Chablis has the paradoxical distinction of being at once one of the most famous and least well known of French wines. Hugh Johnson opined that it is “one of the world’s most under-estimated treasures.” I agree.
We say that Chablis is Burgundy, but, situated on the Serein River some 100 miles southeast of Paris, Chablis is nearly 100 miles north of Beaune. Perhaps we can say that it is the Hadrian’s Wall of Burgundy. Hadrian’s bit of Britain was part of the Roman Empire, but no one would confuse it with Rome. . . .
Like its famous cousins down south, Chablis is 100 percent Chardonnay, but a hardy variety called “Beaunois,” “from Beaune.” “Chardonnay,” one wine writer observes, “responds to its cold terroir of limestone clay with flavors no one can reproduce in easier… wine-growing conditions — quite different, even from those of the rest of Burgundy to the south.” Indeed. No one would ever mistake a Chablis for, say, a Montrachet or Corton-Charlemagne. Less butter, more flint. But that is just a start.
Chablis is renowned for its consistency. Its wines can be divided into four types. At the lower end of price, richness and complexity are Petit Chablis and Chablis, of which there is a great abundance.
Then there are about eighty climats designated “Premier Cru,” of which my favorite is Fourchaume, bottled by several vintners. Where I live, these can be had for about $35-$70 and are fresh, citrusy and slightly floral. Remember those fossilized oyster shells? A dozen of their descendants will go nicely for lunch with a bottle (or two if you have company).
More select are the seven Grand Cru wines, which account for only about 1 percent of the wine produced in Chablis.