Location and surface area of Chablis
Chablis is an appellation located in the department of Yonne, in Burgundy. Situated a few kilometres away from Auxerre and following the river Serein, the Chablis wine-growing area includes the producing communes of Beines, Béru, Chablis, Fyé, Milly, Poinchy, La Chapelle-Vaupelteigne, Chemilly-sur-Serein, Chichée, Collan, Courgis, Fleys, Fontenay-Près-Chablis, Lignorelles, Ligny-le-Châtel, Maligny, Poilly-sur-Serein, Préhy, Villy and Viviers.
The home of fine Burgundy wines, Chablis covers a production area of 5,800 hectares that spreads over four appellations: Petit-Chablis, Chablis, Chablis Premier Cru and Chablis Grand Cru.
Chablis is one of the most extensive vineyards in Burgundy and is composed exclusively of Chardonnay.
The origins of the name Chablis
The name Chablis comes from two Celtic words, Cab (house) and Leya (near the wood). This name refers to the presence of dwellings near the Serein during the Neolithic era and then during the Gallic period.
The history of Chablis
Roots dating back to the Roman Empire
Wine growing in Chablis dates back to Roman times. First uprooted by order of Emperor Domitian (81-96), the vines were then replanted under Emperor Probus (276-282).
A cross-border expansion in the 12th century thanks to the Cistercian monks
Fleeing the Vikings' arrival via the Loire, the Benedictine monks of Tours settled in Auxerre in 867. Guided by the Cistercian monks of Pontigny Abbey (one of the daughters of the Cîteaux Abbey), Chablis experienced a tremendous expansion in the 12th century. Indeed, the proximity of the Yonne river favoured trading as far as Paris, and the white wines of Chablis were soon celebrated and reputed throughout the Kingdom and were relished by the Kings of France during the finest dinner parties.
A vineyard divided in the 18th century
During the French Revolution, the best-quality plots of land, then owned by the clergy, were sold as ‘’biens nationaux’’ or national goods.
The impact of a health crisis from the end of the 19th century
While phylloxera and mildew ravaged the vineyards from the end of the 19th century, Chablis subsequently lost many winegrowers due to the hardship caused by the Great War of 1914-1918. Thereafter, competition with wines from the South of France increased, and thanks to the railways, the wine industry was growing.
It was not until after the devastating frost in 1957 that this Burgundy appellation gradually rose from the ashes. Along with the development of mechanisation and the modernisation of viticultural techniques, a thorough restructuring was carried out, favouring the planting of the white grape variety that had become king in these lands: Chardonnay. All these measures will gradually revive the local economic activity. Established as an AOC in 1938, Chablis, which only covered 500 hectares in 1955, is now enjoying a remarkable revival through the production of wines that are renowned beyond the country’s borders for their aromatic richness and finesse.
One grape variety, four appellations: the singularity of Chablis
A white grape variety that magnifies the identity of Chablis
This world-famous white Burgundy grape variety attains a perfect balance in the nutrient-poor fertile limestone soils of Chablis and reveals the richness and purity of its nuances. The Chardonnay variety exudes a pleasant minerality that characterises the limestone soils. Its variations are endless: from the crystal iodine flavours to the vaporous and aerial texture, to the full and ripe expression of its ample and rich mouth.
Four heterogeneous appellations
The AOC Chablis is divided into 4 appellations, subdivided into different ‘’climats’’:
Petit-Chablis, which can be produced in all 20 communes of the Chablis area, represents 19% of the total volume produced.
Although 66% of the volume is represented by Chablis, 14% is represented by Chablis Premier Cru.
Then lastly, the Chablis Grand Cru (1%).
The climats, a Burgundian specificity
A typically Burgundian term, the "climat" designates a well-defined plot of land, shaped by the work of diligent men, which benefits from specific geological and climatic conditions. Each climat is unique because of the organoleptic qualities it gives to the wine, in terms of colour, aroma and texture.
Although the famous Clos de Bèze (Gevrey) is mentioned as early as the 7th century, the oldest mention of a climat in Chablis harks back to 1537. In 1935, the INAO made this word an official term for the whole of Burgundy, and on July 4th 2015, the climats of Burgundy were listed as a UNESCO heritage site.
