Just an hour or so out of Paris sits Chablis in the north of the Burgundy region. The renowned wine making area produces 40 million bottles a year of white wine - made solely from Chardonnay grapes.
Chablis is not Chablis unless it comes from one of the surrounding hills of the 20 villages. The popular wine was always found on the table of French kings and has been exported to the UK since the 15th Century and remains as, if not more, popular around the world today - particularly in the US, Scandinavia and Japan. We can’t get enough of the light, refreshing flavour.
What are the different types of Chablis wine?
When shopping for Chablis, you may notice that it is categorised into four appellations and these are derived from the area (aka climat/terrior) in which the grapes are grown. The classifications date back to 1938, while the layout of the vines was decided by monks in the 10th Century and remain the exact same today.
On the most favourable location - the bottom of the hillside facing towards the south where its hottest – is where you’ll find Grand Cru. In terms of price, Grand Cru is the top of the range, followed by Premier Cru, Chablis and last (but certainly not least) Petit Chablis. There are a few things to note as it’s not just price that should determine your choice. Chablis and Petit Chablis can be blends of grapes sourced from different spots on the hills, while Premier Cru and Grand Cru will only use one location and it will be detailed on the bottle.
Chablis Grand Cru – The most popular plots include Les Clos and Grenouilles, but there are seven in total spanning just 550 hectares (1,400 acres). As explained, it is set on the upper part of the valley facing the sun with the Serein river at the base. It is generally green-gold in colour and can age for up to 15 years. The taste can be mineral as well as with notes of lime-flowers, dried fruits, almond and sometimes even a touch of honey.
Chablis Premier Cru – There are 40 plots and some of the best known are Fourchaume, Mont de Milieu, Montmains, Vaillons, and Montée de Tonnerre. They can also be aged for five to 10 years to make the most of the full aromatic profile. It’s pale-gold in appearance.
Chablis – Lighter in appearance than the appellations above, Chablis has a paler hue that darkens over time. It’s fresh and vibrant with possible notes of green apple, lemon and maybe even field mushroom. This is the juiciest with a smooth finish but remains dry and delicate. Set over the largest area, it can be enjoyed young (2-3 years).
Petit Chablis – Don’t underestimate Petit Chablis. While it may be the cheapest, you can drink after two years and offers some of the most refreshing notes of all. It has a pale gold hue with aromas of white flowers, citrus notes and a mineral base. You may even notice peach coming through, but always with a characteristic saltiness.
What does Chablis taste like?
Chablis wine is known for being quite salty with a mineral quality – and here’s why: it’s all because of the soil. Kimmeridgean soil is the DNA of this wine type and is categorised by limestone, clay and the clincher, fossilized oyster shells, this is why it pairs so beautifully with seafood.
There are many different factors that can alter the taste and give it a more acidic or fruity finish. First things first, and with all wines: the climate (with position and vine age coming in close runners-up). In particularly warm years like we saw in 2020 and 2018, the flavour could be fruitier, while colder years like 2019 and the disaster of 2021 will produce a tarter wine.
Premier Cru and Grand Cru may have a percentage of the grapes finished off in an oak barrel versus the more widespread use of stainless steel. The latter accentuates the light, subtle salt palette that purists will prefer, while the former could add a smoky, woody taste. With Chablis though, they only tend to put a very small amount in barrels and generally only use ones that are one to five years old to prevent it overpowering the signature Chablis-ness.
What should Chablis be paired with?
With its salty taste but light complexity, it is best suited to fish, in particular shellfish: think oysters, lobster and prawns. Fish in cream sauce and sometimes even white meat like chicken will also make a lovely counterpart. Go stereotypically French and opt for escargots or the local compté puff pastry known as Gougères.
Whether you are already a fan of Chablis wine or are looking for a full initiation, a trip to the area in which is made can make a great weekend break. When restrictions allow, hop on the Eurostar, change in Paris and you could be blinking at Chablis’ rolling hills in a matter of hours. The town is brimming with gourmet restaurants to line your stomach before the wine tasting tour; particular highlights include the Le Bistrot des Grand Crus (at the hotel - Hostellerie des Clos), Le Maufoux, Au Fil du Zinc and Les 3 Bourgeons.
But, if you can’t make it, we’ve rounded up a list of the best bottles to have delivered to your door.
See our favourite Chablis wines below to order in the UK.
Chablis Domaine William Fèvre
With the wine-making skill passed down from generation to generation, the Fèvre family dates back to 17th century. The Domaine is now one of the largest in the area with the biggest share of Grand Cru.
