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The Wines Of Burgundy Part 2: Chablis And Beyond

By Alex Russell on April 24, 2013 in Other

Photo: Ron Burgundy

Photo: Ron Burgundy

Chablis is the most northern sub-region of Burgundy. It’s about as far north as you can go and still produce wine. If a wine carries the label ‘Chablis’, it is 100 per cent Chardonnay. About ten or so other grapes are grown in the area, including a red or two. If producers want to make wine from these grapes, they cannot call it Chablis. It has to be sold as a generic ‘Bourgogne’ (see below).

There are four tiers of Chablis: Petit Chablis (about $20–30 a bottle), Chablis ($40), Premier Cru ($60) and Grand Cru ($80+). Prices, of course, depend on the producer, but that’s a rough guide. Unlike Beaujolais, but like the rest of Burgundy, a Cru refers to a specific vineyard.

The lowest level, Petit Chablis, can be made from Chardonnay grown in any vineyard within Chablis, including outlying vineyards that have poorer soils and aspects. They’re still great little wines!

The next level is Chablis. This can be made from most vineyards excluding the outlying vineyards that are included in Petit Chablis. Both Chablis and Petit Chablis are rarely oaked, so you’re looking at fresh, lively, zingy wines. Don’t let the fact that it’s Chardonnay put you off.

Premier and Grand Cru wines are made using grapes from particular vineyards only. There are seven official Grand Cru vineyards and 40 Premier Cru vineyards. Quality is taken very seriously here – there’s even a special committee that keeps an eye on it with blind tastings. Grand Cru and Premier Cru wines may receive some oak treatment, but it’s nothing like the heavy oak that other white Burgundies receive.

The word that comes to mind when drinking Chablis is ‘purity’. Try it with someone, particularly someone who hates Chardonnay, but don’t tell them it’s Chardonnay – you just might surprise them.

The rest of Burgundy, apart from Beaujolais (see last month’s column), all basically follows the same system as Chablis. The lowest level wines will just have Bourgogne or Burgundy on the label and include outlying vineyards that are on the flats at the foot of the hills.

The second level, known as ‘village’ wine, will include the name of the village (for example, Volnay or Pommard). This is sort of the equivalent of Chablis, but the producer will usually include the village name on the label.

There is kind of a sub-regional level in between the Bourgogne and village levels, where wines from particular areas that don’t have a village nearby still give themselves a sub-regional classification. Technically, they’re just Bourgogne, but don’t tell them that.

The third level is Premier Cru. When a wine is produced from grapes that all come from the same Premier Cru vineyard, the label will say the village, then Premier Cru, then the name of the vineyard – for example, Beaune 1er Cru Les Coucherias.

Finally, there is Grand Cru. There aren’t many of them and they’re bloody expensive wines, but they’re also darned good. Grand Cru vineyards don’t include the name of the village, because the French think the vineyards are so famous they don’t need anything more than ‘Grand Cru La Tâche’, for example, on the label. Also, just to confuse things a bit more, some villages have included the name of their most famous vineyard in their name – for example, Puligny-Montrachet. So just because the label says ‘Puligny-Montrachet’, it doesn’t mean the wine is from the Montrachet Grand Cru vineyard. But more on that next month…