Growing up I remember seeing big gallon jugs of Chablis wine around my grandfather’s cellar and at the grocery store– right there next to the “Hearty Burgundy” and “French Colombard.”
Clearly Chablis was a white wine — but exactly what white wine was in that bottle?
Fast forward a few decades, and I keep hearing about various California wines being “Chablis-like.” Generally I agreed even though I really only had a vague idea of what Chablis was or tasted like. Fortunately various industry events and Wine Bloggers Conferences introduced me to many wines, including Chablis. But it wasn’t until I attended a Chablis lunch in 2013 and then a tasting seminar with North American Sommelier Association that I really understood
what it means to be Chablis: a bright, crisp Chardonnay with minerality galore and no oak!
One of my favorite pairings and meals from 2017 was when the French Winophiles did Chablis and we paired Chablis with the Sea with a Grand Cru (which you can read about here). So when we learned that the Winophiles was doing Chablis as a theme for April 2019 with host Liz Barrett, I jumped right in with both feet! After an industry event in LA, Sue and I stopped at Wine House and found two Chablis we wanted to try, and at the last minute, I told Sue I wanted to throw a California Chardonnay into the mix, one from The Ojai Vineyard that I thought was about as acidic as they come.
Chardonnay is one of the most widely known and widely planted grapes in the world with over half million acres in vines. Chardonnay grown in Chablis, France is called Chablis just as grapes grown in Champagne and made into a sparkling wine are called Champagne. Chardonnay is also grown a bit further south in Burgundy, where it is oaked.
Considered a relatively neutral grape, Chardonnay inherits characteristics from where it is grown and how it is made into wine: the colder the climate like Chablis and Santa Rita Hills AVA in Santa Barbara, the more austere the resulting wine, a wine that can be tempered by malolactic fermentation and oak treatment as you’ll find further south of Chablis in Burgundy.
Soil too is important — the soils of Chablis are calcareous and connected geologically to the famous white cliffs of Dover. There’s lots of diatomaceous earth in the Lompoc area of Santa Barbara (Brewer-Clfton even has a delicious Chardonnay called Diatom!) but the soils of this vineyard also “reflect the site’s placement between the Santa Ynez River and Salsipuedes Creek: some clay with lots of rocky alluvial river wash and chunky bits of white shale.”
People have been loving on Chardonnay for a long time: Chardonnay has been cultivated in Chablis since the 12th century. During this time they’ve figured out where it grows best and those are designated by four appellations which you can see in the map above: Chablis Grand Cru, Chablis Premier Cru, Chablis, Petit Chablis with Petit Chablis being the most affordable — and so we chose to sample the two less expensive and to leave the Chablis Premier Cru from Cote d’Or in the cellar for another day!
2015 – The Ojai Vineyard – Chardonnay – Puerta Del Mar – 13.5% alcohol – SRP $32
This site near the famed Santa Rita Hills AVA in Santa Barbara County is one of the coolest possible in– in fact many doubted that grapes could even ripen here because it is so close to the sea and to the marine blasts of cold air that zoom from the coast at Lompoc a few miles east. But the vineyard is in a little hollow that cups the sun and shelters the grapes allowing them to ripen.
Unlike most Chablis which does not see oak, the 593 cases of this wine was barrel fermented in 7% New French Oak then aged for eleven months. While I’ve heard people describe this wine as Chablis like, when set side by side, that oak stands out and separates this wine from the other two. While this wine will continue to be a favorite of mine, and I’m a wine club member at The Ojai Vineyard, a better choice for comparison might have been Clos des Amis’s Chardonnay which sees no new oak, only neutral, and as I’ve pruned vines in the vineyard, and I know soils of Ventura County well from walking trails in the hills my whole life, there’s plenty of shells out there.
Color: Light yellow golden straw
Nose: Citrus, lemon curd, sea salt, light caramel.
Palate: Crisp, bright, nice acidity, citrus, saline, clean on the palate and the finish with a rich creaminess that keeps you interested.
Pairing: Fine with the fresh goat cheese, but so much better with the St. Angel.
This wine loves creamy richness and was a hit with the seafood lasagne.
On a previous night I had this wine with Halibut wrapped in parchment with garlic, butter and parmesan cheese over the top. Yum! With tonight’s seafood lasagne, it was also a hit. There were surprising florals with a tang that tamed the acidity in the wine. The wine makes you taste the food, and the food makes you taste the wine. That’s the magic and food and wine pairing — when they are better together than apart.