This house is all about traditions and the most minute attention to detail so all the grapes remain handpicked to this day, put in small buckets and are hand-sorted to ensure that the grapes are entirely intact and all the juicy goodness is preserved, while also eliminating stalks that could add a wood element and potentially overpower the taste. Two-thirds of the vineyard is organically grown with lower levels of sulphites (so the hangover may not be as bad).
For the Chablis, Domaine William Fèvre puts the same level of care and quality as it goes for the Grand Cru and Premier Cru. It’s delicate and fresh with a green apple hint and a good level of minerality. The white wine has a very pale hue.
Buy now £25.50, Fortnums
William Fèvre Chablis Premier Cru Vaillons Burgundy, France
This Premier Cru from Domaine William Fèvre comes from the Vaillons area that has more limestone than clay in the soil. This gives a real mix of floral and fruity flavours. It’s super refreshing, with a rounded taste and the signature minerality shining through.
The label’s Premier Cru Montmains is also worth your attention for its more structured taste from the stony terrain.
Buy now £25.99, Waitrose
William Fèvre, Chablis Grand Cru Bougros
As explained above, William Fèvre is the biggest landowner in the Grand Cru area with 15.2 hectares (for context, the second biggest landowner owns less than half of that). Bougros sits at the top of a steep slope with shallow soil and the mix of clay gives a very complex taste that is very rounded. There’s certainly a subtle citrus note that shine through but also a green element that is fruity - perhaps apple or pear.
Price is for a case of six.
Discover six of the brand’s range at Harvey Nichols here (£625).
Buy now £649.00, Amazon
Domaine Laroche Chablis Premier Cru Les Vaudevey Wine 2018
Domaine Laroche dates back 1,000 years and its production is inextricably linked to the area - not in the least part that it is set in the Obédience, a listed building that dates back to the Middle Ages and is said to have housed the remains of Saint Martin (a symbol of the Chablis who you’ll see on the flag).
Yet while it’s steeped in history, the house has taken great strides to bring its methods in line with the 21st century, keeping a close eye on every step of the growing process with the latest and great technological advancements.
For the Premier Cru Les Vaudevey, half of the grapes are kept in barrel (but ones that are one to seven years old). This gives a longer finish in the mouth and more structure. Les Vaudevey is on the left bank and is slightly colder so you get a more acidic, citrus element with a pronounced minerality. There are only five producers in this area. It has a brighter gold hue.
If you get the chance, the brand’s Chablis Premier Cru Les Fourchaumes is one of the most famous Premier Cru appellations. It’s set in the most northern climate of Chablis on the right bank and uses very old vines of 60 to 70 years. It has a long finish and more structure due to the extended period of time that it spends in the barrel.
Buy now £36.50, Amazon
Laroche Chablis 2019 Wine
Laroche opts for the sustainable management of its vineyards and so its offering is verified vegan. The Chablis is light in colour in a pale gold and comes from a blend of different areas. A portion is kept in barrel to give a complexity to the taste but remains fresh and light with a flavour of white fruit and spring blossom.
Buy now £19.19, Amazon
La Chablisienne Petit Chablis Vibrant 2019
La Chablisienne is a winegrowers cooperative that act as a service for the smaller establishments. It’s a social institution that was founded during the war and acts as a democratic board where the representatives are elected among the growers every three years. They produce the crushed juice (which is known as must) and it is blended with other growers to create the optimal taste. There are 270 producers and they create 22 per cent of all of the Chablis appellation.
The Petit Chablis spends 14 months in stainless steel tanks only to create that clean taste. It’s complex due to the combination of the grapes where some are grown in higher altitude and some are not. On first taste, you may get wafts of peach and white fruit but it evolves the longer it sits in your glass, so enjoy at your leisure.
Buy now £16.50, Drink Worthy
La Chablisienne Chablis 'La Pierrelée' 2018
This wine spends 16 months in stainless steel tanks to create the optimal taste from the Chardonnay grapes. The flavour is delicate and the notes sway between the sweet fruit and the acidic citrus. Notes of ripe apple and grapefruit but always with that mineral taste left on the palate.
Buy now £22.16, Vivino
La Chablisienne Château Grenouilles Chablis Grand Cru
La Chablisienne is the largest landowner in the Grenouilles part of the Grand Cru growing area. It gets its name historically from the sound of the frogs that could be heard on the Sereine river that sits just next to it. It’s at the base of the hills and so, erosion bring clay from the soil down. The wine is finessed entirely in barrels for 18 months and this bring a wood and oak element as well as a strong body. That being said, it retains the characteristic of Chablis and still has that soft subtle elements of acidity and a slight fruitiness.
