Yes, this is a love letter to Chablis. As amazing as this wine making region is, it's undoubtedly clouded by countless misconceptions. Before digging into why Chablis is so miraculous, I want to debunk the misconceptions holding people back from enjoying more its wines.
The downfall of Chablis's perception came about from two main sources. Both equally helped confuse and turn people off from the wines. First and foremost, the misuse of the word "Chablis" on labels led consumers to believe the wines were something they weren't. Producers in the new world (aka not Europe) would use the term "Chablis" for any old white wine they wanted. Think of this in the same way producers outside of the Champagne region of France would label their wines "champagne." In reality, the name Chablis should only have been used for wines coming from the Chablis region in France made from the Chardonnay grape. Secondly, people didn't understand what Chablis meant when they saw it on labels, even if it was used correctly. Many times wine drinkers were unsure as to if Chablis was a grape, a style of wine, or a producer. These misconceptions and confusions led to many people steering clear of the wines. However, times have changed and the Chablis region is finally getting its redemption.
Stricter labeling laws and advocates in the wine industry have helped positively transform the image of the wines of Chablis. Today, by law, if a wine is labeled "Chablis" it is referring to the region where wine is made from the Chardonnay grape in northern Burgundy. The EU regulation of the name usage has greatly increased consumer awareness and helped prevent knock-offs. Also, sommeliers and wine influencers alike gained an appreciation for the wines and helped promote its unique identity to consumers. These two factors have helped Chablis gain its rightful place in the forefront of wine drinkers' minds.
An even better discussion revolves around the logic behind why these wines are so sensational. Several reasons spring to mind. The region's ability to produce a distinctive expression of Chardonnay, the noticeable evolutions of style based on vineyard classification, and the wine's food pairing abilities are just a few justifications for why wines from Chablis are so special.
Chablis's geographic location in France has the most impact on the style of the wines. Also, how winemakers go about crafting their wines is a driving force behind the wine's unique nature. The location is in cool northern Burgundy, is full of white rock/limestone soils, and is impacted by the Serein River cutting through copious sloping vineyards. On the whole, producers show restraint in winemaking and oak usage, preferring to the let the true essence of grapes shine through. The results are wines that are light in color with green secondary hues and a bright simmering quality. The aromas of the wines are lemon, green apple, honeysuckle flowers, savory cheese rind, intense minerality of crushed stones/salinity, and very restrained if any oak usage. On the palate, the wine provides a lean and mouthwatering sensation. The best part is the combination of the wine's various elements and how much of a break it is from the familiar Chardonnays one might find from California.
The way Chablis is organized as a wine producing region is quite meaningful, as well. The region is arranged into Petite Chablis AOP, Chablis AOP, and Grand Cru AOP (AOP is just the name for the classification system). The Petite Chablis AOP classification is used for vineyards without much slope, kimmeridgian soils, or warmth from the Serein River. The resulting wines are more simple, lean, and easy-drinking. Wines labeled Chablis AOP are coming from vineyards with greater slopes, more protection from harsh winds/cold, and more kimmeridgian soil. The style in these wines is more layered, more intense, and slightly richer in character. Finally, Chablis Grand Cru AOP is the epitome of wines from the region. This AOP is comprised of 7 specific areas, which are protected from harsh weather conditions, are planted upon the finest soils, and have the most monetary investment put forward for their production. The wines are rich and supple, while still having the signature intensity of Chablis.
All these elements come together to make Chablis a food pairing star. The wine's unique tart fruit, savoriness, and mineral precision allows it to go seamlessly and gain complexity when paired with a myriad of different foods. One pairing always capable of blowing me away is Chablis with oysters. This pairing is an example of the food bringing out intensity in the wine and the wine bringing out intensity in the food. The oysters take on an even more pleasing sea spray nature and the wine feels even more beautifully mineral. The magic of this wine is that chicken and pork can work equally well. The more substantial protein actually helps create a smoother mouth-feel in the wine, while the wine's naturally high acidity brings a refreshment to the palate after each bite. That's balance at its finest.
It's safe to say Chablis will always have my heart. I hope you take the chance to fall in love, too.