2017 – Louis Michel & Fils – Petit Chablis – 12.5% alcohol – SRP $25
Imported by Vineyard Brands; purchased at Wine House LA
Color: White gold, very pale yellow, platinum rim
Nose: Nice white floral notes at a distance, fresh cut grass, white pepper, lemon and lime, a touch of white peach, or white nectarine.
Palate: The floral notes come through on the palate, and in particular, I found jasmine flowers similar to a French jasmine jelly. With a hint of floral and a hint of floral sweetness, the wine is not sweet. A roundness mid-palate, with a lot of acidity without being bracing. The finish calls attention to how nice this wine is mid palate.
Pairing: The fresh goat cheese brought out lemon in the wine. The St. Angel was fantastic with the wine, and brought out nice florals. The acidity of the wine and the creaminess of the cheese elevated the experience of both wine and cheese.
When we then put a bit of the St Angel on a toast bread with jasmine confit and a pear, it was even better than fantastic.
The garlic and balsamic brought out a fruitiness in the wine. The fennel brings out pear especially on the finish.
It loved the rich creaminess of the seafood lasagne; the pairing of the two was a home run.
Sue felt that there was a bit of a fishiness to the lasagne, but this wine takes all of that away, leaving a pleasurable experience.
2015 – Grand Régnard- Chablis – 12.5% alcohol – SRP $35
Imported by Maisons Marques & Domaines; purchased at Wine House LA
We loved this cute little bottle styled after old 17th century ones, and we loved what was inside as well: a selection of the best vineyards in Chablis including grand and premier crus.
Color: Richer, a bit more depth, but still a pale or straw yellow with green highlights.
Nose: Earthen funk right off the bat, musky; the sulphur blows off quickly leaving lemon curd and other citrus, salinity like an ocean breeze. With food there is a bee pollen quality that I found, as if you are walking through a field full of fresh meadow flowers, and Sue found petrol.
Palate: Very viscous, not oily, but there is a viscosity, and a mouthwatering acidity on the finish. This has a very nice mouthfeel, as a wine at this price point should have.
Grand Régnard Chablis delivers a powerful punch.
Real nice roundness on the palate, great acidity on the finish. Not super flinty.
Pairing: Nice enough with the goat cheese, but over the top with the St Angel cheese.
The Grand Régnard Chablis loves rich creamy flavors.
With the cracker, St Angel, jasmine confit and pear combo is a perfect pairing. The acidity of the wine tames the richness of the food. The jasmine confit and pear brings out lovely floral and fruit in the wine. With the food, it is so clean, you can still smell the funk and the petrol on the nose, but it cleanses the palate and becomes so clean and enjoyable with the food. The seafood lasagne brings out a fruity voluptuous quality to the wine, especially in a generic white wine glass, or an oaked chardonnay glass, even though this is made in the traditional way and is unoaked.
Check out our twitter chat on Saturday April 20 at 8am Pacific by following the hashtag #Winophiles. The following wine influencers will be talking about what we learned this month:
Cam at Culinary Cam Brings Us “Cracked Crab, Cheesy Ravioli, and Chablis”
Robin at Crushed Grape Chronicles writes about “Mont de Milieu Premier Cru Chablis from Simonnet-Febvre and Pochouse”
Here on Wine Predator we share “Chablis is … Chardonnay? Comparing 2 from France, 1 from SoCal Paired with Seafood Lasagna”
Host Liz at What’s in That Bottle “Shares Chablis: the Secret Chardonnay”
Deanna at Asian Test Kitchen Writes about “Top Chablis Pairings with Japanese Food”
Jennifer at Beyond the Cork Screw Has “French Companions: Chablis and Fromage Pavé”
Payal at Keep the Peas writes about “Chablis: A Tale of Two Soils”
Jane at Always Ravenous has “Pairing Chablis with Marinated Shrimp Salad”
Jeff at Food Wine Click shares “All the Best Food Pairings with Clos Beru Chablis”
Jill at L’Occasion writes about “Metal Giants: Windfarms and the Chablis Landscape”
Susannah at Avvinare writes “Celebrating France with Chablis and Toasting Notre Dame”
David at Cooking Chat writes about “Sipping Chablis with Easter Dinner or Your Next Seafood Meal”
Pinny at Chinese Food & Wine Pairings writes about “A Delicate Pair: Jean Claude Courtault Chablis and Sichuan Peppercorn-Cured Salmon”
Nicole at Somm’s Table writes about Domaine Savary Chablis Vieilles Vignes with Scallops and Brussels Sprouts Two Ways”
Kat at Bacchus Travel & Tours shares “The Delicate Face of Chardonnay: Chablis”
Wendy at A Day in the Life on the Farm Brings Us “Chardonnay? White Burgundy? Chablis!”