THE picturesque village of Chablis in northern Burgundy is one of France’s classic wine regions, and cool climate chardonnay is its signature grape.
Terroir and aspect (location of the slopes) are crucial to these wines, and in a Chablis taste-off the four appellations start with a petit Chablis, level to simple village Chablis, rise to premier cru and peak at grand cru.
Chablis premier cru and beautifully structured grand cru hail from a south-west-facing hill overlooking the village and the mineral banks of the River Serein. The limestone soil (a chalky clay called Kimmeridgian) gives the wines their hallmark flinty edge.
The best of the rest come from the surrounding villages which have a slightly different limestone soil, and they all share good ageing potential.
Premier crus that are just hitting the shelves will continue to develop for several years, and reward your patience with their elegance and richness.
For a good entry-level Chablis, try The Society’s Chablis 2009 (£10.95, www.thewinesociety.com) for a refreshingly fruity, unoaked easy-drinking style with racy acidity and a honeyed finish that will become more evident with age.
Chablis loves shellfish, and no more so than when oysters are paired with a steely white such as Chablis, Vieilles Vignes Les Pargues, Moreau Naudet 2008 (£11.75, www.quintessentiallywine.com). The stony fruit gives way to a glint of minerality with soft pink grapefruit flavours, good acidity and a lively finish.
For purists, the dividing line between New World chardonnay and Chablis is the use of oak. Some cellar masters ply no oak at all, some age the wines in steel tanks with a faint hint of barrel ageing, some use newer barrels, while top notch domaines use older oak.
For a clean unoaked style, try Chablis Simonnet Febvre 2010 (£13.99, www.slurp.co.uk). With a lemon crisp nose, citrus peel flavours, good minerality and a vibrant finish, it’s excellent with grilled Dover sole.
White wine lovers thirsty for a fruitier style should try Chablis Denis Pommier 2009 (£13.17, www.goedhuis.com). Smooth and rich with a slightly buttery nose, elegant green apples and good length, it’s a classy wine with nice texture and a delicious partner with seared scallops.
From the same winemaker and its more expensive sister, Chablis 1er Cru Cote de Lechet Denis Pommier 2008 (£16.50, www.goedhuis.com) has the purity and minerality one looks for in a premier cru. With a floral nose, lemon crisp flavours and a tangy mineral finish, try serving it with Clacbitou goats’ cheese – the saltiness of the soft cheese beautifully balances the acidity of the wine.
Another elegant style with a classic nose of crushed shells (the chalky clay contains fragments of billions of fossilised oyster shells), try Domaine Louis Moreau Chablis 1er Cru Vaulignot 2008 (£16.99, www.virginwines.co.uk) – it’s intensely fresh and pure with great structure and a vibrant mouthfeel.