Why Wine Buffs Obsess Over Chablis
Illustration by Mr Alexander Clouston
While there’s often debate about whether terroir (ie, the ineffable quality of a particular area) is anything but an ancient marketing tactic harnessed by winemakers to evangelise their product, it’s hard to understate the unique charm of Chablis. This small town in provincial France has long been the fascination of wine connoisseurs, who marvel at its complex soils and supreme conditions. Go on, ask your wine buff friend. Ask the sommelier. Ask anyone who’s spent a summer tipsy in the region of Burgundy: there’s something special about Chablis.
Among the region’s many fans is Mr Philip Rich – one of Australia’s preeminent wine experts and the palate behind a new chablis bar that’s to be housed in Kisumé, a three-storey Japanese restaurant opening in May in Melbourne’s famed laneways. Mr Rich describes this new venture (and its many fine bottles of chablis) as “the purest expression of chardonnay on Earth.” Read on to discover why this is a very, very good thing.
Chablis is chardonnay, as it should be
Climate, of course, is everything for winemakers. It’s the canvas, it’s the medium. And Chablis? Its climate is as unique as it is unreplicable. “Because of the cool climate – it’s relatively near Champagne – and its limestone soils made up of fossilised oyster shells, chardonnay from Chablis is far more delicate and precise than the richer, more powerful versions from elsewhere in Burgundy and Australia,” says Mr Rich.
It pairs brilliantly with seafood
Chablis is typically fermented in stainless steel – spending relatively little time in oak. “This emphasises the wine’s naturally subtle citrus and mineral characters,” explains Mr Rich. “The best examples combine this minerality with a steely backbone of acidity. The result is a drop that’s superb with sushi, oysters and grilled white fish.”
It’s (still) relatively affordable
For all this fanfare, chablis hasn’t been without its PR difficulties. “This all started with an appalling misuse of the name over the last 30 years by generic Australian and American wines that were rarely made from chardonnay grapes. Stylistically, they bore little resemblance to the real thing,” says Mr Rich.
This, happily, has only added to its mystique – emboldening chablis fanatics to pursue the real thing ever more fervently. “If there has been one advantage in all this for consumers,” says Mr Rich, “it’s that chablis is still comparatively good value.”
There’s not been a better time to drink it
To say chablis today is the most drinkable and enjoyable it has ever been sounds a little like marketing speak. But it’s true. Which is all the more impressive considering how long it’s been around. “It was established by Cistercian monks in the 12th century,” says Mr Rich. “By the 16th century, it became one of the most renowned wines in France.”
The town’s wine narrowly avoided near-catastrophe in the 1950s, following WWII and adverse vine diseases caused by frost damage. Thankfully, sophisticated noses and palates were able to oversee a careful rehabilitation. “Today, Chablis has around 5,000 hectares under vine,” says Mr Rich. “Simply put? Demand and quality is at an all-time high. Enjoy it.”