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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Ask for Chablis, you'll get 100 percent chardonnay

By Todd Ashline

The other night I was serving a Chablis at Chef Mavro restaurant and told the guests that it was 100 percent chardonnay from the French wine-growing region of Burgundy. I walked away from the table and heard the guest ask a server, "Is the Chablis a chardonnay?" The server replied, "Yes, the Chablis is a chardonnay," and to that the guest turned to his dining partner and said, "See, I told you it was a blend."

Of course, it was my fault for not having made it perfectly clear that Chablis, which can only be called that if it comes from the French wine-growing region of Chablis, is always made from 100 percent chardonnay grapes and is not a blend.

On another occasion, a guest asked for a glass of chablis. At the time we did not offer chablis by the glass, so I recommended an unoaked California chardonnay. My suggestion was met with, "Chardonnay? We hate chardonnay!"

The confusion about chablis stems from before the 1970s. Prior to then, New World winemakers would label their wines with names familiar to their customers. Therefore any white wine that was similar in style to Chablis could be and was labeled chablis. In the 1970s, however, the French government began to crack down on the use of these generic labels and varietal labeling was instituted.

The wine-growing region of Chablis is located in the very northern reaches of Burgundy, which is famous for the quality of the chardonnay it produces. The unique character and quality of Chablis led to its distinction an AOC designation in 1938. AOC, or Appellation d'Origine Controlee, is a French organization that requires strict guidelines and traditions be met to maintain its high quality standards.

The wine-growing area of Chablis is broken down into four classifications: Petit Chablis AOC, Chablis AOC, Chablis Premier Cru AOC and Chablis Grand Cru AOC. Petit Chablis AOC is the lowest quality level and Chablis Grand Cru AOC the highest. There are seven Grand Cru vineyard sites in Chablis: Blanchot, Les Clos, Valmur, Grenouilles, Vaudesir, Les Preuses and Bougros. The Grand Cru vineyards are located on three interlocking limestone slopes on the right bank of the river Serein which intersects the region. Each classification is further broken down into specific vineyard sites and some are vineyards within vineyards.

If it's rich, full-bodied, buttery chardonnays you are after, these are not the wines for you as true Chablis traditionally don't see a lot of new oak. The region is known for its kimmeridge clay soil with outcrops of chalk and petrified shells from the Jurassic era. This unique soil and the northern latitude of the region lead to wines that are high in acidity, with an elegant mineral style that is referred to as "gunflint." The wines are clear to pale yellow and sometimes have a green hue around the edge.

A few wonderful Chablis I have seen around town are:

  • Domaine Jean-Marc Brocard Chablis Vieilles Vignes 2005. Clean mineral nose, with yellow apple, lemon and lime flavors, with a hint of white flowers. The Brocard Chablis is a wine with refreshing acidity, which is great as an aperitif or with food; $22.

  • Louis Michel Chablis 1er Cru "Montmains" 2005. Ripe melon and lemon flavors, with white peach, a round texture and a long mineral finish; $36.

  • William Fvre Grand Cru "Les Clos" 2005. Delicate deep mineral nose, with citrus blossoms, baked apples, and fresh pear flavors; $75.