The Wines of Chablis
So many people are still confused about Chablis, some mistaking it for a grape variety making a wine of the same name. However Chablis [pronounced shabli] is the northernmost wine producing district of the Burgundy region in France and represents the principal vineyards of the Yonne department.
Some of the finest white wines available in the Wine World can be experienced from in this location, steeped in wine history with cuisine to match.
The grapevines around the town of Chablis are almost all Chardonnay, making a dry white wine renowned for the purity of its aroma and taste. The cool climate of this region produces wines with more acidity and flavours, and although less fruity than Chardonnay wines grown in warmer climates, they represent Chardonnay at its natural and original finest. The wines often have a ‘steely or flinty’ note, sometimes described by their creators and local Chablis lovers as ‘gout de pierre a fusil’ [tasting of gun flint]
In comparison to the white wines from the rest of Burgundy and much of the New World, Chablis has a much less Oak influence. In fact most basic Chablis have seen no oak at all being ‘vinified’ in stainless steel tanks. The amount of barrel maturation, if any, is a stylistic choice which varies widely among Chablis producers.
Many Grand Cru and Premier Cru wines receive some maturation in oak barrels, but typically the time in barrel and the proportion of new barrels is much smaller than for the white wines of Cote de Beaune.
It is to be noted that some traditional French wine producers regard the flavours of oak in wine making to the flavours of garlic in cuisine. ‘If you can taste it when you shouldn’t then you have used too much’. In other words it is ‘another ingredient of the recipe’ only to complement and should not be overdone.
It was once said that “There is no such thing as cheap luxury”. But in the wines of Chablis, you can experience both.
The Style of Chablis
On the Eye: Chablis should be pale straw with a slight green tinge with emerald or blush pink highlights.
On the Nose: Very fresh mineral bouquet evoking green apples, lemons, light honey and grapefruit. As it develops it acquires notes of the underwood and meadow mushrooms, together with scents of mint, lime blossom and white blossom, even violets in some cases. Maturity gives the wine a spicy dimension.
On the Palate: An after-taste of gun flint, being bone dry with great finesse and a distinctive personality.
There are 4 classifications of Chablis covering some 20 villages – Chablis Grand Cru – Chablis Premier Cru – Chablis and Petit Chablis.
The 2 most significant in terms of quality being the Premier and Grand Crus. [You can read our guide for those two products by clicking on their name].
The History of Chablis
The vines are planted on south/south east facing slopes along the Serein River. First discovered by the Cistercian Monks of the Abbaye de Pontigny founded in 1114 and which also provided a refuge for Thomas Becket for the 2 years from1165 to1166. They realised that this position and the micro-climate with its cold spring, was essential for the dry honey-scented flavour of the wine.
If you have the chance to visit Chablis, it is a must. Medieval villages, the famous vineyards of Chablis and the Abbaye de Pontigny all rest in the path of the glorious Serein river that provides all you need, walking, cycling or just plain relaxation with all the delights of the finest local wines and cuisine at every turn.
There is evidence of the town’s lasting prosperity all around. The wine domains, the boutiques and specialist shops, the luxurious hotels and restaurants all await the inquisitive and the most discerning of visitors will not be disappointed. Visit Domaine Michel Laroche in Rue Auxerre or their new venture, the Laroche wine bar, boutique hotel, restaurant and shop, the Hotel de Vieux Moulin, [the Old Mill] 18 Rue des Moulins, to taste some of the best of local wines. Laroche offer a one day wine course, with lunch included.
Another cellar worth visiting is William Fevre at 14 Rue Jules Rathier, what used to be the old Chablis hospital. His restaurant is next door where you can taste wines by the glass with each regional dish. There is also a bistro-wine bar for less formal meals. Local cheeses in this region are so varied, with rustic freshly baked bread they are a banquet on their own.
Tasting Chablis and Matching with Food
I always recommend that you taste and savour the best Chablis on their own as they are classics in their own right, but to match them with food is also a delight and quite a simple task.
Being from a limestone bed rock with mineral and oyster fossils Chablis has long had a love affair with the best quality fish and sea food. Traditional Chablis with its wonderful steely and mineral flavours makes a great companion for oysters, grilled white fish and all seafood, pan-fried salmon, risottos and all styles of vegetarian dishes. You may need however a slightly heavier oaked chardonnay with meaty fish such as tuna and swordfish. I have listed a recipe below for you to find under our Wine with Food section, but I have chosen for demonstration a true ‘Bourgogne’[Burgundy ] recipe below for you to try, simplicity is the key.
Volaille a la Creme au Chablis et Estragon – Chicken cooked in Chablis with Tarragon and Cream [Cooking and preparation time – 30/40 minutes]
This recipe is so simple and adaptable that it can be enjoyed at a BBQ, for lunch or dressed for dinner. It is also a great banquet choice for Weddings and celebrations.
Read full recipe
Alan Hunter AIWS,