Chablis has 47 climats, including 40 for Chablis Premier Cru and 7 for Chablis Grand Cru. Among the most famous are:
All there is to know about the Chablis terroirs
Location and sun exposure
Located in the northernmost part of Burgundy, Chablis is a wine-growing area that is defined by 20 communes.
Geology: an exception in Burgundy
Lively, full of energy and vivacity, the definition of a Chablis white wine often begins with these terms.
But Chablis is much more than that. The complex expression of the soils and subsoils lend a unique minerality to white Chablis wines. Be it earthy, reminiscent of the scent of wet earth, mineral, like the scent of summer rain, or iodine, like a mixture of sea spray and seaweed by the sea, the expression of Chablis is highly complex.
To understand the refreshing complexity of Chablis, most winegrowers goffer a piece of advice that may seem strange to beginners: having the courage to taste a pebble directly from the vineyard with one's tongue... Although it may seem absurd, it is nonetheless the key way to understand the mineral expression that characterises Chablis.
So why return to their roots? Because Chablis is also the result of two soils whose history begins when the region was covered by a vast ocean. The most famous, the Kimmeridgian, exists in only two places in the world: in Burgundy and in the south of England, in Kimmeridge Bay. Dating from the Upper Jurassic, this geological episode was formed over 150 million years ago, when Chablis was a vast inland sea. The subsoil is made up of grey marls, sedimentary rocks mixed with clay and calcite, alternating with limestone banks, rich in fossils, notably the famous little comma-shaped oyster, Ostrea Virgula. Portlandian is the preferred soil for Petit Chablis and comprises little limestone and marl, and few fossils.
Climat: vines enjoying a semi-continental influence
Chablis is located in a region with a semi-continental climat, with long, harsh winters and hot, dry summers.
In a region with a harsh and capricious nature, the exposure to morning frosts in spring requires an adapted approach to the vine. Two main techniques are used to control climatic hazards. One of them is sprinkling, which consists of spraying water on the vines. What is the result? Using the supercooling phenomenon, when temperatures fall below 0°C (in a situation of high humidity, young shoots freeze from -2 to -3°C, whereas with a hygrometry of less than 60%, they can withstand -4 to -5°C), the bud is enclosed in a protective cocoon, without the water inside the bud turning to ice, which allows it to continue to grow.
In addition, the gas-fired heaters used since 1959, from the end of March to mid-May, which limited the cooling of the soil thanks to the cloud of smoke, were replaced in the 2000s by large blocks of paraffin, used as candles, which also ensured a beautiful night-time spectacle.
A historical land, Chablis has succeeded in combining the heritage-filled past with just the right amount of modernity, allowing each generation to leave its mark and maintain the utterly high reputation of these white Burgundy wines.
Following the harvest, the grapes are pressed before vatting. A settling process to clarify the musts before fermentation precedes maceration in order to favour the extraction of the musts. Alcoholic fermentation precedes malolactic fermentation. Ageing on the lees is accompanied by stirring of the lees in order to re-suspend the lees and develop the structure of the wine. A filtration is carried out before bottling.
The style of Chablis wines
Profile of the wines
The influence of the Serein, the river that splits the vineyard in two diagonally, plays a key role. Right bank, left bank, the wines offer very distinctive results.
The left bank contains prestigious climats, such as Chablis Les Vaillons, Chablis Montmains or Chablis Côte de Léchet. Characterised by a great minerality in their youth and evolving their delicate aromas, these climats reveal a precise framework in a very Chablisian style marked by notes of gunflint and citrus fruits.
Change of bank, change of style. The best parcels are located on the right bank, with slopes that benefit from an excellent sun exposure. These conditions result in seductive white wines, rounder and more opulent, with notes of exotic fruits. The gems of Chablis, poised at the pinnacle of the pyramid are those that appeal to all fine wine lovers, the 7 Grands Crus, all located on the right bank of the Serein.
Chablis Les Clos
Known by the name of their climats, these fine white wines offer an utterly rich aromatic palette and an infinite complexity on the palate with that characteristic freshness, while offering a promising ageing potential.
Ageing potential of the wines
If a Petit Chablis is accessible in its youth, a Chablis white wine can be kept in the cellar for around 5 years. A minimum of 5 to 10 years is recommended for a Chablis Premier Cru, and 10 to 12 years of ageing will enable a Chablis Grand Cru to reveal all its complexity.
