Style – steely, tense, chalky, stony 130km north west of Beaune, you come across one of the greatest white wine appellations of the world. Chablis produces steely, dry, age-worthy whites from chardonnay. Being further north, the climate is cooler, and wines are fresher with great definition and ?firm acids – they are quite unique and very different to the whites of the Côte d’Or. There is a large risk of frost in Chablis, which can severely damage young vine shoots and various methods are employed to reduce this risk. The soil is a different version of limestone called Kimmeridgian (pre-historic oyster shells), with some vines now planted on Portlandian. Vineyards are located around the town of Chablis itself as well as nineteen other villages in the Yonne départment.
The appellation has increased in size over the last 50 years from 400 to 4900 hectares because of the demand for Chablis but this isn’t without controversy - most of the extension is on Portlandian soils, which some say doesn’t give as much finesse to the wines as Kimmeridgian. The AOC was created in 1938 and comprises four quality levels. Petit Chablis (more recently planted on lesser soils to cope with the demand), village Chablis, Premier and Grand Cru. The best vineyard sites are on the south west facing slopes of the valley. There are 40 Premier Crus in total, although these are grouped together to make the 11 that you commonly find. These wines show best after about 10 years ageing and the most sought after include Mont de Milieu, Fourchaumes and Montée de Tonnerre. They are located in two separate areas, the right and left banks of the river Serein. The 103 hectares of Grand Cru vineyards are located on one south west facing slope overlooking the village.
There are seven in total, the most reputed and biggest being? Les Clos. The other Grands Crus are Blanchots, Bougros, Grenouilles, Preuses, Valmur and Vaudésir. These are all located together on a single south west facing hill, north of the town. La Moutonne is the unofficial 8th Grand Cru, a monopoly vineyard of Long Depaquit, which straddles Preuses and Vaudésir and is certainly deserving of grand cru status itself. These benefit from at least 15 years bottle age. Premier and grand cru wines are still a lot less expensive than their Côte de Beaune counterparts and are often a bargain at the price. Much of Chablis is fermented in stainless steel and sees no oak but a few producers show that oak has special properties to offer. In the last 10 years or so, there has been a trend recently for growers who once sold to négociants, to bottle and sell wine themselves.