Connoisseurs and professionals for decades have been debating whether Chablis is an integral part of Burgundy or whether it should be considered a region in its own rigth. Geograpgically, at least, it is somewhat nearer to the southern stretches of Champagne than it is to Burgundy’s Cote d’Or.
Chablis’ vineyards stretch west of the city of Auxerre in the department of Yonne. The heart of the appellation is the Chablis, which includes the precious grand cru vineyards. There are seven grand cru vineyards : Blanchot, Valmure, Les Clos, Le Grenouille, Bougros, Preuses, and Vaudesir. All seven grand are located on southeast facing slopes and benefit from maximum sunshine.
Next up are premiere cru Chablis. There are forty premiere cru vineyards, followed by Chablis and Petit Chablis designations.
The simple Chablis
appellations account for by far the largest share of the delimited viticultural area and have been expanding at a very rapid rate in the last two decades.
Approximately 90 percent of the potential Chablis is now under vines. Here only one grape variety may be used – Chardonnay.
was formed 180 million years ago and consists mostly of Kimmeridgian soil (the French call it argilo-calcaire) composed of tiny oyster shells and pebbles.
The climate is inland continental with cold winters, occasionally cool springs, and often warm to hot summers.
However, some growing seasons can be cool, resulting in under ripe and acidic grapes, requiring chaptalization.
Chablis used to be such a popular white wine that in North America and elsewhere it had become synonymus with white wine. Many California wineries used to market “Chablis” which contained not one drop of Chardonnay, and had absolutely no resemblance to the original. France objected heavily, and today this fraudulent practice is extinct.
Chablis styles vary surprisingly widely from one vigneron, winery or negociant to the next for what is, in essence, a relatively simple unpretentious wine of high acidity and pleasant fruitiness. In good vintages Chablis may be of medium to full body. Generally, it is light and may age for a few years, exceptions not withstanding, and depending on vintage conditions.
The question of whether Chablis should be barrel aged or not is more important. Traditionally, Chablis wines were not aged in oak. Most old-style winemakers try to preserve the “flinty” flavour and thus prefer bottling without oak aging. Some negociants age their brands in oak albeit for a few months to impart a subtle flavour mouth feel many people seem to associate, wrongly, with quality.
Petit Chablis and Chablis are generally not oak aged reflecting the true characteristics of the wine.
La Chablisienne, a co-operative and also the largest producer, makes and markets fine Chablis and Petit Chablis.
They are sound, well made, flavourful, wines preferred over negociant products.
On the other hand Chablis Grand Cru and premiere cru wines may benefit from a short barrel aging treatment. The tannins contribute towards long cellaring qualities, depending on vintage. Such wines can be cellared eight to ten years for premier cru, and 12 – 15 years for Grand cru although North American palates might be more geared for fruitier and less oak-aged wines. Barrel aging applies only in successful vintages.
Recently, more and more chefs and less experience sommeliers are recommending oak aged Chardonnays from California, Australia and Ontario with a variety of delicate seafood dishes. This is patently wrong and flies in the face of basic wine and food matching principles. Oak and delicate seafood are simply incompatible. On the other hand a un-oaked Chardonnay or Chablis does wonders in complementing delicate foods.
Can you imagine a fresh, freshly shucked, plump oyster with a drop of lemon juice and heavily oaked Chardonnay?
Below, please find reliable Chablis producers with enough integrity to market wine under their label when the vintage meets their high quality standards.
Domaine de la Voubourg Auffray,
Domaine La Roche
Domaine des Iles
Domaine de l’Eglantiere
Domaine de Malandes