Food and wine pairing
Just like the ageing potential, the food pairing suggestions with the many Chablis wines depend on their appellation of origin. The typicality of each of them is therefore a major element in determining the ideal match with a Chablis white wine.
The freshness of a Petit Chablis or a Chablis wine
Generally drunk as an aperitif, a Petit Chablis or a Chablis Village wine is ideal with fish or poultry terrines, grilled or poached fish, asparagus, exotic cuisine (curries, tandoori dishes) or cheese (goat's cheese, Beaufort, Comté, Emmental). For an optimal tasting, they can be served between 10 and 11°C.
The refinement of Chablis Premier Cru
Hot oysters, fish in sauce, poultry, veal, andouillettes and snails or the local speciality, a ham served with a Chablis wine sauce, will pair with a Chablis Premier Cru wine. The optimal temperature for tasting is between 10 and 11°C.
The freshness and aromatic finesse of a Chablis Grand Cru
Thanks to its liveliness and complexity, a Chablis Grand Cru wine will complement noble dishes such as seafood (oysters, lobsters, crayfish, fine fish), foie gras, white meat, or poultry with a creamy sauce. A serving temperature of between 12 and 14°C brings out all its aromatic potential.
Famous producers of the appellation
With more than 300 estates and families perpetuating the transmission of their know-how for more than ten generations, Chablis is entwined with the culture of the vine, which it celebrates every year in February with Saint-Vincent, the protector of those who work on the vines.
The freshness of the Billaud-Simon estate wines
The Billaud-Simon family estate is an essential reference in the appellation. Watching over a prestigious 17-hectare terroir, including 4 Grands Crus (Les Clos, Vaudésir, Les Preuses and Les Blanchots) and 4 Premiers Crus (Montée de Tonnerre, Fourchaume, Mont de Milieu and Les Vaillons), the estate produces exceptional Chablis wines, dominated by a great freshness and an exemplary precision.
Domaine William Fèvre, the expression of great terroirs
Among the greatest estates in Chablis, lies the historic Domaine William Fèvre. At the origin of a unique range of wines, William Fèvre interprets with finesse the nuances and identity of these Burgundy terroirs.
Domaine Laroche, the alliance between precision and freshness
With great purity, the wines of Domaine Laroche blend a great aromatic freshness with a beautiful tension on the palate.
La Chablisienne, a passion for wine since 1923
The largest producer of Chablis and one of the best wine cooperatives in France, La Chablisienne is at the origin of the famous Grand Cru Château Grenouille, a Chablis wine for laying down par excellence.
Domaine Louis Moreau, an exceptional vineyard producing great wines
Established in the region since 1814, the Moreau family reigns over a vineyard that spreads over five of the Grands Crus, including a monopoly. The wines of Domaine Louis Moreau are renowned for their minerality, finesse, elegance and purity. The most prestigious wine is the monopole Chablis Grand Cru Clos des Hospices in the Clos.
The unique signature of Domaine Albert Bichot
An independent, family-run estate, Albert Bichot has a rich history dating back to the 13th century. At the head of more than 100 hectares in production and grouped into 6 prestigious estates, Albert Bichot produces great Burgundy wines crafted by talented winemakers.
Driven by a philosophy of respect for the environment, the Albert Bichot estate is certified organic, as are the vineyards of the Simonnet-Febvre and Brocard estates.
Great Chablis wines according to Robert Parker's Wine Advocate scores
In 1984, Robert Parker decided to devote himself exclusively to his passion for wine. Initiator of the 100-point rating system, Robert Parker quickly became an illustrious reference among the most influential international critics.
In addition to the guides he has written throughout his career, in 1979 Robert Parker created "The Wine Advocate" in order to publicise his ratings and those of his team of experienced wine tasters through a paper publication at the time and now a website.
Robert Parker has tasted many French and international wines, including some from Chablis:
Domaine Billaud-Simon received a 92/100 score for its 2018 Grand Cru "Les Clos" wine.
Two vintages from the 2019 vintage of Domaine William Fèvre were scored 95+ and 96 respectively, namely the Grand Cru "Bougros Côte Bouguerots" Domaine and the Grand Cru "Les Clos" Domaine.
Domaine Laroche scored 93+ for its Grand cru "Les Clos" 2019.
Robert Parker bestowed La Chablisienne a score of 94+ for its Grand Cru Château Grenouilles 2017 and 92+ for Premier Cru Montmains.