Wine: Clean crisp Chablis will carry Christmas

PUBLISHED: 17:21 07 December 2015

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Liz Sagues picks out some big and small name Chablis producers to try.

Mmm – a broad smile. “I’m moving to Chablis,” said my friend as she finished the three samples I’d poured. And why not? Chablis the town is an attractive place, with good food shops and restaurants – and plenty of tasting opportunities.

Chablis the wine is one of the most classic expressions of chardonnay, grown on the fossil-rich limestone soils of northern Burgundy – Champagne apart, these are the most northerly vines in France. The wines come in four categories: petit chablis, chablis, premier cru and grand cru, in ascending order of respect and, usually, price. At any level, any decent example (and there are plenty, from caring individual growers and an exemplary co-operative) will have pure, clean, crisp flavours, a stony edge to the fruit and lingering pleasure, a formula that is mouth-wateringly attractive.

Chablis isn’t the easiest of growing areas, with frosts, hailstorms and other meteorological inconveniences often reducing vine yields – the last few harvests have been particularly affected. That, plus popularity, pushes up prices, but Christmas is coming and fine chablis will carry you through all the festivities splendidly.

The division of the vineyards in the valley of the river Serein is complex and explains the different characteristics of the crus, but don’t be too intimidated by detail. Comparisons between wines from the right and left banks are fascinating, but that’s for chablis geeks (read more in The Wines of Chablis by Rosemary George MW, or go to shop/educational documents at bourgogne-wines.com to buy Chablis, A Geographical Lexicon).

Best approach is to try petit chablis or chablis from several different growers, though be circumspect – there can be bland and boring wines. Then, once you’ve found a grower whose style you like, experiment up the cru scale. Here are just a few suggestions of where to start.

Big and small name Chablis producers to try...

Majestic recently launched its first own-brands, intended to capture “the quintessential qualities of the world’s greatest wine styles” and Definition chablis 2014 (£12 in mix-six deal), from Louis Moreau, is a very sound introduction, tempting in both price and flavour. The Brocard family’s skilled handiwork is widely available: Les Domaines Brocard organic chablis 2014 (£15, Marks & Spencer) is lean and lovely. M&S’s own chablis 2013 (£15, from La Chablisienne co-operative) is good, too.

Another big name, Simmonet-Febvre, has fine wines at all levels: the straight chablis was preferred to several grand crus from other growers by my ad-hoc tasting panel (2014 £15, case rate £13.75 winedirect.co.uk). Louis Jadot, too, is a great name to follow, with full-flavoured 2014 chablis (around £18) in several local Nisa stores or on-line (thedrinkshop.com).

On a smaller scale, Samuel Billaud is a new star in the region, his own wines the happy result of family disruptions; his classic chablis is exactly that (Les Grands Terroirs 2014 £13, thewinesociety.com), and I can’t resist recommending one of his premiers crus, the complex, immensely long Jules Billaud Les Fourneaux 2013 (£23, Oddbins).

Cyril Testut also makes splendidly elegant, stylish, pure wines – they were one of the highlights of my last visit to the region (chablis 2014 £13.50, houseoftownend.com; 2012 £53.75 three bottles, amazon.co.uk); and at Moreau-Naudet Stéphane Moreau has a splendidly sure touch – chablis Vieilles Vignes Les Pargues (£18, £16 case rate, leaandsandeman.co.uk) deliciously adds extra richness to the minerality.

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