The very best wines, no matter where they are from, are those that are exciting to drink. Exciting you say? It’s a glass of wine, I’m not boxing a kangaroo …
Nonetheless, wine can be exciting to drink. If you don’t experience exciting wine often, allow me to help.
It’s about bringing all your senses into play. The cork is popped, you look at the wine, noting the colour and clarity in the glass. You swirl and sniff it before finally taking that first taste, feeling its texture over your palate. If it’s a sparkling wine, you may even hear it. But also, great wine is meant to be enjoyed in company, so you’ll probably want to talk about it a little after.
The wines of Chablis are really some of the most exciting wines out there. Technically part of the wine region of Burgundy, Chablis is a smallish pocket of vineyards about 150 kilometres northwest of the region. It’s a bit like saying Banff is a part of Calgary.
So what makes Chablis so special?
For starters, Chablis is a paragon of cool-climate winemaking. Relatively far from the coast, Chablis is a region with cold winters and warm-to-hot summers. Cooler climates are capable of producing wines with more prominent acidity than those in warmer – think New Zealand sauvignon blanc, German riesling, and, yes, Champagne in France. In addition to the cool climate, the region has the ideal soil for this type of wine, composed of Kimmeridgian limestone (think of ancient, fossilized seashells).
Chablis is, somewhat unusually, all about a single grape, producing a distinct, “gold-star” example of what that grape can do. That grape is chardonnay, which is extremely popular with consumers. Some love big, buttery, oaky chardonnays, while others prefer their chardonnay with a little less wood. Chablis, with very few exceptions, rarely sees any significant oak, making it one of the purest expressions of the grape available.
Chablis is a remarkably easy region to get a grip on when it comes to the classifications. To state Chablis on the label, the wines have to come from the Chablis region of France and will have AOC (for Appellation d’Origine Contrle) or ACC (for Appellation Chablis Contrle) on the label. California Chablis is not a thing (even though producers of these jug wines have appropriated the name to refer to the cheapest plonk and have somehow gotten away with it).
Starting at the bottom of the Chablis quality pyramid, you get Petit Chablis – the least intense, but still delicious, generally unoaked to lightly oaked. Above that is Chablis, coming from better vineyards, and displaying more of that steely character that characterizes the region. After that, comes Premier Cru Chablis or first-growth Chablis, comprising 40 different vineyard sites within the region. Some notable names include Vaillons, Fourchaume or Montmains.
At the top are the Grand Cru Chablis. There are seven great vineyards forming a contiguous site just north of the town of Chablis. These highly desirable and incredible wines include such names as Vaudsir or Les Clos. As one moves up the pyramid, prices, cellar potential and quality increase, while the relative availability of each decreases. If you want to serve Les Clos at your next family gathering, you’ll want a smaller family.
What to eat with Chablis
Great wine is almost always discussed in the context of food, and the most classic pairing for Chablis is oysters or seafood. “Oysters, like good wine, are influenced strongly by their surroundings,” Thom Hill, restaurant manager of Catch & the Oyster Bar, says. “With Chablis, it’s the chalkiness of the terroir that complements the mineral flavour of oysters. Their sweetness is perfectly balanced by saltiness, and that creates a beautiful, creamy, almost symbiotic match with the wine.”
While Chablis can and does age gracefully, it is magical enough in its youth. To pull the cork and savour the crisp acidity, taut minerality, and razor-fine balance is joy enough – with or without food. It’s a rare bottle of Chablis that sticks around longer than five years past the vintage in my house.
3 perfect pairings
Catch & The Oyster Bar: Chablis and Oysters
Interested in trying Kusshi oysters from Vancouver Island? Then try them with the racy Simonnet Febvre Chablis ($80, or $16 by the glass). Oysters and Chablis are such a classic pairing it would be a shame not to try it at least once.
100 8 Ave. S.E., 403-206-0000, catchrestaurant.ca
The Lake House: Chablis and Lamb
This might seem a little odd – lamb shoulder and Chablis – but this pairing is all about the other flavours on the plate. The Pattes Loup Ctes du Jouan Chablis Premier Cru ($95) brings out all those creamed cauliflower and pecorino flavours, which, in turn, elevate the lamb itself.
747 Lake Bonavista Dr. S.E., 403-225-3939, lakehousecalgary.com
Rodney’s Oyster House: Chablis and Oysters
The classic. The beautiful pairing of the mineral character and acidity of Chablis with the salinity of the oyster is to be enjoyed rather than discussed. Try the Garnier & Fils Chablis ($14 by the glass, $70 for the bottle) with a Malpeque oyster (or six) from the east coast.
355 10 Ave. S.W., 403-460-0026, rodneysoysterhouse.com
6 wines from Chablis to try
Domaine Grard Tremblay 2014 “Vielle Vignes” Chablis, France
Coming from older vines, which generally are known for producing less, but higher-quality fruit, this Chablis shows all those things wine geeks love about Chablis – intense fruits, capital “M” mineral character, balance and no oak. It’s drinking perfectly right now so break out the seafood, or simply enjoy on the deck on a Sunday afternoon. $26.
Joseph Drouhin 2012 Montmains Premier Cru Chablis, France
Oh, hello there sexy! Lemon juice, fresh sliced pears and green apple aromas with mild saltiness and mineral on the nose and a stylish, razor-sharp acidity. If wine were a person, this is the sort that you can’t look away from, even after being elbowed by your spouse. Twice. $60 (also available in 375ml bottles for $30).
Chablis Domaine de Vaudon 2014 Chablis, France
Pretty impressive juice resides in this bottle. It has bright and lifted citrus and mineral aromas and flavours, with steely acidity and a hint of seashells on the finish. Made in 100 per cent stainless steel tanks, it’s a beautiful bottle of what can be described as pure chardonnay. $32.
Louis Jadot 2014 Chablis, France
Pale straw colour with golden tones, look for softer tropical fruits with almond, apple-core and mineral aromas. Flavour wise, it’s slightly creamy with a taut acidity balancing the fruits and flintiness. Should absolutely rock with scallops, creamy pastas or goat cheese. $34.
William Fvre 2014 Chablis, France
A nearly textbook example of mineral aromas in wine – cut granite, flint and the smell of rain just fallen on a hot sidewalk (not to worry, lemon and apple fruits are there, too). Fruits are a little less prominent on the palate, but, overall, a slick and well-dressed Chablis with a hint of lemonade on the finish. $34.
Louis Moreau 2014 Petit Chablis, France
This is well-balanced and simply a great-tasting chardonnay. Completely oak-free in its wine-making and aging, its flavours of tropical fruits, apple peel and citrus, along with a crisp zing of acidity, work very well on the palate. $25.