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Saturday, December 15, 2012

Chablis; One of France's Finest White Wines and Chablis the Town.



from
Behind the French Menu
by
Bryan G. Newman
Chablis Grand Cru.
Photograph courtesy of Fareham Wine.
       
Chablis  AOP  is a dry, crisp, white wine made in and around the town of Chablis in the department of Yonne, Bourgogne, Burgundy.
 
The town of Chablis, despite its famous name and history, is still a small French town; albeit an exceptionally pretty one. Despite its size, Chablis and its immediate area have quite a number of hotels, B & Bs, restaurants, and, of course, wine shops. You may also choose to stay in the towns of Avallone  or Auxerre;  both are about 20 km (12 miles) from Chablis.  We stayed in an excellent hotel in Avallone. The hotel is built on the sight of a post house where Napoleon I had once watered his horse!  Auxerre has many more hotels, but none whose claim to fame competes with Napoleon and his horse.

Driving to Chablis
  
If you are driving to Chablis, remember it is a small town. You may easily drive through the town and be back out among the grape vines before you realize you have exited the town. We did that!  We, of course, did turn around and drive back. In the town center, we found an inviting looking restaurant to sample the local cuisine, and, of course, to order a bottle of Chablis.
  

The Sereign River runs through Chablis.
Photograph courtesy of oletourn
                   
In books on pairing wines Chablis has been always one of the wines recommended to accompany oysters;  the other favored choices are Muscadet, which come from around Nantes in the Pay du Loire, and Champagne.  Chablis and oysters are an interesting coincidence. The vineyards around Chablis are all set above an ancient limestone land mass with many fossilized oysters. Those ancient oysters must have spread the word, and so the wheel of life goes on.

Choosing a Chablis

French Chablis is very different to most of the New World versions I have tried. However, I am not an educated wine maven, and with hundreds of producers and four appellations when we arrived in Chablis I needed help.  Luckily, in the restaurant we had chosen there was a friendly and knowledgeable sommelier. We discussed our interest in Chablis along with our budget. The sommelier suggested a reasonably priced wine that turned out to be fabulous. This was a Chablis from one of the lower Chablis appellations, but good sommeliers know a great deal more than just the names, the price and appellations.  More about Chablis appellations and the information they contribute   later. While we were enjoying our lunch and our wine we overheard the couple on the table next to us discussing their dissatisfaction with a much more expensive Chablis.  They had chosen a top of the line Chablis from the wine-list, it had been their own choice.  As with other wines, so with Chablis. If you do not know a wine, or do not have a knowledgeable recommendation, then the price does not guarantee any more than how much you will pay.
    
Chablis on French menus:
   
Cassolette d'Escargots au Chablis – A dish of snails  that will be prepared  whole or possibly chopped up and served with a Chablis based sauce.
 
Filet de Raie au Chablis – Skate, the fish, sautéed with Chablis. In the UK, skate is mostly seen when deep-fried in batter and sold in fish and chip shops. However, in France, skate will be served in the finest restaurants. In French kitchens skate be may be baked, poached or sautéed, but never deep-fried. Dishes with skate will be served hot with a butter or wine sauce, as skate tends to jell when cold.
 
Paupiettes au Saumon Sauce Chablis – Rolled filets of salmon cooked in a Chablis based sauce.
  
Poire au Vin de Chablis- Pears cooked in Chablis. This dish is a cold dessert and is often offered with optional chocolate sauce or ice-cream.
  

Two glasses of Chablis.
Photograph courtesy of  AJ Leon
   
Sauté de Queues d'Écrevisses, Brunoise de Petits Légumes au Chablis  - Crayfish tails sautéed with Chablis and served with finely cut young vegetables.  Brunoise is another of the important sizes in the French world of chopped fruits and vegetables. Brunoise denotes a cut about 2 mm thick. 

Chablis has a number of unique local dishes that may also be on your menu. They include Jambon Chablis, ham cooked in Chablis, and a locally made Andouillette AAAAA sausage.
   
Chablis on sale.
Photograph courtesy of Sólo J
   
N.B.: When a sommelier or a wine-list only offers wines that are above your budget, then that is the time to choose a house wine. Most French restaurants, outside of some of the more exclusive,  have house wines that have been chosen with their regular diners in mind.  House wines will be approved by the sommelier and in smaller restaurants by the owner and the chef; the wine will be priced to keep the regulars returning.
 
French Chablis is made from very close to 100% French Chardonnay grapes. Why its taste is quite different to most New World Chardonnays that I have tried I do not know?  Maybe it is the barrels, maybe its science, maybe it is the terroir. (Worry not, I will not get into terroir here).  Whatever the reason, French Chablis is different to other wines, even in France, also made with Chardonnay grapes.
  

