The fine, French white wine called Chablis has an odd history in America.
In the 1980s, you knew you were in a bad restaurant if its wine list said only “Burgundy, Blush and Chablis.” That’s because the “Burgundy” and “Chablis” were really cheap, inferior California gallon-jug wines, and the Kool-Aid-like rosé wine called “Blush” had every reason to.
The French makers of real Chablis even sent a delegation to America to plead with us to stop abusing the name of their wonderful wine.
Then real Chablis became chic here, in part because America’s budding wine aficionados learned how to pronounce it, in part because a widespread foodie mantra was born about the wonderfulness of “Brie and Chablis.”
That saying is passé now, a cliché, even a term of disparagement after too many New Yorker magazine cartoons about the uber-trendy, elitist “Brie and Chablis” crowd of urban snobs.
But despite all that, brie and Chablis do go splendidly together. It’s like the passé but nevertheless wonderful idea of grilling with mesquite.
It’s also evidence that ever-more-savvy American wine fans are getting to know more about wine. To me, Chablis is the high-class, elegant branch of the chardonnay family.
Chablis is the steely, mineral-scented, leaner version of the ubiquitous wine called chardonnay. It’s produced in the northern end of France’s famous Burgundy region, between Paris and Beaune – around the village of Chablis, pop. 2,700.
Its flinty, mineral character comes from the area’s limestone soil, made up of fossils that lived in the area 100 million years ago when it was a seabed.
Its crisp, lean nature comes from the cold climate, as Chablis is getting close to the northernmost area where grapes can flourish.
Chablis was a major player in the 1800s, with 100,000 acres planted to chardonnay in the area – until an epidemic of the root louse phylloxera decimated the vines in 1885. By 1960 there were only 1,500 acres left.
In 1968, veteran grower Robert Drouhin started replanting, and today has 10,000 acres of vines along the Serein River, making 5,000 cases a year. The Drouhin family has decided on a more stringent version of organic farming called “biodynamics.” They strictly limit chemical treatments, instead letting the predatory mite typhlodromus eat the leaf-munching red spiders, using decayed vegetation and animal manure in place of chemical fertilizers, applying exotic nettle teas to further nourish the soil.
Today Drouhin’s Chablis comes from several individual vineyards – vinified separately to fully express the differences brought about from each year’s weather and the vineyards’ individual soils.
Because of its crisp leanness, Chablis is a great aperitif, sipped all by itself. It also goes well with not just brie but also goat cheese, raw shellfish, smoked fish, even lobster.
So even if you don’t wish to admit to being part of the “Brie and Chablis” crowd, you might want to quietly try the wine.
• 2010 Joseph Drouhin “Drouhin-Vaudon” Chablis Premier Cru Vaillons: aromas of camellias and other flowers, rich, full flavors of minerals, lemons and honey; $39.
• 2010 Joseph Drouhin “Drouhin-Vaudon” Chablis Premier Cru: citrus aromas, steely, flinty, mineral-tinged lemon-lime flavor; $37.
• 2010 Joseph Drouhin “Drouhin-Vaudon” Montmains Chablis Premier Cru: crisp and lean and fresh, with flavors of citrus and herbs; $39.
• 2 010 Joseph Drouhin “Drouhin-Vaudon” Chablis Premier Cru Sécher: flinty and lean, with aromas and flavors of lemon and chalk; $39.
Fred Tasker has retired from the Miami Herald but is still writing about wine. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.