What’s in a Name? Chablis is a Wine of “Place”
by John Dunham
What is Chablis?
When I was growing up a popular white wine housed in big jugs was called “Chablis.” The same winemaker also produced a pink concoction that they called “Blush Chablis.”
The wines were from Modesto, California, a place that is about 9,000 kilometers (or roughly 5,600 miles) to the west of the little village of Chablis France, which gives this wine region its name.
I doubt the California company that made these wines meant to besmirch the name, but Chablis is not a type of white wine– it is a place, and only wine produced in the Chablis region is actually Chablis.
As we have discussed in the pages a number of times, place (or as the French say, “terroir ) is one of the most important distinguishing factors of wine.
Wine from Chablis, as well as the jug st (as well as the white jug wine, as well as Champagne, and also some of the finest wines from California, Australia and Italy), are all made from the exact same grape varietal: Chardonnay.
In fact, for Chablis to claim the AOC classification, it must be made from 100% Chardonnay grapes.
But Chardonnay is a very distinctive grape in that it so distinctively represents the climate and the soil in which it is grown.
This is why a Chardonnay varietal wine can be lean and mineral, to apply, to tropical, to citrusy all depending on the soil and climate in which it is grown — and this is before the winemakers’ skills come into play.
Where Is Chablis?
It has a distinctive climate with hot summers are very long cool winters. It is also relatively wet for a major wine producing region.
This combines with a soil that is made up of clay and calcium rich limestone gives the chardonnay grapes a distinctive mineral character.
Like other Burgundian regions, Chablis is separated into legally designated areas, including a very small number of Premier Cru and Grand Cru vineyards.
You will find the Premier Cru areas generally extending up valleys coming off of the Serein River which bisects the region, and the Grand Cru vineyards located along the northeastern bank of the river just outside of the Village of Chablis.
A Dry White Wine
In addition to the distinct character of the chardonnay grapes, winemakers in Chablis tend to stay away from aging wine in oak.
Even though it is one of the driest of white wines, most Chablis wines still go through malolactic fermentation, a process that generally converts tarter flavors to softer ones.
Chablis wines are naturally quite acidic, so the malolactic fermentation in effect tames some of the acidity to make the wine crisp and more balanced.
We recently had the opportunity to attend an event at Al Fiori in the Langham Place hotel in New York.
This event was sponsored by the Bureau Interprofessionnel des vin de Bourgogne celebrating the history of Chablis.
As a general note, all of the wines that we sampled had very similar characteristics: very high acidity and minerality, with a very crisp, clean palate.
All of these wines are excellent for pairing with seafood, in particular, shellfish or salmon, but would also work well with lighter kinds of pasta, spring vegetables, and softer riper cheeses.
The acid might also work well with dishes that feature olive oils or other lighter fats.
The first wine we tasted was La Chablisienne, Petit Chablis Pas Si Petit (2015: $13). goldar cold in color, the nose was floral with a salty finish. On the palate, this wine was very mineral and dry with high acidity, but also with some tropical notes.
On the palate, this wine was very mineral and dry with high acidity, but also with some tropical notes.
Domaine Gilbert Picq & Fils is the largest producer in the region, accounting for about 25 percent of total volume.
Their Chablis (2015: $18) was a greenish gold in color, with a mineral nose featuring some citrus and peach notes.
On the palate, the wine was super mineral, with a bit of light citrus pith, an oyster wine if we have every had one.
William Fevre, Chablis (2015: $13) is a single vineyard wine, very light gold in color with a white floral and peach nose.
While the wine was still super mineral with lots of acidity, it was a bit lighter than some of the others, with a fresh palate featuring some bitter peach pit notes.
This wine could stand up better to stronger food and would be an excellent cheese wine.
Domaine Jolly & Fils, Premier Crus, l’Homme Mort, Chablis (2014: $28) comes from a very small producer, though is available outside of the region.
Light gold-green in color, the nose was salty with some peach pit. This was a very crisp, clean wine with a light citrus character above the expected mineral notes.
Domaine Louis Moreau, Premier Crus, Les Fourneux Chablis (2013: $30) was one of our choices for the best wine of the tasting and showed what just a bit of age can do for a Chablis.
Very light gold in color the wine has a distinctive nose featuring light citrus and florals along with the salt air that one expects from Chablis.
On the palate, the wine was both austere but also had more flavor than those we had tasted so far, with some citrus notes. This wine could stand up to stronger
This wine could stand up to stronger dishes and might be a great wine with Thanksgiving turkey.
Patrick Piuze, Premier Crus, Forets, Chablis, (2014: $48) was light gold in color with a stronger nose than the other wines in the tasting, showing some citrus and what I would call locker room notes.
On the palate, this wine was much fruitier than the more austere Chablis we’d previously tried, with more peach and stone fruit notes and a little less acid.
I would pair this with a bouillabaisse, salmon or even better with vongole or even a red clam sauce.
The final wine of the tasting was a Grand Crus, Louis Michel & Fils, Grand Cru, Grenouilles, Chablis (2014: $65).
While everyone’s tastes differ, this wine ranks high on nearly every review site. Almost clear gold in color, the nose was more rustic than the other wines with tropical fruit and floral notes.
Almost clear gold in color, the nose was more rustic than the other wines with tropical fruit and floral notes.
On the palate, the wine was super clean, with good acid and minerals and a hint of white peach.
This is the definitional wine of Chablis, and while it may not be as versatile as say the Forets or the Forneux, it is exactly what one wants to see from a Chablis.
So the next time you see the word “chablis” on a jug or bottle of wine that’s not from the French region of Chablis you’ll know that well…it isn’t the authentic thing!