Chablis is like drinking “seashells in a glass.”
THERE IS NO greater expression of chardonnay in the world than Chablis.
We aren’t talking about the ghastly California jug wine that uses who-knows-what kinds of grapes grown in the arid Central Valley. We’re talking about Chablis, wines from a district within France’s Burgundy region approximately midway between Paris and Beaune.
Chardonnay is the only grape allowed in Chablis, and it takes up about 13,000 acres that are planted across four areas of the region.
Three to try
Domaine Alain Geoffroy Chablis, $16: This delicious and affordable Chablis reveals classic aromas and flavors of lime, green apple and honeydew melon, as well as hints of tropical fruit. It’s all backed by refreshing acidity.
Jean-Paul & Benoit Droin Chablis, $19: Aromas of apple slices, slate and lemon-lime lead to flavors of mint, grapefruit and fresh herbs. It’s all backed by classically bright acidity.
Domaine William Fevre 2012 Montmains Premier Cru Chablis, $40: Notes of lime, chalk, kiwi and almond transition into intriguing flavors of mineral, apple, pear and mint, all backed by gorgeous acidity for a lengthy finish.
Unlike most New World chardonnay, or a lot of White Burgundy (also made with chardonnay), much of the best Chablis rarely reveals oak. Instead, Chablis is keenly influenced by its soil from an ancient region that was a seabed some 150 million years ago. The result is that Chablis is heavy with limestone and fossilized oyster shells.
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As much as any wine I’ve ever tasted, the wines of Chablis express the soil in which they are grown, a flinty minerality backed by purity of fruit and bracing acidity. Wine critics and wine lovers might like to describe particularly austere and distinctive chardonnays as “Chablis-like,” but in reality there is nothing quite like the original.
The wine industry began in Chablis roughly 1,500 years ago, and its regions are sharply defined. For example, just seven areas of Chablis have been granted the status of the high-end “Grand Cru,” comprising just 250 acres and producing fewer than 50,000 cases of wine in an average year. That’s hardly enough to supply all the fans of great Chablis — and it explains why the finest Grand Cru Chablis can cost $75 or more per bottle.
Many years ago, Arnie Millan of Esquin Wine & Spirits in Seattle’s Sodo District provided me with my first proper introduction to the great wines of Chablis, guiding me through its four regions and helping me understand what I was to expect. Millan, certainly one of Seattle’s greatest wine experts, continues to adore Chablis.
“I love its complexity and edgy minerality,” he says. “It’s seashells in a glass.”
That sums up Chablis: flinty minerality, bright fruit, crisp acidity and incredible complexity. It perfectly pairs with shellfish, roasted chicken, grilled pork chops or steamed vegetables.