My first taste of “Chablis” was a wine produced in California or Chile, I’m unsure which one …… and I am not joking! Back in the 1960s there didn’t seem to be any regulation preventing anyone from growing a wine in a particular style and then naming it after that style. I probably drank Spanish Chablis too, but nowadays this all sounds so crazy as to be unbelievable.
Today, buy a bottle of Chablis and you will know where it came from even down to the specific parcel of land where the vines grow.
Chablis is the northernmost district of Burgundy, as close to Paris as it is to Beaune with all communes adjacent to the Serein River. The soil is mostly Kimmeridge Clay, (named after the village in Dorset on the UKs Jurassic Coast), Limestone and fossilised oyster shells, the climate is quite cool, and the Grand Cru vineyards are all southwest facing. This is ideal terroir for growing the Chardonnay grape and results in wines with a “flinty” taste and high minerality. Excellent for accompanying oysters, obviously!
The map shows the location of the 4 levels of Chablis production: Grand Cru Chablis, Premier Cru Chablis, Chablis, and Petit Chablis. Which level a vineyard is in has nothing to do with the producer or the quality of the wine! It was in 1938 that strict regulations were laid down about which parcels of land were entitled to use the designation Grand Cru based on the soil type and aspect. Premier Cru were next in line to be designated followed by Chablis then lastly Petit Chablis. But of course not all wines are “equal” within a designation and will naturally be affected by the winemaker, equipment, grape yield, etc. This means of course that a wine from a lower designated grouping could be of a higher quality than some wines above it! Naturally this makes for a lot more fun in wine tasting and buying …… seeking out the wines from the Chablis and Petit Chablis groupings that are of exceptionally high quality, but don’t qualify as Grand or Premier Cru, and are therefore much cheaper. They are not easy to find in your local wine merchants or supermarkets because the buyers for these organisations buy these “better wines” in huge quantities and bump up the price. The way to do it is ……. to visit Chablis itself and tour around lots of small producers over a couple of days. Find the best then fill the boot of your car!
One of the very best sources of consistently high quality, great value Chablis is the wine cooperative La Chablisienne in the centre of the village. ( I have written about cooperatives in an earlier post). The people here are knowledgeable, professional and very friendly, selling all 4 levels of Chablis too. You can taste as much as you like, including the “top of the shop” Grand Cru …. Grenouille with an example currently selling in M&S for £42. This is the smallest of the 7 Grand Cru vineyards, but remember there are many different producers holding smaller parcels of land including La Chablisienne, Domaine Testut, Domaine Louis Michel & Fils, Domaine Daniel-Etienne, William Fevre … and lots more. Some of these producer’s Grenouille costs in excess of £100 per bottle.
Our next family visit to Chablis will be in July, and in “preparation” we’ve decided to test some of the Chablis level wines from our local supermarkets all costing around £10. We’ll shortly post our assessments, but I’m not optimistic!