Chardonnay is the most popular white wine in the world. It can be almost anything any wine lover could want, growing almost anywhere and giving the wine maker styling options beyond what other grapes can offer.
Chardonnay though, is best when it speaks in its own voice, telling a story of vintage and terroir like few other grapes can.
France is the birthplace of Chardonnay and among its storied wines, the Chardonnays of Chablis are the most thrilling and distinctive white wines in the world, possessing a striking crispness, a distinctive minerality and the noteworthy ability to age well. Chablis is a place where the excitement lies in the beautiful and subtle differences between vineyards and wines.
A difference of place
Chablis is different from the very ground up. At the very northern limit of the Bourgogne region, it lies on the unique crumbly and chalky soils of the Portlandian and Kimmeridgean limestones of the Paris Basin.
Elevation is important in Chablis and the Portlandian is the upper unit on the hillsides on either side of the Serein river. A brown limestone with sandy patches its harder than the Kimmeridgean and forms a protective cap. Its higher elevation and slightly cooler aspect have made it home to Petit Chablis AOC. These wines are the lively, young and fresh wines of Chablis. Typically, pale gold in color with aromas of white flowers, citrus and often a saline character, Petite Chablis come to life with seafood.
The Kimmeridgean limestones and marls below the Portlandian are the soils of Chablis AOC noted for the accumulation of tiny, fossilized oyster shells (Exogyra virgula) that testify to the formerly warm oceans of the Jurassic period. They contribute to the crumbly texture of the soil and are responsible for the characters of the wines.
The wines of Chablis AOC tell a different story from the regions semi-continental climate, geology, and slope. Building and intensifying some aroma and flavor elements of Petit Chablis, you may find lime flower, acacia and earthy, herbal, and savory aromas. Fuller in body with richer flavors they maintain the signature Chablis vibrant acidity with balance and elegance. These are wines that can age and will see some oak treatment, bringing out exotic anise and even spice notes.
Looking at vintage through two wines
In 2020, global warming was on full display in Chablis with hot, dry conditions contributing to an anomalously early harvest. For a region whose reputation is built on vibrant wines with bold acidity there was cause for concern. And yet again, maybe as always, Chablis has delivered thrilling wines with that signature acidity, balance, and freshness that wine lovers expect.
We love the wines from Stéphanie Mosnier of Domaine Mosnier and they offer a great place to experience Petit Chablis and Chablis AOC firsthand. Domaine Mosnier has the High Environmental Value 3 (HVE 3) designation for their commitment to methods that preserve terroir, nature and the biodiversity of their estate. Wines from the different appellations are made using the same method; hand picking, whole cluster pressing and fermentation by indigenous yeasts allow the subtle differences of terroir to show. Their Petit Chablis brings green apple and pear aromas into the heady mix of white flowers and citrus. The package is airy and elegant, balanced and delivers more than you might expect from Petit Chablis.
Slightly lower on the slope we see what the crumbly texture and some 150-million-year-old oysters can do. The Domaine Mosnier Chablis is a more complex wine, with herbal, minty characters joining the white flowers and citrus aromas. Deeper in texture with the classic Chablis acidity, citrus and balance it shows the fidelity and nuance of the terroir.
Perhaps the most notable thing about the Chardonnays from Chablis is that they offer terroir variation while delivering wines that can always be identified as Chablis. Beautiful , balanced, and complete.