Chablis – Perhaps the Purest of Chardonnay Wines

Vineyards in Chablis

Vineyards in Chablis

Chablis is far too often the forgotten White Burgundy. Sadly in America when you talk about Chablis you are compelled to use the adjectives “real” or “original” in conjunction with Chablis.

The name Chablis is believed to have been derived from two Celtic words: “cab” that translates to house, and “leya” that translates to the woods.

The story of Chablis began 150 million years ago when the sea covered the region that has deposited the many oyster fossils that cover the area. The Romans brought vines to Chablis between the first and third centuries. Chablis lies in its own little nook north of the contiguous region of Burgundy, just south of Champagne, and east of the Loire Valley.

Most French wine lovers are very familiar with Bordeaux’s famous river that divides the region into the “right bank” and “left bank” wine growing zones. The same geological divide occurs in Chablis as a river directs the region’s valley with all of the Grand Crus lying in the right bank.

Despite being out of the mainstream of White Burgundies Chablis is responsible for 20% of all the wines made in Burgundy (about 40 million bottles annually). 

Chablis Wines – It’s  matter of style

While the famous wines of Burgundy’s Côte de Beaune: Corton, Mersault, and Montrachet to name a few, are often fermented in oak the wines of Chablis are noted for their reluctant use of oak. Many wines from Chablis never see oak but this is not a requirement rather a stylistic choice. Wine makers in Chablis have mastered the art of developing rich and complex flavors without employing oak. Chablis offers perhaps the purest expression of Chardonnay, the appellation’s sole varietal (learn about French wine varietals). The absence or subtle use of oak along with ideally cool climate and calcareous soils conspire to create wines that are the essence of Chardonnay.

The Appellations of Chablis

Petite Chablis – the appellation was created in 1944 to include many of the areas on the plateaus on the regions high slopes.

Chablis – This is the largest recognized appellation representing two-thirds of all wines made in Chablis.

Chablis Premier Cru – There are 40 Premier Crus appellations within Chablis. These wines bear the name of their respective “climat” (deliminated plots of land/vineyard) and represent just 16% of all Chablis wines.

Chablis Grand Cru – Just seven appellations are designated as Grand Cru representing only 1% of the wines produced in Chablis. Clearly these are the best of the best and are known to age gracefully for 10 to 15 years.

Recently I had the opportunity to meet with representatives from Chablis to discuss the wines and, of course, taste a selection of Chablis wines. Here are the wines we sampled:

Chablis Tasting Notes

Domaine Millet, Petit Chablis La Perle 2012 – Pale color, fresh and crisp featuring green apple, citrus, and mineral with vibrant acidity. All stainless steel aging. A great aperitif. $20

Chablis William Fevre, Champs Royaux 2012 – Crisp and fresh with notes of apple, peach, and subtle lychee with supporting citrus flavors. 10% aged in french oak. $14

Domaine Louis Moreau, 1er Cru Vaillons 2012 – Unoaked, generous and full with notes of white peach, apple, and pear with mineral, citrus with a silky, rich mouth-feel contributed by extended aging on the lees in stainless steel tanks. $35

Domaine Laroche 1er Cru Vau de Vey 2012 – 26% of this wine is fermented and matured in oak casks. Apple, white peach, and citrus dominate with notes of mineral, and a creamy accent offered from the oak and time spent on the lees (residual yeast and other pratfalls that have separated from the wine). The average age of the vines is 35 years. $42

Domaine Louis Michel & Fils, 1er Cru Montée de Tonnerre 2012 – Pale golden color, wonderfully complex with bright orchard fruit supported by mineral, toasted brioche, earth, and citrus. This is a classic example of the depth and richness that can be achieved without oak being aged in tank, on the lees for at least 12 months. $40

Domaine Christian Moreau Père et Fils, Grand Cru Valmur 2011 – A big and bold wine with complex notes of apple, peach, and citrus marrying with soft accents of cream, lemon curd, and subtle earth tones. Incredibly concentrated while still being quite vibrant and fresh. 50% aged in stainless with the other half aged in primarily seasoned oak (barrels previously used to age wine). $65

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