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Chablis has been, from the earliest days of Elden Selections, by far our most popular white Burgundy. It’s also the region that most easily lends itself to our didactic approach to wine drinking!
Elden has a lot of friends in Chablis, and we represent a number of them here. And because of that, we present quite a few of the appellations within the appellation. And that gets complicated. So allow us to shed a little light on the subject
Chablis is unique. It is the perfect confluence of grape, rock and weather. The Chardonnay grape likes to come to maturity slowly and the Chablis region, at the far northwest of Burgundy, obliges.
Chablis is a tricky climate in which to grow grapes, for although the hot summers work in the wine growers’ favor, it is often less than ideal conditions in the spring or fall which can ruin a vintage. In particular, great effort is expended trying to prevent frost damage to grapes, primarily through the use of chaufferettes, pleasingly low-tech stoves which burn old vines or twigs to keep temperatures up.
There are four main appellations in the Chablis region: Petit Chablis, Chablis, Premier Cru (with around 40 climats), and Grand Cru (with 7 climats). In general these wines are unoaked with the exception of some Grand Cru, which can be oak-barrelled for a somewhat more buttery flavour.
Petit Chablis AOP, despite the name, is large on flavor. Always flinty (some even suggest it has the aroma of a flintlock gun) it can offer the drinker blossom, lemons, or peaches, while on the nose you can often detect salty notes. This is thanks to the soil with its oceanic history and abundance of shells. Representing 18% of Chablis, this appellation is produced on around 1,000 hectares.
In Chablis AOP (or ‘tout court‘ as the locals say, representing the largest appellation) the mineral notes can be noticeably more complex, thanks to earth born of the Kimmeridgian era (just after the Jurassic for the palaeontologists reading this), which is rich in clay and limestone. Indeed, this ridge of subterranean limestone stretches all the way across the English Channel to the white cliffs of Dover.
For even more classic Chablis minerality, try the Premier Cru – made in just 15% of Chablis vineyards. The higher prestige and price associated with Premier Cru are thanks to the increased sunlight in these locations and the greater quantity of limestone marl in the soil. These Premier Cru wines will generally have at least half a degree of alcohol less than a Grand Cru.
Finally, for Grand Cru there is just one slope, a little heat trap measuring 257 acres (just 2% of the total region) close to the river Serein. Many regard Les Clos and Vaudesir as among the best here, though Grand Cru wines vary quite substantially in terms of flavor, and should be aged, ideally for ten years or more. Depending on the producer, you can find a range of flavors from apricot, citrus rind, passion fruit and even peanut.
As Chablis is a wine with relatively high acidity levels, it can cleanse the palate when paired with certain foods, such as those with rich, creamy sauces. A good clam chowder would be an excellent choice; indeed, there is a pleasing sense of time having come full circle when drinking Chablis with seafood dishes, as the soils in Chablis that give the unique flavor profile were originally seabeds covered in oyster and other shells.
It’s hard to imagine that a hundred years ago, Chablis and the surrounding countryside lay barren of vines, victim of a sap-sucking aphid called phylloxera. Hard to imagine too how it might have been before the blight. Nearly all of the hillsides in the region rise from rivers that flow into the River Yonne, a tributary of the Seine which flows, of course, through Paris.
Before phylloxera, Chablis and the surrounding regions supplied table wine for Paris. An ocean of simple wine was produced in these valleys and transported to the capital via the waterways. Naturally, the economy was devastated when the vines began to die, but the worst was yet to come.
A solution was eventually found to combat phylloxera, but nothing could stop the coming of the railroad. Once the sunny south was linked by rail to Paris, wine production shifted to where the growing conditions were predictable, and the wines of the Yonne disappeared – though not entirely. Chablis had a reputation and was to keep the flame alight. Still, it took more than half a century before the region was back on its feet. Look out in particular for Tonnere, Vezelay, Coulanges-la-Vineuse, Saint Bris, the Cote St. Jacques in Joigny.
Grand Cru Chablis, not revered as much as perhaps it should be by the world’s wine traders, can be around half the price of a Corton-Charlemagne, which for many doesn’t do the wine justice. It does mean, however, that for consumers wanting unique and highly stylish wines, there are some great bargains to be had. Elden Selections has a superb range of unique Chablis wines to discover including:
We have paired the perfect wines to drink while you explore Chablis!
Chablis from two of the best producers working today. The Oudin sisters are in the vanguard of the new generation. As is Fabian Dauvissaut, the new kid on the block. These winemakers represent Chablis at its best.
Domaine Oudin Chablis 2017
Classic sweet river rock minerality and floral freshness, this is a meticulous perfectionists’ Chablis ‘tout-court’ (as the locals call the ‘village’ appellation). This wine is at its peak now and will remain there for another 3-4 years. A lovely introduction to the Domaine Oudin style.
Jean Dauvissat Pere et Fils Chablis 2016
Chalky Chablis minerality make you immediately think that this village Chablis comes from vines on the left bank of the Serein. Many of the Dauvissat holdings are there, near Milly, the hamlet at the foot of the Cote de Lechet. Here, deep berry fruit and lemon drop (orange, really) acidity produce a big, concentrated wine which is wide open on the palate, with a long rich finish driven on by that minerality. There’s a new kid on the block!