Do you like chardonnay? If you do, but have been frustrated by the move to big, buttery and woody styles then there is a wine for you that’s 100% chardonnay you need to try. If you DO like that big chardonnay style that’s great… there’s room for all tastes in the world of wine. But if you want to try something new, or prefer a more medium bodied and balanced approach to chardonnay then here’s one to put on the list. It’s the wine of Chablis.
Chablis got a bad rap in the US because years ago lots of the jug wine producers plastered “Chablis” on the label of some pretty simple and often plain bad white wine, and still do. You might see it on the shelves at the grocery store or in the cheap “jug” aisles at the liquor/wine store. This is not the real Chablis. The real Chablis only comes from that appellation in France and it is wonderful wine. Chablis is the furthest northern wine region in France’s Burgundy region. (For an overview of Burgundy please see my post from September, Beginning Burgundy).
What makes Chablis a different kind of chardonnay? The answer lies in the dirt and the weather. In Chablis there is a soil that provides an exceptional blend of minerals and nutrients. It’s called Kimmeridgian clay and it underlies the most favored vineyard sites – those that have south facing hillsides and more protection from the chill winds. You see, it’s chilly up there in Chablis. In fact, the very cool summers and cold winters make it tough to fully ripen the chardonnay. So when you combine the climate with the soil you end up with wines that have a pretty unique flavor profile than what you are used to in chardonnay, especially from California or Australia, or even from the rest of Burgundy.
Here’s the taste you can expect:
- a wine that offers higher acidity and more crispness than other chardonnay
- usually a pronounced mineralty which people often describe as flinty or slate
- more discernible citrusy flavors, like lemon and lime, or even Granny Smith apple when you sip
- less oaky, however there is barrel aging so you might taste some vanilla, but most are fermented in stainless steel so there is less wood influence
- usually lower alcohol so they will taste lighter to medium bodied, which makes them quite versatile with food
- vintage variation, especially if you like some wine to hold a while since the climate plays such a strong role. According to Hugh Johnson’s Pocket Wine Book the best recent years have been 2010 and 2011. 2012 and 2013 had smaller crops and tougher weather conditions. Not bad wines and still some really goods to drink now and even hold a few years
Here’s what to look for when you shop. If it has the producer name and just “Chablis” on the label then it is from most widely sourced area. If it has either one of the 79 Premier Crus or is wine from one of the Grand Cru plots these will be more specifically noted. The Premier Cru will have it stated on the label along with the specific vineyard name. There is only one Grand Cru designated vineyard but within it are seven plots, or climats. These will be the prominent name on the label. They are: Blanchot, Bougros, Grenouilles, Les Clos, Les Preuses, Valmur and Vaudesir. You’ll find a pretty broad range of prices, with the Grand Cru obviously more. Some examples of the labels:
Real Chablis is terrific chardonnay and just may be a tasty diversion from what you’re used to – and that’s what makes it much more fun and interesting that jug wine on the shelves.
Everyday Sip: A couple of good Chablis to get you started
2012 Agnes & Didier Dauvissat Chablis $20
2013 Domaine William Fevre Chablis Champs Royaux $20
2012 Chateau de Maligny Chablis Premier Cru Fourchaume $36
Granny Smith with a squeeze of lemon.
2013 Domaine Servin Chablis les Clos Grand Cru $60
“Pale, bright yellow-green. Subtle, pure aromas of lime, white peach, white pepper and white flowers, with the faintest exotic hint of tangy fresh apricot. Supple, silky and elegant, conveying an impression of elegance to its sweet lemon, lime and white peach flavors. Vibrant and energetic for 2013. Like the rest of Servin’s 2013 crus, this wine should be accessible early and give pleasure over the next decade or so.” – Stephen Tanzer. Tasting date: June 2015