kelly magyarics

washington, d.c.-based wine, spirits & lifestyle writer / wine educator

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Chablis...the "other" Chardonnay

So many good wine-related stuff in the Food section of the Washington Post today...a review of the wine bar at the new Whole Foods in Fairfax...a cover story on how BYO is changing the face of dining out in Philadelphia...Dick Rosano's review of some bold whites for the season (including Vouvray, an under-appreciated Loire Valley white that is one of my favorites.)

I loved Ben Giliberti's piece on Chablis--which can be another misunderstood white to the uninitiated. Mention "Chablis" to a casual wine drinker, and thoughts will often turn to the jug wine from California that bears the name on the label. CA "Chablis" has as much to do with real French Chablis as Gallo "Hearty Burgundy" does with a Grand Cru Nuits St. George...absolutely nothing except the name.

Ben's description of the good stuff is spot on. Chablis has crisp apple and/or pear on the palate, with a steely, mineraly, even flinty quality (many believe that this is caused by the flinty soil in the town of Chablis.) By law, Chablis has to be made with 100% Chardonnay.

It's bracing acidity and (my favorite part...) lack of oak treatment make Chablis a perfect food wine. I tend to shy away from New World chardonnays unless 1. I have tried them before and know they aren't oaky; or 2. the label says "unoaked." I just don't like feeling like I am sucking on an oak chip...never mind that "oak bombs" can often kill the taste of food. Chablis, on the other hand, goes well with shellfish (raw or cooked...), chicken dishes, pasta with cream sauces, and on and on.

Chardonnay is not an aromatic variety like, say, Sauvignon Blanc or Riesling is. The flavor often depends one the winemaking choices (oak fermentation and aging vs. stainless steel; blending with other grapes like Semillon, etc.) Chablis is a perfect example of how one wine made from Chardonnay grapes can taste so very different from another.

Grab a few bottles (Ben gives lots of great choices), and compare them to New World Chardonnays. If you tend to say "ABC" when it comes to whites ("Anything But Chardonnay"), you may find a new favorite.