Chablis, the town.
Photograph courtesy of Bernard Manzerolle
    
The town of Chablis and some twelve villages linked to her have festivals and fetes almost every month of the year. These celebrations are not only about the Chablis wines, though a sizeable number are.  The celebrations include concerts, artist’s festivals and more.
 
Finding the dates of Chablis linked festivals and fetes.
       
You may check the dates and places of wine and food celebrations throughout France when still in your home country through the local French Government Tourist Office. For Chablis tourism the town’s visitor information website is www.chablis.net.  If you are already in Chablis, the tourism information office is on the town’s main street:  1 Rue du Maréchal de Lattre de Tassigny.
     

Chablis aging.
Photograph courtesy of Anna&Michal.
  
Ask the Chablis tourist information office for a map of the town and a map of their Chablis  Route des Vins, their Chablis wine road.  Then request information on the town’s and surrounding  communities’ celebrations and farmers’ markets.  With all that information, you have the perfect way to explore the area, including stopping off for wine tastings, and joining in the celebrations that coincide with your visit.  The Chablis Route des Vins also passes quite a number of restaurants; choose one to enjoy lunch or dinner.
    


House from late Middle Ages in Chablis.
Photograph courtesy of Bernard Manzerolle

       
The most important wine fete in Chablis itself is the Fête des Vins de Chablis, the fete of Chablis wines. This fete it is held on the fourth Saturday and Sunday in October.  Additionally the entire department of Yonne, which includes Chablis, celebrates its many different wines on the first Saturday in May. The town of Chablis, of course, will be doing its part.
             

The Eglise St-Martin.
Photograph courtesy of   jeroen020
 
Seeing the town of Chablis

Inside Chablis, you do not need a car. Just park and walk around the town.  Walk along streets that were laid down in the late middle ages with some of the original houses remaining.  Visit its two churches, one of which dates back to the twelfth century the other to the 18th. Both churches were rebuilt in the 19th century. There is also a 12th-century synagogue that was also rebuilt some ten years ago.
       
There is a farmers’ market in Chablis every Sunday morning.  Given a bright summer’s day you may want to pass on a traditional restaurant lunch and buy a chilled bottle of Chablis, a baguette and some of Burgundy’s magnificent cheeses. Find a road that takes you to the banks of the River Sereign that runs through the town and find a place for a picnic; enjoy. 

Hiking in Chablis,
    
If you enjoy hiking then consider joining one of the hikes that are organized by the Chablis hikers association, the Association des Sentiers Chablisiens  The association organizes  hikes  in the country around Chablis  twice a week for one and a half to two hours. Their French language website is:
http://www.sentierschablisiens.fr/masque.html
Google and Bing translate translated the French very clearly.

Note the association has a special hike on the first Sunday in October.  Then the Chablis hikers group, and all who hike with them, gets a free half bottle of Chablis and a tasting of the local, Bourru. Bourru is their name for Nouveau Chablis, a very young Chablis.  All you have to do is join their 15 km hike through the wine country!
    

Chablis appellations.

Four Chablis appellations set the boundaries of Chablis wines. The Chablis Appellations were created to differentiate the quality of the Chablis wines produced in each area.  Like the rest of France’s appellations and crus, they were set in 1935. They have been part of French law in 1946. However, since 1946, not one single Chablis wine, produced by any Chablis vintner, has had its quality grading changed! None are officially better or worse?
  
There are four Chablis appellations:
   
Appellation Chablis Grand Cru Contrôlée -   Considered the very, very best of all the Chablis wines.
     
Appellation Chablis Premier Cru Contrôlée - Nearly the very best.
   
Appellation Chablis Contrôlée -  A snippet below the nearly the very best.
   
Appellation Petit Chablis Contrôlée Chablis -  A little below the one below the nearly the very best.
       

Chablis vinyards.
Photograph courtesy of GK Sens-Yonne.
  
  
I have defined these appellations, tongue in cheek, as I certainly do not know why a single producer's wine has not been recognized  for having improved or worsened in over 70 years!  However, the wine mavens know and the caves, the wine stores know, and their prices reflect the value. I also know that if you see a Chablis Grand Cru at a low price, leave it!  There are no good top of the line Chablis wines at a discount price.
     
Other great white wines from Burgundy are also made with 100% Chardonnay grapes. These other wines have their own names and appellations. Despite having the same grape in the bottle, these other wines also have, by the different soils,local micro-climates, magic, science or terroir have different tastes.  These other 100% Chardonnay wines include famous names like Pouilly-Fuissé AOP, Chassagne-Montrachet, AOP, Corton-Charlemagne AOP, Meursault AOP, Montrachet AOP and many others.

For more on all the wines from Burgundy see the website:

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Bryan G. Newman

Behind the French Menu
Copyright:  2010, 2011, 2012, 2015.

For information on the unpublished book behind this blog contact Bryan Newman
at
behindthefrenchmenu@gmail.com