The Regions of Chablis
We’re doing a deep dive into one of our favorite wine regions: Chablis. If you missed the first installment in our special Chablis guide, visit the introduction to Chablis.
Chablis is a fairly small region – it’s not even a third of the size of the Napa Valley – but it has four distinct appellations:
- Petit Chablis
- Chablis Premier Cru
- Chablis Grand Cru
All of these regions are based on classified vineyard quality levels, just like in the rest of Bourgogne. Although two vineyards may be located just feet from one another, specific soil and climate changes could set one drastically apart from the other.
We firmly believe that a Chablis a day keeps the doctor away (note: this message is not approved by medical doctors in any way), and each of Chablis’ appellations has the right wine for one of those days.
Petit Chablis AOC
The vineyards on the outskirts of the Chablis region are typically classified as Petit Chablis AOC. They are located on the higher slopes and plateaus, where temperatures tend to be colder and windier.
Petit Chablis vineyards also tend to have Portlandian soil, not Kimmeridgian, making the wines lighter and subtler, with gentle citrus and white flower aromas.
Comprising about 19 percent of all wines produced in Chablis, Petit Chablis isn’t some dramatic step down in quality. Rather, Petit Chablis is a Chablis wine that can be drunk every day, which is a good thing.
Instead of waiting years to open a bottle of Petit Chablis, drink it young, within two years of harvest.
Most of the wine produced in Chablis is classified as Chablis AOC, about 66%, to be precise. The appellation was established in 1938 in order to protect the region’s name from being used for wines produced elsewhere in the world (cough, cough, “California Chablis”).
Because Chablis AOC is the most spread out of the sub-regions, with variations not only in soil but in exposition, drainage, windflow, and even in winemaker goals and traditions, wine styles can vary. Some are simple and charming, like Petit Chablis, while others are complex and robust, more akin to Chablis Premier Cru – with a price tag to match.
Chablis AOC wines are always dry, with the classic Chablis markers of bright acidity, fine minerality, and fresh citrus and orchard fruit flavors. But Chablis AOC wines can range in style from fruity to savory, light to moderate in body, and straightforward to complex. Generally, you should drink Chablis AOC wines three to five years after harvest, though there are exceptions; Dauvissat’s village-level Chablis wines, for instance, are delicious after a full decade of age.
Most Village Chablis are labelled without any name on the label but “Chablis” – no vineyard or climat designation, no commune. This made perfect sense in a world where most Chablis AOC was a blend from multiple sites and communes made by a negociant looking to make a single Chablis AOC that reflects its interpretation of the appellation as a whole. And it makes economic sense in a wine world that respects the name Chablis, but has never heard of, say Fyé.
But many of Chablis AOC’s vineyards communes have distinct personalities and flavors. Now, some young, intrepid winemakers have taken to bottling Chablis AOC wines that come from a single commune or climat, and noting as much on the label.
Patrick Piuze– a French Canadian transplant to Burgundy – was an early proponent of this approach, and has bottled a number of fascinating, terroir-specific Chablis AOCs with names such as “Chablis Terroir de Fyé” and “Chablis Terroir de la Chapelle.” You can shop for Piuze in SF and NYC.
If you are interested in a deep dive into Chablis AOC’s site specific terroirs, keep your eyes peeled for these bottles!
Chablis Premier Cru
Chablis Premier Cru is on the next rung up the Bourgogne quality ladder. The wines come from “better” sites within the Chablis and tend to have more “stuffing” – acidity, minerality and complex flavors. They are also pure expressions of their specific terroir. The subtleties are fascinating to Chablis freaks like us!
Although there isn’t a ton of Premier Cru Chablis made (only around 14%), the wines are prominent in top restaurants. All that freshness and flavor makes them no-brainers for bringing out the best in a huge variety of cuisines. They are also fun for their medium term ageability. While many Premier Crus are delicious on release, with just a few years in bottle they will show all sorts of delicious development and complexity.
Of course, what’s good for restaurant meals is doubly good for drinking at home! And to make sure you’re ready to take advantage of everything Chablis Premier Cru has to offer to show your home cooking in the best light, check out our next installment, our guide to Chablis Premier Cru (coming soon!)...
Chablis Grand Cru AOC
At the pinnacle of the Chablis quality tower is the Chablis Grand Cru AOC, which was designated when the Chablis appellation was first created in 1938. These seven Climats are considered to be the best of the best, and they all lie along a single slope above the town of Chablis. They are:
- Les Clos,
The entire Grand Cru area is just over 100 hectares (smaller than the area that can go under the name of the Vaillons Premier Cru vineyard!) and accounts for just one percent of Chablis production. The best Grand Cru wines can age for decades, and you typically want to wait at least five years before popping a bottle.
Though the Grand Crus are located side by side, each vineyard has distinct qualities that distinguish it from its neighbors. What makes each of these vineyards so unique, and why are the wines made here worth so much more than the rest? We’ll leave you with a cliffhanger, (to be resolved in our final Chablis installment all about the great Grand Crus.) For now--
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