Real Chablis from Chablis, France, is an electric, kinetic glass of wine. One sip skates across your palate like Hans Brinker on ice. The second sip has your electrons vibrating at a higher level. It bursts with a minerality that echoes the sea. Small wonder. Much of its soil is comprised of Kimmeridgian chalky marl and marly limestone, a sedimentary soil comprised of the compacted remains of tiny little comma-shaped oysters (exogyra virgula).
Anything labeled "Chablis" or "Chablis Blanc" coming out of California is a false pretender and nothing like the original. If the "Chablis" is not from France, it's not Chablis.
True Chablis is a study in freshness.
"There is a basic set of Chablis aromas," stated Arnaud Valour, former head of the Chablis and Grand Auxerrois Wine Bureau during his live French Wine Society webinar this month. "Citrus, honeysuckle, green apple, lily, oyster shell and minerality. Sometimes there is wood, but most Chablis is fermented in stainless-steel.
"Older Chablis or those with Premier Cru and Grand Cru pedigrees have a different set of aromas: mushroom, honeycomb or beeswax, dried apricot, quince, gingerbread, almonds, brioche and sometimes candied ginger. If the wine has had a little time in oak, there might be notes of vanilla or tobacco leaf."
With such a broad palette of aromatic expression, the trick, Arnaud explains, is in choosing a Chablis that will fit your dish or a dish that will fit your Chablis.
Basic tried and true Chablis food pairings consists of gougeres (cheesy pate a choux), goat cheese, shellfish, fish, veal and foie gras. The Burgundians also enjoy this steely white with snails, parsleyed ham, smoked trout and pungent washed-rind cheeses. But it's a natural with Maine lobster, Southern fried chicken, Japanese sushi/sashimi, English fish and chips and cracked crab too —Dungeness, Norwegian, king, snow or stone.
"Chablis performs one of two roles at table," states Arnaud. "It cuts through the richness of a dish or it highlights the richness of a dish. Basic Chablis cuts through the richness of a scallop, foie gras, a gougere and those washed-rind cheeses. Yet mature Chablis or Premier Cru or Grand Cru Chablis enhances the cream in a Blanquette de Veau (braised veal with cream sauce) and other more substantial dishes."
This said, all Chablis will always contribute a splash of "oyster shell" to any seafood. And the pairing of oysters and Chablis is a natural. The very grapes were weaned on the stuff.
In keeping with Arnaud's fabulous food-pairing advice, there are three Chablis that I recommend you enjoy at table and all from the house of Drouhin.
Drouhin Chablis 2009 ($23): This is benchmark Chablis. Pithy, tart and refreshing…all green apple peel. It is steely, mineral and nervy. Drink with shellfish, sushi, sashimi or fish and chips. Fab.
Drouhin Chablis 1er Cru Montmains 2009 ($39): This is a wild combination of tart apple fruit and jasmine. Very aromatic, yet very mineral at the same time. A total palate tease. Here's one for oysters, crab, scallop and mussels; it definitely highlights the sea.
Drouhin Chablis 1er Cru Secher 2009 ($39): A very hedonistic glass of wine. Fresh from the refrigerator, it hints of apple tartin with perfectly caramelized sugar. As it warms in the glass, it becomes a liquid browned butter shortbread. There is a flinty finish…a whiff of brioche. Oh, my. This one screams for foie gras and the perfect piece of ripened cheese, or simply good company and a sunset.