Chablis: A New Image
Copyright 2002 by Robin Garr. All rights reserved. Originally printed August 26, 2002. For more information go to wineloverspage.com.
Are you old enough to remember the days when asking for "Chablis" - in much of the United States at least - would get you a glass of inexpensive domestic white wine?
Looking back on it now, it's hard to believe that, as recently as the 1970s, relatively few Americans had discovered the joys of fine wine, and for many people and most mass-market wine producers, the fine old French names "Chablis" and "Burgundy" stood in as generic terms for white wine and red wine. (You may also recall "Rhine" as the label for slightly sweeter whites, and "Sauterne" - without the final "s" - for those sweeter still.)
What a difference a generation makes! Nowadays, only a few unrepentant producers at the low end of the market still make jug wines with the old French names (except for "Champagne," which is a separate story all by itself). In fact, the European Union and most other wine-producing nations have agreed to ban such use by law and treaty (a treaty that the U.S., under pressure from a few large wineries, declines to ratify).
As more of us became more conscious of quality wine in the 1980s and thereafter, most producers switched over to "varietal" labeling, using the wine's grape variety to identify it. It didn't take long for "Chardonnay" to supplant "Chablis" as the most popular white wine; and now just about all of us know the major varieties and have a good grasp on what to expect when we call for just about any variety from Aligote to Zinfandel.
And the REAL Chablis - the genuine article from the French region of the same name, made from Chardonnay grapes and boasting luscious apple aromas and a steely, bone-dry flavor that seems to speak of the chalky soil in which it is grown - has regained its reputation among wine enthusiasts who now know the difference.
Whether you choose the basic Chablis or the Premier Cru and Grand Cru bottlings from designated vineyards in specific sub-regions with a long history of high quality, you can count on getting a wine that expresses all that the grape and the land have to offer. But you won't get it for jug-wine prices.
For more information about Chablis in English, browse to the appellation search page of B.I.V.B., the Bureau Interprofessionel des Vins de Bourogne and enter "Chablis" into the search form.
For a peek at one U.S. producer who still uses the old generic term, check out Almaden.