You didn’t realize that when you open a lovely bottle of Chablis, you’ll pour Chardonnay? You’re not alone. Many aren’t aware that the wine region of Chablis is often referred to as the “golden gate” to Burgundy, the iconic area known across the globe for its magnificent Chardonnay and extraordinary Pinot Noir.
Located in north central France on either side of the river Serein, Chablis is, in my humble opinion, the purest expression of Chardonnay in the world, thanks to its unique terroir. Apparently, others feel the same. I was invited to celebrate Chablis wines and explore Chardonnay’s various styles throughout Chablis’ terroir during a Twitter chat with Master of Wine Christy Canterbury and several influencers in the wine writing world. Our group tasted and learned (repeating this simple, two-step process frequently) about the range of wines from this fascinating region.
With a climate cooler than the rest of Burgundy, wines of Chablis are, in general, more dry and fresh; they exhibit a zesty minerality and mouthwatering acidity. There is no other wine growing region in France that has “pinned its faith more firmly on the facts of geology” according to some. The soil bed of clay, marl, and Kimmeridgian limestone laid down 150 million years ago has a profound impact on the profile of Chablis wines, giving them their signature characteristic of minerality.
There are four Chablis appellations: Petit Chablis, Chablis, Chablis Premier Cru, and Chablis Grand Cru. I tasted memorable wines from each.
Petit Chablis is, for the most part, planted on plateaux found in vineyards nestled on the hillside. Best enjoyed young, these wines are crisp and elegant. The first wine we tasted, Petit Chablis, La Chablisienne 2015 ($15) was of Chardonnay grapes grown in Portlandian limestone, considered “younger” than Kimmeridgian clay. Refreshing and enticing, I discovered aromas of lemon, lime, jasmine, and green herbs on the nose. Mouthwatering flavors of pineapple, pear juice, and bright orchard fruit were bolstered by snappy acidity and minerality. The finish lingered, a true surprise, since often Petit Chablis wines demonstrate a shorter finish. Intended to be enjoyed while young, pair Petit Chablis with savory puff pastries as an aperitif, with raw oysters or fish, steamed mussels, or grilled prawns.
Climat, a traditional Bourgogne word referring to “precisely delimited plots of land that enjoy specific geological and climactic conditions”, is of paramount importance to the region of Chablis. The conditions of the land as well as the talent of the winemaker result in a patchwork quilt of crus. In Chablis, forty-seven climat named vineyards appear on wine labels: forty for Chablis Premier Cru and seven for Chablis Grand Cru. Each climat has rich and unique characteristics depending on the soil and exposure; landscape and hillscape are utilized to the maximum.
The stunning Chablis Premier Cru, Billaud Simon, Montée de Tonnerre 2014 ($45) expressed a rich, vibrant style driven by minerality and flint. Layered with intense aromas included fragrant florals, fresh fruit, and chamomile tea. Powerful yet elegant notes of juicy red apples and oyster shells on the textured palate followed. Boasting a lengthy finish, the Chablis Premier Cru is guaranteed to be a memorable accompaniment to grilled lobster dipped in warm butter, cooked oysters, tender roast chicken, or fish under a blanket of herbed cream sauce.
Chardonnay in its purest form? Chablis.
Cheers! ~ Cindy