Chablis reclaims its class
By copyrighting its name the French region has rediscovered its quality
The name Chablis is synonymous with dry white wine, just as champagne is with sparkling wine. It has been applied to wine from the USA (Gallo's cheap white used to be called 'Mountain Chablis'), Australia, South Africa, and just about everywhere else - which actually did a great deal of harm to the real Chablis.
Fortunately, though, the French authorities have now successfully copyrighted the name so it can only be used for wines produced in Chablis itself. No one ever copies anything unless it is both good and unique - and so it is with Chablis.
Chablis has the two elements that together make great wines: the terroir and the climate. The terroir is Kimmeridgian and Portlandian limestone, a prehistoric deposit of fossils and oyster shells which gives the wine its minerality and complex flavours. The climate is cold, with a long growing season for its Chardonnay grapes (the region is 100 miles north of Beaune, the Chardonnay capital of Burgundy wines, and benefits from the same cold climate).
Classification within Chablis is very carefully regulated. The very best wines, from a hill overlooking Chablis, are Grand Cru and rank among the world’s finest whites (Les Clos being perhaps the best known). The next level is Premier Cru, from the slopes of other hills and villages within the region (some of the best are Vaillons, Fourchame, Beauroy and Val du Vey). This is where the best value for money Chablis are to be found. And beneath the Premier Cru is Chablis itself and Petit Chablis, both of which produce respectable wine but at a lower price.
Chablis also has one of the largest wine co-operatives in the world (La Chablisienne), with over 1,000 growers producing over 20 per cent of all Chablis made. Co-operatives would normally spring up during hard times when the growers couldn't sell their wine elsewhere – and this was the case with Chablis in the 1940s, 50s and 60s. Times have changed, however, and the co-operative itself is now a market leader.
Overall, good Chablis is much better value than most white Burgundy, so the lesson is: treat yourself to a fine bottle of Premier Cru. ·
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