The vineyards of Chablis are located in the Northeastern tip of Burgundy, in-between the regions of Champagne and Côte d’Or. This is one of the most northerly Chardonnay still wine producing regions in the world. From space, the white chalky hills and valleys can be seen . Without any major rivers or trade routes for international export, Chablis has remained a small village, retaining its traditions and autonomy from most of France.
The claim to fame comes from its crisp, dry, mineral white wines that are light-textured and adored by all wine lovers around the world. The famous Kimmeridgian soil, named after the English town of Kimmeridge is a grey colored limestone soil that has been exposed after hundreds of million years when this part of France used to be an ocean floor. The soil does not only add nutrients to the vines, but the ideal southeastern exposure to ripen the grapes in this cool, continental climate. The quality is not just defined on where the grapes are planted, but how. Even the way the vines are trained, low to the ground instead of high wired canopies. This can help prevent or reduce frost and wind exposure.
The class structure of the wines in Chablis is based on the soils and exposure; much is the same as in all of Burgundy. The top vineyard sites are classified Grand Cru and the next best are premier crus. The following appellations are Chablis and Petit Chablis, for vineyards on lower, flatter areas that are usually exposed to Portlandian limestone and producing lower alcohol, affordable wines.
Chablis Grand Cru
There are seven climats (parcels) that are located on the hill that overlooks the town of Chablis. This location is the most ideal to grow ripe, complex chardonnay. The styles are usually fuller bodied, structured and can have a higher percentage of new oak.
There is an eighth climat called La Moutonne that is not officially part of the classification by can use the designation on the label. It straddles the vineyards of Vaudésir and Les Preuses.
Chablis Premier Cru
While Chablis Grand Cru is one continuous hillside, the 40 premier crus are scattered around the appellation on hillsides among 15 surrounding communes. While Chablis Grand Cru is its own AOP, Chablis “Premier Cru” is a designation added to the Chablis AOP and must be at least 10.5% alcohol. The soils are similar and the quality of the wines can be just as good as Grand Cru. The styles are generally leaner, taught and full of racing acidity.
There are 17 main premier crus, these are some of the most recognizable:
Montée de Tonnerre
Mont de Milieu
Chablis and Petit Chablis
This is often the category that most people are introduced to with Chablis. Light, citrusy and fairly neutral, unoaked wines. While the surface area of Chablis can be quite large, it’s important to know the producers that make the best examples. You may find a top grower labeling a cuvée under their Chablis wine to indicate that it comes from a unique parcel.
Petit Chablis can be one of the most dangerously easy-to-drink French wines, with clean, mouth watering flavors. The value offers the opportunity to parade the wine along other cool climate regions.