Chardonnay, the world’s most planted varietal, also seems to be one of the most polarizing- either you love Chard or you hate it. If I had to choose sides, sorry Chard but it’s been a fun ride.
But Wait! There’s one expression of Chardonnay that I truly enjoy: Chablis. Actually, all well-made, cool-climate Chards that don’t see a judicious amount of oak are pretty fantastic. The problem is that these other examples from the Loire, Northern Italy and Austria are produced in miniscule quantities and rarely seen, so therefore, we shall focus on our more widely available buddy Chablis.
What makes Chablis special?
The Climate. Chablis is technically in Burgundy but is actually closer to Champagne in the north of France than the rest of Burgundy in the South. It is significantly cooler, producing a high-toned style with higher acidity and because the wines tend to be much leaner, the wines are aged in stainless vats or large, neutral barrels. In the other parts of Burgundy and the New World, judicious amounts of new barrels have become the norm, producing a rounder, oakier style of wine. If Chablis is all about finesse, heavily oaked Chard is about as graceful as a newborn’s first steps.
The Soil. All the prime sites of Chablis sit in a dried-up ocean bed full of oceanic minerals combined with chalk known as Kimmeridgian soil. These attributes are reflected in the wines and possess a chalky, steeliness that is more reminiscent of Sancerre than any other version of Chard. For those who prefer crispier whites, these are the Chardonnays for you.
William Fevre, ‘Champs Royaux’, ’08
Gilbert Picq, ’08
Both of these wines rock for the price. These bottlings represent an awesome chance to have a glimpse into the possibilities of Chablis without breaking the bank.
There are 3 rockstar producers of Chablis and the prices reflect their efforts: Fevre, Dauvissat and Raveneau. These guys predominantly work with only the best Premier Cru and Grand Cru sites, so if you have the chance, jump on it and drink that juice because it is probably on somebody else’s tab.