John Brown has been a wine and food columnist in West Virginia since the 1980’s. His regular columns appear in the Charleston (WV) Gazette-Mail under the title Vines & Vittles and in The State Journal - a statewide business weekly

Chablis: It ain't what it used to be!

Chablis:  It ain't what it used to be!
When I first started getting serious about wine, Chablis was the generic term for any white, particularly those mass produced vinous products that were bottled in half or full gallon jugs. No one knew anything about varietal labeling or even that there were different types of grapes that produced different types of wine.

If it was white it was Chablis and if it was red it was Burgundy. Anything that sparkled was simply Champagne.

That’s all you needed to know. And if you drank wine in public places, people sipping martinis or chugging cold ones looked down their noses at you as if to suggest you join others of your ilk under the Southside Bridge.

But when wine began to become somewhat acceptable, those same cocktail snobs became wine snobs and the game was on.

It became “tres avant-garde” to squeeze in next to someone at the local beer garden and proclaim for all the world to hear: “I’ll just have a glass of Chablis.” So what if the bartender had to reach with both hands under the bar for the humongous jug, and then struggle to get some of the stuff into the glass.

We were so cosmopolitan!
Of course, none of us knew the composition of the wine back then, (nor did we care) and most of us were just happy not to gag on the swill that passed for wine. When I recall those days, my embarrassment is only somewhat tempered by the realization that our casual misuse of the terms Chablis, Burgundy and Champagne made the French completely insane.

Where am I going with this? Well, in the past month I have had the pleasure of sipping some excellent “real” Chablis. Of course, Chablis is an appellation and a region within Burgundy where the primary wine-producing grape is Chardonnay.

Wines produced in Chablis are generally more austere than chardonnay made in the more famous areas of Burgundy (i.e. Puligny-Montrachet, Corton Charlemagne, etc.), but they are considerably more reasonably priced.

The wines are steely textured with exceptional minerality and usually have a big dollop of acidity to balance out the richness of chardonnay. In good vintages such as 2008, Chablis can continue to improve in bottle for a decade or more.

The two wines I tasted were both very closed in at first and required about 30 minutes to open up. They also had bracing acidity and were not wines you could easily sit down and sip as an aperitif. Both wines definitely require food, but once paired with an appropriate dish (in this instance pan sautéed cod), they showed their complexity and ability to marry seamlessly to the meal.

These Chablis should be readily available and priced under $30 a bottle. The 2008 Gilbert Picq Chablis is more lean and austere than the 2008 Joseph Drouhin Vaudon Chablis Premier Cru. I would advise cellaring both since I am convinced they will develop over a period of years into fuller, richer versions of what they are right now.
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