The Busy Wine Lover's Guide To Chablis

Posted: May 09, 2017

Chablis is an anomaly within its parent region of Burgundy, and Tom Hyland, author of this article< celebrates its diversity.
If you haven't tasted Chablis in some time, now would be a great time to reacquaint yourself with this venerable white wine from Burgundy. Thanks to better viticultural practices, as well as the remarkable quality of recent vintages, these wines are the subject of renewed interest and great critical acclaim.

Where is Chablis?

Chablis is a small wine district at the far northern end of the Burgundy region; situated some 110 kilometers (68 miles) northwest of the Côte d'Or, Chablis is actually closer to the southern boundaries of the Champagne region than to the rest of Burgundy.

What is a Chablis wine – and how does it differ from other white Burgundies?

Like most white wines from Burgundy, Chablis is produced exclusively from Chardonnay. However, the style of Chablis tends to vary from the famous whites of the Côte d'Or, which are often fuller on the palate, more influenced by wood, and display more distinct spiciness. Chablis meanwhile, focuses on the purity of the Chardonnay grape.

Most Chablis producers do not favor a comparison of their wines with other white Burgundies such as Puligny-Montrachet or Meursault. "I think that you should never compare Chablis with the Côte d'Or," says Didier Seguier, winemaker at William Fevre, one of the great houses of Chablis. "The typicity of Chablis is unique."

Fabien Moreau of Domaine Christian Moreau, one of the area's legendary producers, believes that Chablis has to stand on its own. "We have to promote our own history, particularity and specificity. We are producing Chablis, not Chardonnay, not Burgundy, just Chablis!"

What are the various types of Chablis?

There are four appellations of Chablis, beginning with Petit Chablis, made from vineyards on the outskirts of the production zone. These are medium-bodied, with very little oak influence (if any), and are charming wines best consumed within three to five years. The second appellation is Chablis, which is produced from any of 20 villages in the zone, near the Serein River. Chablis represents two-thirds of the wine from this AOC; a typical Chablis offers more richness than a Petit Chablis and has a light minerality. These can be consumed upon release and tend to drink well for five to seven years.

The next two designations are single-vineyard wines; premier cru and grand cru. These vineyards – properly known as climats in Chablis – are ideally situated near the Serein River. For premier cru, there are a total of 40 climats, with 17 of these being quite famous; the best-known include Vaillons, Fourchaume, Mont de Milieu and Montée de Tonnerre. These last three are more highly prized, as they sit on the right bank of the river (right identified when facing north, that is). These vineyards receive more afternoon sun, so they tend to produce richer and riper wines than those made from left bank vineyards.

The seven grand cru vineyards are contiguous sections of one large hill on the right bank, close to the river, just below the town of Chablis. As with the best premier cru sites, the 150 million-year-old Kimmeridgian soils from the Upper Jurassic era are the base of these sites. As this area used to be a seabed, oyster fossils can be found in the vineyards; this feature lends a distinct minerality to Grand Cru Chablis. However, even at this level, there are stylistic variations, as wines made from Les Clos, the largest of the seven vineyards, tend to be "focused and intense, but compact when young, and need time", according to Guillaume Michel of the Louis Michel company, while he describes the wines of Vaudésir tend as "fleshy and generous, with refreshing acidity".

The total area of the grand cru plots is only 102 hectares (250 acres); production of Grand Cru Chablis accounts for between 1 and 2 percent of the total output of all Chablis wines. The best examples are full bodied, and drink well from the finest vintages for 15-20 years, perhaps even longer.

The grand cru area makes up a tiny proportion of the total region, but offers a broad range of flavors.© Wikimedia/Laroche | The grand cru area makes up a tiny proportion of the total region, but offers a broad range of flavors.
What are the best recent vintages?

Wines from the 2015 vintage are in the marketplace now, although most premier cru and grand cru examples will not be available for several months. The media hype offers up 2015 as an outstanding year and producers do agree it is a notable vintage. "It was a sunny year with the wines displaying great ripeness," notes Seguier. "The wines are good, fleshy but with nice acidity,” remarks Michel. "This is a vintage that a lot of people should appreciate, and not only Chablis lovers."

But 2014 is even better, according to the winemakers. "It was a great classic year, thanks to freshness and minerality," comments Seguier. Michel agrees, noting 2014 a "classic, both in terms of aromatics and freshness. This is a great Chablis vintage, with nice aging potential."

As for 2013, it was a warm vintage that resulted in ripe wines with "exotic characteristics and nice richness", according to Seguier, while he comments that 2012 with its early harvest was "a year of great minerality".

Has there been a renaissance of excellence in Chablis?

"I think the level of quality today has never before reached such heights," notes Moreau. "There are more estate bottlings, and less selling wines in bulk. And, Chablis is still, I think, one of the best quality wines in terms of value in Burgundy and in the world."

"Consumers today are looking for wines with more character, less alcohol and less wood," says Seguier. "The recognition of Chablis has arrived."

Chablis Grand Cru recommendations:

2015 William Fevre Les Clos Light flintiness in the aromas (typical of the best Chablis), along with notes of lemon custard; generous mid-palate, impressive complexity. 12-15 years.

2014 Domaine Christian Moreau Les Clos Lemon zest, golden poppy and peony aromas; classically structured; rich and complex, but quite subtle; lovely harmony and typicity. Time will reveal great complexities. 12-15 years.

2014 Domaine Laroche Les Clos Striking perfumes of hawthorn, elderflower, lemon rind and apricot pit. Citrus and mint flavors on the palate; lively acidity, outstanding persistence; superb complexity. A classic wine from a classic site; peak in 15-20 years. Stunning!

2014 Domaine Billaud Simon Vaudésir Aromas of lemon custard, hawthorn and dried apricot. Excellent concentration, very good acidity; brilliant varietal purity. Less minerality than other grand cru, but superb balance and varietal purity. Peak in 12-15 years. A Mona Lisa of Chablis!

2013 Louis Michel & Fils Vaudésir Stone fruit aromas; no oak; impressive ripeness, excellent persistence; beautiful harmony. 7-10 years. Fine value.

2013 Roland Lavantureux Vaudésir Baked apple, dried apricot and vanilla aromas; excellent ripeness, intriguing spice, with a distinct nuttiness in the finish. Lovely wine from this underrated producer; 7-10 years.

By Tom Hyland
March 29, 2017
Source: Wine Searcher

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