Vineyards & Wine

A Wine Expert Weighs In: Chablis is Worthy of a Spot in Your Cellar

Caitlin Miller, a wine specialist in New York, shares why she’s been charmed by Chablis and what you should look for in this complex and collectible wine

When you think about white Burgundy, a specific taste profile may spring to mind: rich, full-bodied, oak-kissed Chardonnay. But my favorite wines of the region are the less celebrated, mineral-driven Chablis that can be as revelatory as any Montrachet.

Chablis is the northernmost sub-region of Burgundy, approximately 100 miles (161 km) southeast of Paris. Unlike other sub-regions, Chablis is planted to 100 percent Chardonnay grapes. The best vineyards are planted on Kimmeridgian limestone soils that are studded with fossilized seashells, a hint that the land was once a Jurassic-era sea. This unique type of soil gives the wine its minerality and stony saline qualities. In fact, many people find Chablis to be the most distinct style of Chardonnay in the world.

Chablis village and vineyards in Burgundy, France
Tucked away in the northernmost corner of Burgundy, the Chablis region is home to four levels of appellations—ranging from Petit to Grand Cru—but is renowned for growing only one varietal. Image: Getty Images

The qualities of any good Chablis—tension, laser-like minerality, texture, and soaring acidity—often don’t seem like they will be enhanced with bottle age. While bottles of Montrachet can be cellared for decades, most Chablis are consumed in their youth, but this is by no means a hard and fast rule.

Many producers make bottlings that are built to age, among them Raveneau, Dauvissat, Pattes Loup, and Moreau-Naudet to name a few. With age, these wines can develop fascinating aromas of honey, ginger, dried fruit, and wax. The depth and complexity of a well-aged Chablis offers a thrilling way to experience the wines of this region.

Since Chablis is so rarely cellared, its presence in the auction market is limited. But Christie’s has showcased some fine, mature examples of the wine: from Raveneau’s Grand Cru Valmur from 2004 and 2005 to William Fèvre’s Grand Cru Les Preuses from 2008 and 2009.

These wines show off the striking aromatics, power, and elegance that Chablis can achieve at its very height. Experiencing these examples of aged Chablis will change your view of what’s worthy of cellar space—and have you scouring the auction market for more.

Bottles of white wine on white background
Seven bottles of Raveneau’s Chablis Grand Cru Valmur sold for $3,185 in June 2015 at Christie’s Exceptional Crus of the Côte d’Or: A Focused Selection of Burgundy and other Rarities sale.

How Long Should you Age a Chablis? Here’s the Expert’s Guide:

Aging differs from appellation to appellation—follow these four rules of thumb, and you won’t go wrong:

1. A Petit Chablis, grown on the variable slopes, valleys, and northern-facing vineyards on the outskirts of the region, is known for its higher acidity and tart, citrussy flavors. To make the most of its refreshingly dry notes, it’s best enjoyed within two years of release.

2. Wines from the main Chablis appellation deliver citrus, pear, and strong mineral notes derived from the area’s chalky-white Kimmeridgian limestone soils. They can be enjoyed young or be kept for five years or more.

3. Only 15 percent of Chablis vineyards have Premier Cru status and, thanks to their sunnier positioning and higher presence of limestone soil, create wines with richer fruit profiles and lemon flavors, along with distinct minerality. For best results, age your Premier Cru for five to 10 years.

4. Chablis Grand Cru, grown only on one southern-facing slope across from the Serein River, can vary widely in taste. Depending on the producer, you can expect to find everything from intense orange-rind, apricot, and passion fruit flavors to more savory notes of bruised apple and peanut shell. However, Grand Cru can be kept for 10 years and beyond, and it’s not uncommon to find bottles that are 15 to 20 years old—or even older.

Banner image: Vidar Nordli Mathisen, Unsplash