Do you love Chablis but not like Chardonnay? Did you know that Chablis is made from Chardonnay? Chardonnay is a very versatile grape, with both unoaked and oaked versions. One reason that some people adore Chablis is the acidity and minerality from these wines, which in part comes from the climate and the other coming from the special limestone soils in the area.
I was fortunate to be invited to attend an online seminar about Chablis that was moderated by Mark Shipway and we had a special guest online from Chablis, Louis Moreau, who owns several Chablis vineyards. It was very interesting to hear Mr. Moreau tell us about his experiences with different vintages. Louis did mention that 2010, 2014, and 2017 he views as classic vintages, and 2018 as being a generous, rounder, fruitier vintage. He noted that this was a challenging year caused by the weather. The weather was hot and they had an unusually early harvest at the end of August. Overall a good quality vintage showing good acidity and minerality. An average volume of grapes produced, and the wine is now undergoing malolactic fermentation.
Where Is Chablis?
The town of Chablis and surrounding vineyards, is located 136km northwest of Dijon and 159km south of Reims. The region is classified as the northern part of the Bourgogne wine growing region, and the climate can be described as semi-continental, with long, hard winters and hot summers. The last 5-10 years though they have had erratic weather. More ups and downs, from very warm to very cool. In June-August they now get more storms and hail. Climate change is everywhere.
Some Production Specs
18% of the total wine produced in the Bourgogne region comes from Chablis, and 65% of these wines are exported. Canada is the 4th largest market for Chablis in terms of revenue and volume. UK, Japan, and USA are larger consumers.
The Four Levels of Appellations in Chablis
There are four levels of quality and character in Chablis:
- Chablis Grand Cru (1% of production)
- Chablis Premier Cru (14% of production)
- Chablis (66% of production)
- Petit Chablis (19% of production)
What differentiates these four appellations? Soil, landform, and climate. Landform consists of elevation, slope and direction of slope, and we shall see how this affects the Chablis Grand Cru over a very short distance. Plot orientation and vineyard exposition on the hillsides at altitudes between 200 and 500 meters provide for:
- better resistance to freezing
- natural protection against westerly winds
- maximum benefit from sunshine
- natural draining to prevent excessive moisture
There are two types of limestone that influence the grapes’ aromas and flavours. Portlandian limestone and Kimmeridgian limestone (containing tiny fossilised oysters called exogyra virgula) with Kimmeridgian being more well-known to impart minerality to wine.
The Petit Chablis appellation is located on the plateaus surrounding Chablis and are characterised by being made from Portlandian limestone. The appellation covers approximately 1132 ha area. Petit Chablis wines have increased in quality since their inception and now have a defined personality. A Petit Chablis wine is fresh, with crispy green apple flavours, and is meant to be drunk now, or within 1-1.5 years. These wines are released first of all appellations, in the March to May time frame. The wines are fermented in stainless steel and undergo 100% malolactic fermentation.
Chablis covers 3676 ha and the soil is made from Kimmeridgian limestone that is notable for its purity, crispness, and minerality. The vines are between 18-20 years old. These wines are also fermented in stainless steel and undergo 100% malolactic fermentation. They can be enjoyed while they are young, 2-3 years of bottle ageing.
The Premier Cru vineyards were cultivated originally in the 12th century by Cistercian monks. Premier Cru covers 778 ha and 40 climats. What is a climat? A climat is defined as a plot of vines (not necessarily a whole vineyard) that enjoy specific geological and climatic conditions. Within one vineyard you can different landforms, and therefore different terroir, and different climats.
There are Premier Cru vineyards north and south of the Serein River that runs through Chablis. Louis noted that the Left bank vineyards, south of the river, face Southeast and are generally more fruit forward and youthful and have less structure, while those vineyards north of the river facing Southwest are of a slightly higher quality and offer more structure. The most famous Climats are those on the Right bank, surrounding the Grand Cru appellation.
The vines ages are between 30-40 years. For Premier Cru there is both the use of stainless steel for fermentation and a touch of oak to add texture to the wines. There is also less malolactic fermentation applied to Premier Cru wines.
Grand Cru has the oldest vines, at least 55 years old. The area of the Grand Cru is just to the north of the River Serein on a hillslope. There are 7 Climats that cover this hillslope and each has slightly different slope orientation from south to southeast. As with the Premier Cru wines, these are fermented in stainless steel and then may undergo some malolactic fermentation and oak ageing.
Louis and Mark generally described the 7 climats as:
- Blanchot – more austere, with chalky, not clay soil. Floral. Elegant. Delicate.
- Les Clos – less austere, more fruit. Powerful. Firm.
- Valmur – has more Kimmeridgian limestone giving you more flavour. Powerful. Fruity. Chunky.
- Grenouilles – charming, fruity, and supple
- Vaudesir – Elegant, racy, and finesses
- Preuses – Rich, fleshy, and taut. Aromas of mushrooms and figs.
- Bougros – Burly, round and broad. Aromas of mushrooms and figs.
Louis noted that over these 7 climats you are seeing more nuances than big differences. These differences can take 2-4 years of bottle ageing before they are at their best expression. These wines in general can age 10-15 years.
My Wine Tasting Notes
As part of the seminar, each of the attendees were sent two bottles of Chablis wine, which can come from any of the 4 appellations. As I had these two bottles at home, I was able taste them first, upon opening, and then after a day of decanting.
J. Moreau & Fils Chablis 2018 – The vines for this wine come from Kimmeridgian limestone soils with the plots facing east and northeast, and are 20-25 years old. As mentioned earlier 2018 was a hotter, more generous year, giving riper fruit. This wine spent 8 months on its lees and underwent malolactic fermentation. It is a deep bright gold colour. And has light intensity, but deep ripe tropical fruit aromas along with stone fruit, ripe pears, candied stone fruits, and a touch of oak and butteriness. There are legs / teardrops on this glass which show the hotter weather from this vintage. This wine is dry and has a medium plus body. It’s round and silky smooth with medium acidity. You get ripe tropical fruit, pears, bruised apples, and touches of oak, floral, stone fruit (with air), and minerality. The bruised apple flavour does decrease with a longer decant. A medium length finishing a bit peppery, with light tart citrus, stone fruit and butterscotch flavours. The wine does have a lighter feel mid sip. I enjoyed sipping this wine over several days.
Domaine des Malandes Chablis Premier Cru, Vau de Vey, 2016 – The vines for this wine come from Kimmeridgian limestone and clay, growing on a southeast exposure, and are 40 years old. 70% of this wine was fermented in stainless steel and 30% in oak barrels. 100% malolactic fermentation. This wine has a medium minus intensity bright gold colour with green and straw highlights. It has quite a toasty oak nose along with light tropical, pineapple, and stone fruit aromas, along with a touch of white flowers. With decanting the toastiness and the white flower aromas decrease. This wine is dry, fuller bodied, round, slightly thick with medium plus acidity. Buttery texture. Mostly toasty flavour (which decreases with decanting), ripe tropical fruit, and pears. Medium plus length finishing with some pepperiness. This wine is OK to decant to allow some of the toastiness to dissipate. This wine can age for a few years without problem. I tried this wine with a buttery Gouda and it went nicely with the toastiness of the wine. It also paired well with an aged Cheddar.
These two wines are not listed in BC Liquor Stores, but you may be able to find them in private wine shops, but you need to ask.