CHABLIS, France – France would be the last place most wine enthusiasts would look for great value in wine. The staggering cost of many of the most familiar estates in Bordeaux casts a mighty shadow over the entire French wine business.
The problem with that narrative? It’s simply not true. Here in the northernmost village of Burgundy, where the cool climate renders anything but white wine commercially useless, the chardonnay grape is the only game in town.
It produces a white wine – Chablis – of exceptional complexity, the ability to improve with age, and prices that haven’t followed the path of its neighbors further south in the Cote d’Or. It is a white Burgundy that delivers very high quality, and that just about anyone can afford.
To be sure, there is a hierarchy within Chablis. Vineyards designated grand cru are at the top, followed by premier cru, AOC Chablis and Petit Chablis. There is value in all of the classifications compared to the white Burgundies of the Cote de Beaune. The greatest values, however, rest in the wines of AOC Chablis, otherwise known as village Chablis, and Petit Chablis.
Retail prices for these wines in the United States typically range from $15 to $25, depending upon the producer and the vintage. The only wine districts of France north of Chablis are Champagne and Alsace.
Grown in the clay soils of this cool region, Chablis is higher in acidity than the chardonnay-based wines of Meursault, Puligny-Montrachet, Corton-Charlemagne and the other white-wine zones further south, in the Cote de Beaune.
The result is a dry, leaner style of chardonnay that is often described as flinty, stony or steely, expressing exceptional minerality. They are seldom said to be "fruity." The Village Chablis and Petit Chablis wines are typically made unoaked, fermented in stainless steel tanks and bottled without oak-barrel ageing.
What’s most fascinating is that the two lower tiers, Chablis and Petit Chablis, are held to very high standards and are remarkably good. I recently spent a day in Chablis, during the week-long Les Grands Jours de Bourgogne, tasting dozens of Chablis from the two lower tiers. The following notes are my recommendations for Chablis and Petit Chablis that represent the greatest value.
Caves Jean et Sebastien Dauvissat
2016 Chablis – One of the richest from the vintage, with superb minerality. A+
Domaine Agnes et Didier Dauvissat
2016 Petit Chablis – Loads of minerality, very clean. B+
2016 Chablis – Lovely notes of wet stone and flint. A
Domaine Alain Geoffroy
2016 Petit Chablis – This house lands on the crunchy green apple side of the aroma/flavor spectrum. B
Domaine Alain Geoffroy
2016 Chablis – Like the Petit Chablis from this house there is a dominant note of green apple. B
Domaine Christian Moreau Pere et Fils
2017 Chablis – This tank sample shows excellent potential with loads of green apple. B+
Domaine Drouhin Vaudon
2016 Chablis – Attractive flintiness and some crunchy green apple. A-
Domaine Jean Collet et Fils
2016 Chablis – Showing a note of brioche and a gentle touch of minerality. A
Domaine Jean Dauvissat Pere et Fils
2015 Chablis – The extra year in the bottle doesn’t hurt. Excellent minerality with exciting tension. A+
2015 Chablis Heritage – Warm and generous on the palate with a note of flinty minerality. A
Domaine Long-Depaquit-Maison Albert Bichot
2016 Chablis – Right in the wheelhouse of flinty minerality. A
Domaine Moreau et Fille
2015 Petit Chablis – Lovely floral note. B+
2015 Chablis – Well balanced and inviting with a strong note of green apple. A-
Domaine Nathalie & Gilles Fevre
2017 Chablis – Very young and it tastes it. Lean with a wet stone note. B+
2017 Chablis – Notes of wet stone and crunchy apple. B+
2016 Chablis – Smokey, flinty character with a hint of slate. A
2016 Petit Chablis – Nicely balanced with good minerality and a note of crunchy apple. B+
2016 Chablis – Wet stone, minerals and green apple. A-
2016 Petit Chablis – Flinty and mineral driven. A-
2017 Chablis – Notable wet stone character with green apple. A
2016 Petit Chablis – Flinty, with a note of green apple. B+
2016 Chablis – Flinty, with excellent minerality, wet-stone character. A
2016 Chablis – Beautiful balance between richness and minerality. A+
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