Guide to Chablis Grand Cru
Are you sick of Chablis yet? Good, neither are we! We’ve been immersed in Chablis for some time now, starting with our introduction to the region, working our way through Village and Premier Cru wines.
If you’ve joined us on the journey… Thank You! You’ve made it to the final installment.
And if you haven’t, but you’d like to, you can catch up on the basics before jumping into the Grand Crus.
What is Chablis Grand Crus and why do we care?
What’s so grand about a Grand Cru Chablis, anyways? The advantages of Chablis’ other three levels of wine are now obvious to us. Petit Chablis is a buddy for everyday drinking and Chablis can provide excellent value. These are both great things that we all need from time to time.
Chablis Premier Cru is one of the world’s great wines of terroir – as well as one of its great food wines. Those are both things that are easy to love. And the best of them rival the more expensive Grand Crus. In fact, we’ve learned that some of the best Premier Cru Chablis offer Grand Cru-like levels of power, complexity, elegance and aging potential.
But even so, there’s something about Chablis’ Grand Cru wines that sets them apart from all the rest.
The Lay of the Land
Chablis Grand Cru is a single vineyard -- just one single hill -- rich with region’s famed Kimmeridgian soil. It has seven recognized Climats spread out across its face, and those are the names you will see on the label. The seven Chablis Grand Cru Climats all make wines that are minerally and profound, but unique.
Partly, those unique identities come from fine variations in the topsoil or in the Kimmerdgian marl itself. But variations in the vineyards’ slope and angle make a huge difference, too. In some places, that solid hill of Kimmeridgian soil wiggles and, in the Climats of Valorent and Vaudesir, it is actually interrupted by a “mini-valley” leading away from the river.
These variations in the topography are key to the personalities of Chablis’ Grand Cru wines. Because the Grand Cru vineyard is mostly southwest facing, the vines soak up all of that warm afternoon sunshine to get fully ripe and rich. But where the slope or exposition changes even slightly, so too does ripening -- meaning that the wine changes noticeably too.
To top it off, the Grand Cru hill also shelters the vines from cool winds; so where there are changes and breaks in the slope there will be changes air flow making sites either warmer or cooler.
The exact balancing of all these influences makes for profound and surprising differences in wines that are from such superficially similar spots.
What do Grand Cru Chablis taste like?
That recipe -- Kimmeridgian soil, sunny exposition, and sheltered sites in Chablis’ northern climate -- creates broad, mouth-filling, full-flavored wines that maintain lean acidity and distinct minerality.
Because these wines are so well structured, some winemakers will age Grand Cru wines in a small portion of new oak, adding another layer of richness and helping them to age even longer. This can give us amazingly powerful wines for so northerly a growing region.
From west to east (or left to right, when looking at a map), the seven Chablis Grand Crus are Bougros, Preuses, Vaudésir, Grenouilles, Valmur, Les Clos, and Blanchot.
You may have heard of an eighth unofficial Grand Cru vineyard as well: La Moutonne, which isn’t technically a Grand Cru but can be included on wine labels. Each of these vineyards has its own peculiarities, which we’ll explore below.
The Chablis Grand Crus, from West to East
The most westerly Grand Cru, Bougros is a steep, mostly south facing vineyard with richer soil, creating softer, plumper wines. Though it tends more towards fruit than minerality, Bougros wines are friendlier in youth than some of the more acid-driven Grand Crus.
Sometimes listed on wine labels as “Les Preuses,” Preuses can vary from upper slope vines to lower slope vines. Overall, these tend to be elegant, round wines with delicate aromatics.
Many consider Vaudésir to be one of Chablis’ finest Grand Cru Climats. To understand what sets it apart it helps to know that it is sometimes called the “Valley of Vaudésir” as the Grand Cru hill has been eroded here to make a small valley.
This history of erosion makes three big differences. First, the steeper sides give the vines extra sun for ripening. Secdon, it means that there are both south and southwest facing slopes, giving complexity.
Finally, the erosion means that parts of the vineyard have more clay in the soil than most of the Grand Crus. The result is a wine of incredible balance, with elegant minerality and delicious fruit concentration. Of course, depending on where a producer’s vines are, Vaudésir can take on different expressions.
The smallest of the Grand Crus, Grenouilles is located along the Serein riverbank; the name of the vineyard actually means “frogs.” Because the vines are south facing, they receive sun all day, creating a ripe, fruit-forward style of wine. If you want to drink a Grand Cru without cellaring it, Grenouilles is a good choice.
Sandwiched between Grenouilles and Les Clos, Valmur is considered to be a top Grand Cru vineyard. Like Vaudésir, it is a “mini-valley” carved by erosion, with a surprising amount of variety in its expositions, including some north-facing sites that bring incredible freshness.
It often needs time to age, as these acid-driven wines are both powerful and austere in youth. Valmur’s higher sites have special topsoil that is also laden with oyster shell fossils, contributing to this exceptionally mineral-driven Grand Cru.
Of the Grand Crus, Les Clos is the largest, most well-known, and arguably the best. It has an open, southwest-facing slope, allowing the vineyard to have exposure to warm, plentiful afternoon sunshine. This is important for ripening in cool Chablis and gives Les Clos wines that intoxicating push-pull between opulence and fine acidity. If you’re looking for a Grand Cru wine that will definitely age for decades, Les Clos is a solid bet.
Furthest to the east of the Grand Crus, Blanchot wraps around the side of the hill to have a southeast aspect, unlike its neighbors. This makes Blanchot wines less fruity and powerful, but that actually can be a good thing. Lighter and more acid-driven, with tart citrus notes, these wines mature faster but can be charming in youth.
And a Bonus Grand Cru…
The relatively steep La Moutonne vineyard is not technically a Grand Cru, but since the 1950s, it has been allowed to include its name on Grand Cru wine labels. The vineyard is almost entirely located within Vaudésir, with a bit spilling into Preuses. Today La Moutonne is a monopole owned by a single producer: Domaine Long-Depaquit.
Enjoying Grand Cru Chablis
This is one of the great wines of Bourgogne.
These wines are complex and delicious and rewarding enough to enjoy on their own, undoubtedly. But they remain superlative food wines: we find that we get more out of Chablis Grand Cru when we enjoy it with a meal rather than drink it purely for contemplation.
Chablis Grand Cru is made to be aged. But if you find yourself opening a bottle on the younger side – and anything less than five years is on the younger side – don’t sweat it.
You won’t get the complexity and integration of developed flavors, charms that come exclusively after aging. but it should still be utterly delicious. If it is tight when you open it – if it doesn’t seem to be showing enough fruit or complexity – pour it into a decanter and give it some time. It should wake up.
But don’t serve it too cold! Like all great white wines, it should be served only with a light chill, otherwise you won’t be able to appreciate any of the subtleties.
Explore our favorite Chablis Grand Cru wines in, and get a taste for our obsession.
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