Having just returned from a week in Chablis I am all fired up with enthusiasm for the place and its wines. Most wine drinkers will feel that they understand what Chablis is, a classic, crisp dry white wine, normally unoaked and made from Chardonnay. Well, as usual I discovered that most of what we believe to be true about the place is not true. There are in fact may different styles of Chablis, many of them much richer than most consumers realise.
However, I will write about Chablis another day and restrict myself to Chablis’s poor relation today – Petit-Chablis.
In truth Petit-Chablis is no poor relation of Chablis, it is just a different wine. The wine of Chablis, wine that is given the appellation Chablis in line with the appellation contrôlée / PDO is named after this famous town, but defined by grape variety and the local soil. Chablis can only be made from Chardonnay vines and must be grown on the Kimmeridgian soils that are found on most of the slopes around Chablis. Kimmeridgian is named after Kimmeridge in Dorset and it is a calcareous clay and is a very fossil rich soil that contains the fossilised remains of ancient oysters and ammonites. The lime content of the fossils helps give acidity into the wine and, it is believed by some, to impart the typical minerality too.
On the outskirts of Chablis, the Kimmeridgian soil is hard to find and makes way for the harder Portlandian soils that are not so rich in clay or fossils and generally produce wines that are less mineral, but more fruity. More importantly Portlandian soils are also found on the top of the Chablis slopes, the plateaux between the valleys, so is often right by some of the very best Chablis, Chablis Premier Cru and Chablis Grand Cru vineyards. The only wine produced on this Portlandian soil is Petit-Chablis.
To many of us the name Petit-Chablis implies that the wine is somewhat lesser, although I understand that this is not so in French. With extensive tasting though, I discovered that this simply is not so. Although many of Petit-Chablis I tasted were pretty ordinary, others were far better than the dull generic Chablis wines that grace many of our supermarket shelves.
Frankly I was spoiled for choice as to which Petit-Chablis to write about today, Domaine Mosnier‘s was bright, focussed and very good, Domaine Moreau-Naudet‘s was richer and more mineral, La Chablisienne‘s Petit Chablis ‘Pas si Petit’ (not so little) is fresh with a touch of minerality. The Petit-Chablis from Jean-Paul & Benoît Droin is an extraordinarily fine wine, as is the one from Domaine Vincent Dauvissat. However as these last two are pretty pricey, although well worth it if you feel like treating yourself, so I have chosen a different producer’s Petit-Chablis to be my Wine of the Week – William Fèvre.
By the by, I often take the view that a top producer’s lesser wine, or appellation, is a better bet than a lesser example of a top wine, so think Gigondas rather than Châteauneuf, Coteaux du Giennois rather than Sancerre, Monbazillac rather than Sauternes, Côte de Castillon or Fronsac rather than St Emilion if you want good value.
Unoaked Chardonnay with 10 months lees ageing in stainless steel tank.