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Chablis Wine Region

About the Chablis Wine Region

Chablis Wine Region

Chablis is the northernmost region in Burgundy.  It lies approximately 20 miles southeast of Champagne’s southernmost point and has been nicknamed The Golden Gate, because anyone visiting Burgundy from Paris or Champagne must travel through Chablis first. 

Physically separated from the rest of Burgundy, Chablis sits almost by itself and has remained pretty independent from the rest of Burgundy.

Chablis is the coolest wine-growing region in Burgundy.  Due to Burgundy’s location in the relative center of France, its climate is not influenced much by the Atlantic or the Mediterranean. 

The biggest hazard to each vintage is the looming possibility of sudden temperature drops in the spring that create late frost, which is detrimental to vine maturation.  Frost can kill a vintage before it has even begun.

Geology

Even though, as a whole, Chablis is mostly made up of calcareous chalky clay, the most important soil type for classic Chablis is KimmeridgianKimmeridgian is a soil that consists of decomposed fossilized sea shells, which help the wines attain the beautiful delicate minerality that they are most well known for.

Wine Styles

Chablis is best known for its austere, bone-dry Chardonnays.  However, there are differences in the wines made here, which vary from producer to producer. 

Classic Chablis has always been a wine of almost pale straw color with greenish-silver hues, delicate pear and green apple aromas, high minerality and razor-sharp malic acidity (although Chablis is not put through malolacticfermentation).  It typically needs a few years in the bottle to mellow out.  Chablis is traditionally fermented in large neutral oak casks (known here asfeuillettes) and bottled early to maintain its minerality and freshness.  But nowadays, even producers of the classic style use stainless steel to ferment their wines instead of the traditional oak.  Some people say that these wines are true classic Chablis, although that is not necessarily true.  The Chablis region has been producing wine for much longer than steel has been used in wine production. However, if style describes the flavor profile, then Chablis made in stainless steel are typical examples of the classic style: bone-dry, high acid, tons of minerality – an all-out assault on the palate…

However, there are producers who are opting for a more modern, international style of Chablis with higher levels of oak.  These producers inducemalolactic fermentation, a process that converts malic acid to lactic acid and creates a more buttery acidity instead of the green apple acidity associated with malic acid.

The Classification of Chablis

Chablis is an AOC (Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée) in the Burgundy region, which is the term the French use to define products of distinct regional origin. Within the Chablis region, there are 17 Premier Cru vineyards (the Chablis Premier Cru AOC) and seven Grand Cru vineyards (the Chablis Grand Cru AOC). In addition, there is also the Petit Chablis AOC, which defines a region much larger than Chablis proper.

Petit Chablis AOC

This is a catch-all AOC that overlaps much of Chablis AOC, but also extends significantly beyond it. Don’t be fooled – although “petit” means “small” in French, this area is much larger than Chablis AOC (approximately five times the size of the Chablis AOC). The word “petit” speaks to the style of the wine and not the size of the region.  Even within the area of Chablis proper, Petit Chablis wines are typically made from vineyards in lower-quality terroir and produce lower-quality wines. 

At their best, they are delicate and bright wines.  The wines are typically low in alcohol and show very bright, green fruit flavors with bracing acidity.  The vineyards of Petit Chablis are usually the first to harvest in each season.  This means that the grapes don’t spend as much time on vine as on the more highly regarded sites.  As such, they are not as developed or complex.

Grapes: 100% Chardonnay
Aging: Drink immediately!
General Characteristics: Usually simple and straightforward wines that rarely see any oak at all.  High acid and very clean drinking.

Chablis AOC

The village-level classification of Chablis. The wines of the Chablis AOC are a very pure expression of Chardonnay and are characterized by minimal oak use.  If any oak barrels are used at all, they are always larger and older barrels to avoid imparting too much of the oak on the wine.  You will recognize the aroma of green apple, lemon rind, chalk and under-ripe pear in these wines.  One of the true hallmarks of Chablis is hay.  Think of the very distinctive aroma of freshly turned, dry hay.  This is Chablis.

