Dear wine lovers,
If you want to understand better what the "terroir expression" means, Chablis* is a very good example of it with Chardonnay.
In fact, this famous grape behaves uniquely in this little area of 15 000 acres which is nestled in the middle of nowhere. When you arrive at Chablis, you see the landscape** change from flat to white steep slopes (Download chablis_soil.jpg) composed of Jurassic marl rocks consisting of deep limestone, clay and marine fossils. Planted by Cistercian monks in the XII century, Chardonnay was at that time named "Beaunois" referencing the famous wine capital of Burgundy.
But in Chablis, Chardonnay behaves differently from Beaune and this makes a lot of sense since its terroir is unique. Not to complicate things, but in Chablis you can taste the difference between vines planted in the plain (Petit Chablis), the ones in the bottom slopes (Chablis) and the ones at the top (1er Cru or Grand Cru with a named-place). See the example of Domaine du Chardonnay (yes it is also an Estate name) to understand better : Download Chablis.jpg
Chablis is often very mineral. Tasting it, you will be amazed by all the complexity it has which is very far from the fruit that Chardonnay usually puts forth. The dominant flavor is pepper which turns to honey when the wine ages, especially when it has been vinified in barrels.
For those who like small family estates, Chablis is the place to go to. Besides the (too) famous William Fevre, there are beautiful vineyards like Domaine des Malandes, Domaine du Chardonnay or Jean-Marc Brocard. 2004 and the very special 2002 are great to drink now.
Drink a Petit Chablis for the aperitif to open up your palate, a Chablis with sea-food and a 1er Cru with strong cheeses like Maroilles and you will understand, just exploring the wines of this little village, the way French devote themselves to enhancing terroir rather than brands. I know this is not the easiest way to understand wine but, at least, it gives me a chance and the joy of writing these columns.
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*Listen to "Chablis" : Download Chablis.mp3
**Landscape = Paysage
To see Chablis area on a French wine map (use enlarge icon to see it better) : Download chablis_map_copier.jpg