons’ or ‘Montée de Tonnerre’, or La Chablisienne’s ‘Fourchaume’ for example. Other highly regarded winemakers in this sector include Bernard Defaix and Domaine Servin.
What are the characteristics of Chablis wines? Chablis wines are generally unoaked, or only very slightly so, allowing their elegant minerality and flintiness to come to the fore. Notes of apple and pear are often present, along with quince (a.k.a. membrillo), starfruit and white blossom. Forget the butteriness commonly associated with New World Chardonnays. Even in the older Grand Crus which may have seen some oak, the emphasis is on a clean flavour profile, with the wood adding just a hint of smokiness at the end.
What food goes well with Chablis? Shellfish is a marriage made in heaven for this wine, in particular oysters. Dishes based around fish and seafood in general are particularly well-suited to this wine. Try it alongside sushi or sashimi for a more modern twist. Additionally, the wine’s high acidity makes it a good complement for light, creamy sauces – such as in a chowder, or tarragon chicken dish – and white pepper.
So dive right in – if you’re new to Chablis you’re in for a treat, and if you’re already an old hand, you’re bound to find a new favourite!