It’s the macho-est white wine around — steely, austere, hard to love at first (but opens up with some coaxing), and boasting such racy acidity that it makes you crave a Hungryman-sized dinner.
What’s that you say? Isn’t Chablis that girly drink women used to cut with club soda for a spritzer in the 1970s?
Well, Chablis has one of the worst wine raps of all time, mainly because California producers stole the name to use on their crappy jug products decades ago. Matters were not helped in the 1990s when John Berendts Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil made Atlanta’s Lady Chablis one of the most famous drag queens in America, the name reinforcing the wine’s image as faux-feminine.
It’s a tragedy, because Chablis is one of the crucial taste profiles in any wine lover’s repertoire; its crisp, clean, and refreshing attitude transforms your palate. If you’ve ever had Chablis and oysters — a combination made in food-matching heaven — you know what I mean.
Chablis is actually one of France’s classic winemaking areas, located at the northernmost tip of Burgundy. Like all whites from Burgundy, it’s made entirely from Chardonnay, but Chablis is worlds away from the flabby and sweet wines that are sometimes made from this noble grape. Indeed, drinking Chablis is an eye opener for those who aren’t aware of all that Chardonnay can be — once you see how versatile it is, you’ll be able to pick more carefully from the many styles that are out there.
To bring home the point, I tasted some of the wines that William Fevre, a top producer in the region, now has available. They start at $25 — not a super bargain, but a price point that most people can get in on if they’re curious.
The Fevre Champs Royaux2007 ($25) is a nice expression of Chablis’s Hemingway side — laconic and a little hard at first. As it warms, it begins to display the minerally flavors it’s known for, and it cleanses the palate admirably. (Chablis in general needs a little time in the glass to evolve, and you should never drink it too cold.)
For more complexity, move up to Fevre’s premier cru and grand cru level, designating the region’s very best vineyards. The premier cru entries are bold indeed: the Fevre Fourchaume 2004 ($35) starts out with a hit of grapefruit and white apricot; the Vaillons 2005 ($35) is more key lime pie.
When it comes to the top dogs, the grands crus, Fevre’s Les Preuses 2004 ($70) has a wonderful and eccentric nose of roses and quince. The Les Clos 2005 ($90), made from my favorite of all Chablis vineyards, is totally shut down at first, revealing nothing at all in the first half hour after it was opened; I took it to a nearby restaurant to give it the time it needed.
While I enjoyed an amazing premier cru red Burgundy — a Chambolle Amoureuses from 1996 — the Les Clos started to reveal itself. It was like hearing an orchestra tuning up: The flavors were finding their pitch and slowly growing in volume; the barest hint of marzipan started to contrast with the hard flint of classic Chablis. After several hours it headed into Sara Lee poundcake territory in terms of buttery richness, but with a lot more complexity. A great example of a white than can age, this wine is going to go the distance.
OK, maybe the Sara Lee reference doesn’t seem real manly, but I swear, I looked as tough as Steve McQueen while I finished my glass.
Ted Loos, executive editor of Art+Auction magazine, is the former features editor of Wine Spectator and has written on wine for Bon Appétit, Town & Country, and many other publications. He's the author of Town & Country Wine Companion: A Tasting Guide and Journal (Hearst Books; $12.95), published in fall 2007. "In the Cellar" appears on ARTINFO every other Wednesday.