France’s Chablis Wine District
Chablis is a tiny town in the center of France’s Chablis wine district, about a two-hour drive southeast of Paris. The Chablis wine district produces white wines only, 100 percent Chardonnay.
The Chablis (pronounced shah blee) district is 70 miles away from the rest of the Burgundy region, and yet it’s still a part of Burgundy — thanks to the Duke of Burgundy, who annexed the area in the 15th century.
The soil and climate of Chablis
Chablis has a climate and soil distinct from the rest of Burgundy, but it does have a grape variety in common with the other districts: Chardonnay. Chablis’s climate is generally cool, similar to that of the Champagne region to its north. The weather has a strong effect on the wines of Chablis:
The vineyards are prone to spring frosts; when a frost is severe, it can wipe out half of the crop.
Too cool or rainy a year yields lean, ungiving wines that are too high in acidity.
Years that are too warm produce uncharacteristically full-bodied, rich, ripe wines that are too low in acidity.
Chablis is one district for which you must pay particularly close attention to vintages. In a good vintage, however, Chablis can be magical: pale straw in color with hints of green, turning light gold with age; bone dry and medium-bodied, with lively acidity that makes the wine great with seafood; concentrated in delicate, minerally aromas and an appley flavor that lingers long after you swallow.
The soil in the Chablis area, which undoubtedly contributes to the wine’s minerally qualities, has lots of limestone and chalky clay; this soil contains fragments of billions of fossilized oyster shells, deposited by the sea which once covered Chablis.
Chablis has a distinctly different appellation system from the rest of Burgundy. The wines of the Chablis district fall into four separate appellations. From least prestigious to most prestigious, they are:
Chablis Premier Cru
Chablis Grand Cru
The Petit Chablis zone, which produces less than 10 percent of Chablis wine, is farthest from the town of Chablis, in the least interesting part of the district, soil-wise. The wine from this zone is quite forgettable, and very little is exported to the U.S.
Most Chablis wines fall into the “Chablis” appellation; sometimes wine people refer to these wines as “Chablis AC” (for Appellation Controlée), to distinguish them from Chablis Grand Cru or Chablis Premier Cru. These basic Chablis wines can be quite decent in good vintages, and they retail in the $16 to $24 price range. Drink Chablis AC wines within five or six years of the vintage.
Chablis is one wine where it pays to upgrade, however. Grand Cru and Premier Cru Chablis are distinctly better wines than the basic Chablis AC wines, and are worth the extra money.