Grapes: 100% Chardonnay
Aging: 1-5 years
General Characteristics: Vary by classic vs. modern producers, but typical are light, mineral-driven wines with racy acidity and medium body. They are often show aromas and flavors of green apple, under-ripe pear, chalk and fresh hay.

Chablis Premier Cru AOC

This defines the 17 Premier Cru Vineyards scattered throughout the Chablis AOC.  These vineyards have been proven over time to produce a consistently higher quality of wine than regular Chablis AOC wines.  They can be labeled with the vineyard name, if 100% of the grapes are from that vineyard, or just with the term Premier Cru, if they are blended with grapes from other Premier Cru vineyards.  These vineyards are slower to mature during the course of a vintage than others.  The added time on the vine increases their complexity and makes the wines richer in texture.

Grapes: 100% Chardonnay
Aging: 2-12 years

The Premier Cru Vineyards (best in bold, second best in italics)

 Les Beauregards

 Beauroy

 Berdiot

 Chaume de Talvat

 Côte de Jouan

 Côte de Léchet

 Côte de Vaubarousse

 Fourchaume

 Les Fourneaux

 Montée de Tonnerre

 Montmains

 Mont de Milieu

 Vaillons

 Vaucoupin

 Vaudevey

 Vauligneau

 Vosgros

Chablis Grand Cru AOC

There are seven Grand Cru vineyards located in Chablis that are all located right next to each other in the very center of the region.  In fact, they are actually one contiguous block of land.  Blending between the Grand Crus is not allowed, if the producer wishes to label the wine as Grand Cru.  Their grapes are the last to be harvested and they are the most powerful wines of Chablis.  Their true mark of quality is how long this power remains on your palate.  They not only linger a long time, their flavors continue to evolve.

Grapes: 100% Chardonnay
Aging: 5-30 years

The Grand Crus are listed here from west to east:

 Bougros

 Les Preuses

 Vaudésir

 Grenouilles

 Valmur

 Les Clos (the largest Grand Cru)

 Blanchot

The eighth Grand Cru?

La Moutonne

La Moutonne is a small parcel of land that crosses the border between Les Preuses and Vaudésir.  It is solely owned by Louis Long-Depaquit.  Prior to the 1950s, he was blending a few other vineyards into his wine.  At the time, he was lobbying to make La Moutonne an official Grand Cru, but the authorities wanted to put a stop to Grand Cru blending, so they made a deal to allow him to keep using the term Grand Cru for his wine as long as he only used the contiguous piece of land between Les Preuses and Vaudésir, which produce some of the finest wines among the seven Grand Crus.  La Moutonne was never turned into an official Grand Cru, but it is considered to be among the best wines produced in the region.

Summary

It often helps to think of these wines as athletes.  This allows you to really distinguish the marks of quality of Chablis.

Petit Chablis is a college baseball player: full of ambition, but lacks refinement and developed skill.  He was good in a small pond, but when matched against superior athletes his flaws become very apparent.

Chablis AOC is a Minor Leaguer.  He has talent and the ambition to get this far, but is outclassed by the players of the Major League.

Chablis Premier Cru has just made the jump to the Major League.  He has superior talent and the will to continually get better, along with a skill set that shows refinement and experience.

Grand Cru is the All-Star player at the prime of his career - the best of the best that can compete with any opponent.  He has talent, raw power and a knowledge of the game that is unsurpassed.  He also has a hefty contract!

Food Pairings

Chardonnay expresses itself in Chablis with mineral driven notes (flinty, earthy) and lively acidity. Use this as a “stunt double” for that slice of lemon to cut through rich sauces and amplify seafood specialties.

Oysters / Shellfish

Delicate White Fish (Dover Sole / Halibut Cheeks)

Lemon Chicken

Yellowtail (incl. sushi / sashimi)

Anything you would squeeze lemon on!