Look out too for the brand’s Premier Cru Mont de Milieu that is so light and refreshing its akin to pure water and can be paired with anything be it fish, chicken or spicy curry.
Buy now £74.95, Vivino
Domaine Gueguen Chablis 2020
Celine - one of the co-founders of Domaine Gueguen - was destined for a career in wine-making, it has been running through her family for generations after all. Uniquely, it was though her mother, the daughter of vignerons who owned vines not far from Chablis in Saint-Bris and introduced it to her father. He was Jean-Marc Brocard, whose domaine (now run by her brother Julien) is one of the largest privately owned producers in Chablis and a leader in the organic sphere.
She teamed up with her husband Frederic to launch Chablis Gueguen who have a large portfolio of wines that include as mentioned Saint-Bris, Bourgogne named after her grandfather (Emile) and grandmother (Marie Louise) - red wines crafted by Pinor Noir grapes and of course, Chablis.
The 2020 is a fresh tasting wine that is sure to develop the longer that you store it (recommended up to five years). It is clean and fresh and yet evolves with white flower, that gunflint wood undertone and peach.
Buy now £18.00, Drinks & Co
Domaine Gueguen Chablis Premier Cru 'Vaucoupin'
This Premier Cru sits on the drier end of the spectrum, while still maintaining the wine’s regional characteristics. It is light with notes of citrus and green fruits and gives a long finish with the right amount of acidity.
Buy now £25.00, Vivino
Domaine Gueguen Petit Chablis
This is a really lovely Petit Chablis that can be enjoyed young or in a year or so. It packs all the elements of the wine type to satisfy the purists - acidity, minerality and is all the right amounts of dry and fruity. Best enjoyed on a warm summer’s day.
Buy now £15.00, Vivino
Clotilde Davenne Chablis
Clotilde Davenne is one of the pioneers of women’s winemaking and has built her Les Temps Perdus vineyards over 20 years - now boasting plots across Chablis, Saint-Bris and Irancy. She earned her stripes just across the way from where her Domaine HQ over at Jean-Marc Brocard.
Her award-winning Chablis Vieilles Vignes is multi-award winning. It comes from 40 year old vines that face the south on a steep slope. The harvesting is done by hand and it’s stored in stainless steel to maintain those mineral notes. On first taste, it feels fresh and light but there’s a complexity to it.
Buy now, Clotilde Davenne
Alain Geoffroy Chablis 1er Cru Beauroy 2018
Five generations later and the Domaine Alain Geoffroy is still going strong. The house was established in 1850 and is the brains (and grapes) behind Harvey Nichols’ own-brand range. The wines are crafted in stainless steel tanks to preserve the character.
The Premier Cru Beauroy has a longer finish and a rich, mineral taste. It has a white floral aroma and a hint of sweetness akin to wild berries.
Buy now £31.80, Drinks & Co
Domaine Long-Depaquit Chablis Premier Cru Les Lys
A must-visit when you’re in Chablis, Domaine Long-Depaquit HQ is set in a beautiful chateau. It was founded by two brother monks who pre French Revolution has been working in the local cistercian abbey. After which, they bought them and set about making their own vino. It is now owned by Albert Bichot - a larger group who have estates across Burgundy and yet they keep that very person, hands-on approach with a manual process of taste-testing to make sure that the grapes are picked at the optimal time.
The Premier Cru Les Lys comes from the souther part in a cooler climate and without the use of oak has a very subtle gunflint smokiness that is very unique. It evolves as sweeter with only a subtle acidity. It’s best drunk alone to really enjoy.
The Grand Cru Les Clos also deserves your attention. It actually is grown in oak and has a woody/smoky aroma but not at all in the taste. Les Clos is a warmer climate and as such its more open in taste. The brand’s Chablis is also great. It’s darker in colour and comes from a blend of 18 different plots with a special vinification from each that adds complexity. Less acidic, more white flower.
Buy now, The Wine I Love
Julien Brocard, Chablis Boissonneuse 2019
As mentioned above Julien Brocard is at the helm of the renowned Domaine Jean-Marc Brocard after following in his father’s footsteps. The distillery is one of the most unique in Chablis with a combination of stainless steel tanks and oat barrels as well as terracotta and concrete egg-shaped vats.
The Domaine has an entirely organic range with biodynamically grown grapes. The vinification is through natural waste and there are even sulphite-free options that are indistinguishable taste-wise.
The Chablis Boissonneuse is a sweeter and more fruity Chablis yet you still get that acidity that you’d hope for with a wine of this type.
Shop more Jean-Marc Brocard wines at Selfridges here.
Buy now £19.00, The Wine Society