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The Chardonnays Of Chablis

By Alex Russell on February 24, 2016 in Food

Photo: Alex Russell

Photo: Alex Russell

Chablis is the northernmost (and therefore coolest) part of Burgundy and almost all vines in this region are Chardonnay vines. I know, Chardonnay isn’t for everyone, but hear me out.

The wines of Chablis are quite distinct. In Australia, many of us equate Chardonnay with loads of oak. In Chablis, many of the wines don’t receive any oak at all, while the more expensive versions might receive a small amount, mostly for complexity rather than big oaky flavours.

The vineyards are classified based on the quality of the grapes that are grown there. Grand Cru vineyards are the highest tier. There are seven of them (and a cheeky unofficial eighth) and they are individually named, such as Les Clos, Grenouilles and Valmur. Wines from different Grand Cru vineyards will generally be bottled separately and are the most expensive (usually $100+). Various producers own certain vines within each vineyard, so you might see a label with Chablis Grand Cru Les Clos from the producer William Fevre, and then another from Christian Moreau.

The second tier is Premier Cru (about 40 vineyards). Personal favourites include Montée de Tonnerre, Vaillons, Fourchaume and Montmains. Again, these will generally be bottled separately by vineyard. The alcohol tends to be slightly lower than Grand Cru wines. Look for a label saying Chablis Premier (or 1er) Cru (usually around $70ish or so).

The third tier is simply called Chablis (about $30-50), which accounts for most of the wine produced. A wine from this level will come from vines within a larger, bounded region. The final classification, Petit Chablis (often $20-30), allows wine from outside of these boundaries (but still from the general Chablis region). Wines in these last two levels vary a lot in quality, so if you have one bad one, don’t swear off Chablis for life.

The top tiers can age if you like, but you generally want to drink them within a few years. In youth, the wines have a flinty, minerally character, which is delightful.

Many Chablis producers make very small amounts each vintage, so they can be hard to find. In my experience, the ones that make it into the chain stores are sometimes not the best examples of their style. Consider looking to local bottle shops or specialist retailers, such as Bellevue Hill Wines (see their ad on the opposite page).

You’ll see William Fevre pop up in some independent shops, especially some of the Premier and Grand Crus. The Fevre wines are not a bad place to start if you’re interested in the style.

You should also look for producers like Raveneau (the Montée de Tonnerre, or MdT, is a darling of wine snobs like me) or Droin (which I’ll often order if it’s on a wine list). Christian Moreau has also impressed me in recent years. Brocard, Verget and Laroche are worth looking for too. Let me know how you go!

I’ve introduced a lot of people to Chablis. While some were worried about drinking Chardonnay, without exception all have loved them. Try them while the warmer months remain.