By Celia Strong
As we’ve all learned, there is a world of wine terms. Some of them are easy enough to understand, and some not so easy. Some just make no sense at all.
And, some have more than one meaning. Today, we’re going to look at one of those.
“Chablis” is the name of a town. It’s a legal French wine appellation. It’s a euphemism for CWW (cheap white wine). We’re going to look at the town and the French white wine that is made there.
Chablis, the town, is located in central northern France. Its vineyards are officially in the Burgundy region, although Chablis is about 60 miles away from Burgundy. (The soil in that 60 miles is not as good for grape growing, so it was not included in the wine region.)
The wines of Chablis are all whites made from Chardonnay. The soil in the vineyards is Kimmeridgian with strains of chalk. Kimmeridgian is mineral rich with abundant marine fossils (mostly oyster shells) that put lime into the soil. The wines made from the grapes grown here are leaner, brighter, drier and more mineral-ly than the Chardonnays from the rest of Burgundy.
Chablis is known for its citrus flavors, white flower aromas and lighter bodied flavors of citrus, pear and herbs (including chives, thyme, tarragon) with minerality and salinity.
They are also known for their tingly finishes with mineral kicks and flintiness. While some Chablis wines do get a bit of barrel aging, many producers don’t use any wood so their wines maintain the special Chablis characteristics.
Chablis vineyards are classified into four tiers. From less to better to best: Petit Chablis, Chablis, Chablis Premier Cru and Chablis Grand Cru. Petit Chablis is a small part of the area’s total production. They are lesser wines from slightly lesser soil, but with lower costs.
There are 40 specific sites that can produce Premier Cru wines and seven that can claim, and make, Grand Cru quality wines. Of course, pricing adjusts accordingly. The more Kimmeridgian the soil, the better the appellation. (The seven Grand Cru sites in Chablis are all located in a line on one southwest-facing hill east of the town.)
Plain Chablis makes up about 60 percent of the area’s production.
Our Chablis today comes from the Maison Joseph Drouhin. Joseph was from Chablis, but chose to start making wine in Beaune in 1880. Beaune is a small city further south in the Burgundy region and central to much of the whole region’s wine industry.
Joseph founded his company with the highest standards of production and dedication to the unique subtleties of Burgundian wines. His descendants still run the company and make their wines under his guidelines.
The family today owns the Moulin de Vaudon in Chablis, the watermill of Vaudon. And, since 2008, all of their Chablis wines are labeled with both the family name and the mill’s.
They own 15 acres in Chablis, with soil that is Kimneridgian limestone and loaded with marine fossils that are embedded in a whitish mortar-like paste that might have actually been the bottom of the ocean hundreds of millions of years ago.
Their vines here are an average 24 years old. They purposely keep their yields low, about 20 percent below what is legally allowed.
This allows for fewer grapes to get as much as possible from the soil, and deeper flavors in the wines. Harvest is done by hand and the pressing is slow and gentle. These wines are aged for a short period in barrels in French oak but never, never new barrels. Used barrels give softer more subtle nuances to the wines.
This finished Chablis has a bright, brilliant color with hints of green. Its aromas and flavors are typical and traditional Chablis with lemon, herbs and salinity. In your mouth it is soft and lively at the same time.
This particular vintage, 2015, was spectacular for white Burgundy wines.
So, hopefully, Chablis has a new meaning for us now, especially after we taste this wine. Unfortunately, though, we can’t depend on getting too much of this wine. Maison Drouhin doesn’t make it every year. They only have enough grapes for it in better vintages. For now, though, we can be Chablis-Vaudon fans.
For $21.99. Enjoy.
Celia Strong works at Bill’s Liquor & Fine Wines on Lady’s Island.