Give Chablis a Try

Chablis is one of those appellations that nobody seems to care about. Pronounced shah.blee, its white wines appear to be too obscure and rather expensive to be worth trying . Why buy Chablis Chardonnay when you can buy Burgundy? Why pay 30 dollars for an entry level bottle when a solid Californian or Argentinean Chard can be bought for less than 25? (I’m thinking Liberty School or Catena here).


Poor Chablis, has a problem of  image and communications. A lot of people still link Chablis to those harsh whites from California that flooded shelves back in the 70’s and 80’s. Who would like to pay money for those? To compound the problem, Chablis is not an emblematic French appellation in the way of Bordeaux, Burgundy or Rhone. And then, the average run to the wine shop is about good value and good value these days is a good white under 20 or a great red under 30. Most people hesitate about spending $30 for a white wine unless already proven.


So, Chablis has everything against it and may well never be on top of the consumer’s mental list of wines to take home. Which is rather sad, because some of these Chardonnay varietals can be just plain delicious and deliver a fresh minerality that will satisfy experts and neophytes alike. The acidity in these wines chisels their fruit flavors, making them memorable on the palate. And these days there are a few products from the appellation that can do all that without sending you running to the closest ATM for extra cash.


Geographically (or enologically) Chablis is part of Burgundy, although looking at a map it lies a little far north and east of its most famous cousins, i.e., Cote de Beaune and Cote de Nuits (which can also read “world’s best Chardonnay and best Pinot Noir”). Like the rest of Burgundy, you may get lost in the hierarchy of appellations, so for ease of reading, and of drinking, let’s make clear that you may want to stay away from Petit Chablis, and that serious Chablis start at the Premier Cru level. Having said that, I should bite my tongue, as one of the white wines I have enjoyed the best lately has been precisely a Petit Chablis.


The thing with Petit Chablis is that it lacks the strong limestone content that characterizes the best of the region’s vineyards. There is always an exception to every rule and I am sure there must be many exceptions here. But the one I would like to mention is William Fevre’s Petit Chablis 2007. Fevre is an important producer all across the board, with truly awesome Premier Cru and Grand Cru products. This lesser relative has a strong marine breeze of a nose, followed by punching acidity underscoring its apple and citrusy flavors. At $28, it is a great way to become familiar with the appellation. This is real value, brought to Vancouver by Grady Wine Marketing. Good job there, boys.


The next echelon above has the Chablis denomination proper. In Vancouver you will easily identify the La Chablisienne line of wines. This is a large cooperative, which, in spite of its size has been delivering good quality through the years. The Vancouver Wine Awards annual show picked the La Pierrelee Chablis 2006 in its 100+ best wines of the year. For a mere 28 dollars you get a vibrant combination of well balanced lemony apple and chalky minerality. Unflagging acidity and lovely staying power on the palate, make this one a winner. I love these Chardonnays on their own but they surely compliment nicely a dozen Kumamoto oysters on the half shell. By the way, if you are into shellfish, keep in mind that farmed oysters –unlike farmed salmon– are good for the environment and for your health.


Next time you are looking for a thirst quenching, bone dry, steely and rich Chardonnay but you don’t want it harsh or austere to the point of boredom or overwhelming with butter, try the fruits of Chablis. In a future posting I will visit a few Premier and Grand Cru, which, with the addition of oak (no new oak, only second use or older barrels) will give you new insights into what wonders the Chardonnay from this appellation can deliver.


The wines mentioned above are listed and can be found both in LDB and private stores.

Hasta la vista.

Ivan Alfonso



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