Welcome to the world of Chablis, the northernmost jewel nestled within France’s renowned Burgundy wine region. Revered for their distinctive character, the region’s wines embody the epitome of cool-climate viticulture. They boast vibrant acidity and a compelling absence of overt fruitiness compared to their warmer-climate Chardonnay counterparts.
The characteristics of the region’s soil and climate, in combination with winemakers’ practices, contribute to much of Chablis’s lean and refined style, captivating the palates of Chardonnay connoisseurs worldwide.
Chablis = Chardonnay
Following Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC) regulations, Chablis wines are made exclusively of Chardonnay grapes. This unwavering commitment to a single varietal ensures that the wines embody the grape’s true essence.
Wines from Chablis are dry and lean, with delicate citrus and floral aromas and flavors of yellow apple, pear, and sometimes a hint of salinity. Most importantly, one of the most desirable traits in quality Chablis is a long, tingly finish of high acidity and flint-like minerality. This captivating essence is occasionally likened to a steely allure, lending an unmistakable charm to wines from the region.
Location, Climate, and Soil
Despite being a part of Burgundy (yet completely independent from its classification system), Chablis sits closer to the southern Aube district of Champagne.
Only 110 miles (180 km) southwest of Paris, the region enjoys a privileged location along the banks of the Serein River. The region basks in a tranquil countryside ambiance, with cool winds sweeping across the vineyards.
Chablis is a cool-climate region that experiences a significant diurnal temperature shift, with warm days and cool nights. This temperature variation allows the grapes to ripen slowly, producing a wine with high acidity and modest alcohol content.
In addition to its unique terroir, the wines are also highly influenced by the region’s Kimmeridgian soil. Chablis’s distinctive flinty character is a derivative of the unique soil. It’s rich in limestone and possesses fossilized oyster shells with a high mineral content. As a result, the wines display a crisp, clean taste that set them apart from other Chardonnay-based wines.
Nearly 12,000 acres of vineyards grow in the region, with a total land size of just over 16,000 acres. The area is classified into four appellations based on the quality of the grapes and the winemaking techniques used.
Petit Chablis – Made from grapes grown on the region’s outskirts, these wines are lighter and less complex than other Chablis wines.
Chablis – This is the most common and widely produced type of Chablis wine. These wines are typically dry, with high acidity and a crisp, refreshing taste.
Premier Cru – Made from grapes grown in specific vineyards designated as Premier Cru, these wines are more complex and flavorful than Chablis and are sometimes aged in oak barrels. Depending on the vintage, these wines have an aging potential of up to ten years.
Grand Cru – The most prestigious of all Chablis wines, Grand Cru wines come from grapes that grow in the region’s seven Grand Cru vineyards or ‘climats’. All seven lay on a single, small slope facing southwest and located just north of the town of Chablis. These wines are highly sought after and can age for decades.
Winemaking in Chablis
Chablis wines embrace minimal influence from oak, with most seeing no oak in the winemaking process. The absence of oak allows the wines to showcase their freshness and the true character of Chardonnay.
Maturation in oak barrels is an artistic decision left to the discerning hands of producers. While some Grand Cru and Premier Cru wines experience a subtle touch of oak, the proportion of new barrels and the duration of maturation are notably more conservative in comparison to their Côte de Beaune counterparts. This gentle interaction with oak imparts nuanced complexity without overpowering the wine’s inherent expression.
Foods to Pair with Chablis
Chablis’s vibrant acidity and pronounced minerality mean it pairs effortlessly with a variety of foods. Its ability to complement oysters, scallops, and shellfish is most notable, as the wine’s inherent qualities accentuate seafood’s delicate flavors.
In this clip from SOMM TV‘s A Closer Look at Chablis, Christian Moreau describes a few regional specialities that go perfectly with Chablis.