I am notorious for going on and on about how much I love mineral driven white wines, and there is perhaps no greater example of such loveliness than the region of Chablis. And I can think of no better time of the year as we are entering oyster season in the southeastern United States. I am hungry just imagining Chablis with any number of oyster dishes: on the half-shell, fried, Rockefeller, you name it!
But back to our discovery of Chablis…
Simply, put Chablis is a region in northeastern France that is famed for white wine made from Chardonnay. More specifically, it is the most northerly subregion of the larger Burgundy region.
Sadly, many folks still have a knee-jerk reaction against Chablis most likely stemming from cheap California jug wines that bore the Chablis name on their label as a reference to the Chardonnay grape. This is far from the truth.
Chablis is a magical place with a long history. Over a million years ago a shallow sea covered this part of France and left a bedrock of limestone (basically fossilized sea life) that happens to create outstanding examples of Chardonnay.
In addition to this famed soil, there is also the chilly climate. The region is in fact at the northerly limits of grape growing. This can be dicey in some years, but when the weather cooperates it leads to Chardonnay with mouthwatering acidity.
This is just what I am looking for in wine pairings — a wine that keeps you coming back for more! But you know what else I am looking for? History!
I love wine that has a rich story behind it, and Chablis has plenty. Its wine history goes back to at least Roman times, and some of the earliest documented history dates to 1114 when a Cistercian abbey was formed in the area.
The Burgundy region as a whole owes much to the monasteries that cataloged many of the best sites for grapes. This system has led to a ranking of sites that is still important today.
In Chablis the top tier is Grand Cru then Premier Cru then basic Chablis then Petit Chablis. If you ever have the luck to visit the region you will immediately understand why the Grand Cru hill of Chablis is ranked best. The hill rises up on the northern side of the town and receives an abundance of sunshine. This ensures proper ripening even in cold years.
Of course, Grand Cru Chablis can cost a pretty penny — expect to pay $70 and upwards in a retail shop. But honestly this price pales in comparison to the prices of other top wines from famed regions.
And honestly you might be better off with a Premier Cru Chablis when you first begin your journey. The Premier Cru sites are still outstanding and for half the cost. And they don’t need as much time to unfurl their beauty.
There are many standout names in Chablis, but some have become so sought after they are depressingly pricey. However, have no fear the following names won’t break the bank and should be available in most major markets. Look for: Jean-Marc Brocard, Louis Michel, and Patrick Piuze to name a few. But also take your local bottle shop’s advice as you set out to discover the beauty of this iconic region.
P.S. If you really want to nerd out; here’s the list of Grand Cru sites you will see on labels: Bougros, Les Preuses, Vaudesir, Grenouilles, Valmur, Les Clos, and Blanchot. Top Premier Cru sites include: Montée de Tonnerre, Montmains, Fourchaume, and Vaillons.
P.P.S. If you are looking for a dish to pair with your Chablis check out my Oyster Stew recipe.