If you gravitate toward champagne and sancerre and prefer your chardonnay without overt flavors of oak, vanilla, or butter, try chablis. The eponymous wine of the most northerly appellation in Burgundy, chablis is pure unadulterated chardonnay cultivated in Kimmeridgian limestone, a type of ancient (Kimmeridgian period) soil containing fossilized seashells. Combining the juiciness of the chardonnay grape with the fresh dry mineral qualities of wines from sancerre or a champagne blanc de blancs, the wines are delicious without being showy.
There are four levels of chablis: petit chablis, chablis, premier cru, and grand cru. The wines grow weightier and more complex as they scale the hierarchy. A good quality petit chablis, such as Domaine Seguinot-Bordet, tends to be refreshing with citrus and mineral flavors. Wines at the chablis and premier cru level, such as Domaine Romain Collet Les Pargues, have more weight, body, and structure, yet retain all the liveliness and gripping mineral flavors of their siblings. In recent years, young producers like Thomas Pico of Domaine Pattes Loup have brought organic and biodynamic practices to the region resulting in chablis’ of remarkable clarity of flavor. Meanwhile, grand cru chablis, such as the Domaine Christian Moreau Père et Fils Chablis Grand Cru Valmur are among the world’s most age-worthy white wines. Not only do they develop attractive almond and caramel flavors after a few years in the bottle, once opened, the wines evolve in the glass in a way normally associated with Burgundy’s best pinot noirs, growing richer and more nuanced with each passing hour.
Because of its high acidity and restrained fruit character, chablis is an extremely versatile food wine. It makes for a delightful aperitif served with fresh goat cheese or a nutty hard cheese such as Emmental. It holds up well in the face of salad dressing and asparagus, and will enhance any meal that features oysters, seafood, poultry, or pork.