Although Burgundy and Champagne are probably the most misused and abused wine regions, Chablis is certainly a strong runner-up. To this day, there are still three-liter jugs of Taylor Chablis lining the shelves of supermarkets across the country.
Thankfully, the name-pilfering of famous wine regions is in serious decline. I have to wonder, however, if the misuse has resulted in some permanent confusion, because real Chablis is not a wine I hear discussed very often. The other white wines of Burgundy get much more attention: Pouilly-Fuisse, Mâcon, Montrachet, Meursault, etc.
What a shame. For anyone seeking the antithesis of oaky, California chardonnay, Chablis is the place to look. It’s also a shame that the popularity—and the resulting overproduction and poor winemaking—of chardonnay turned so many people away from this very noble grape.
Comparing the big, oaky, overripe, syrupy Cali-chards to Chablis is a bit like comparing Pam Anderson to Jodie Foster—they’re both blonds, right?
Chablis is lean, elegant and subtle, with a racy acidity that makes it very food-friendly. Oak is used rarely and judiciously. The cool climate and unique soil give Chablis a character that is light-years apart from chardonnay grown in most of California. Chablis is one of the most perfect wines to pair with fish and shellfish, particularly oysters.
Unfortunately for financially-challenged wine drinkers like myself, Chablis can get pretty pricey—expect to pay $20 and up for a decent bottle.
However, Petit Chablis offers a taste of the region for a more accessible price. Petit Chablis is a smaller AOC within the Chablis AOC, and the wines of Petit Chablis can easily be found in the $12–$15 range.
The other night I opened a bottle of Château de Maligny Petit Chablis 2005 ($15), which is a lovely example of what Chablis is all about: pale-straw colored with greenish glints, lean and racy, delicate flavors of lemon, apple, pineapple and flint. I served it with a very simple garlic shrimp pasta and some crusty bread. Wow.
Château de Maligny is owned by the Durup family, who have resided in the village of Maligny for 600 years. Jean Durup's great-grandfather tended the vines of the Château Maligny for 30 years at the end of the last century.
The wine sees no oak treatment. Instead, they use a combination of cement vats lined with fiberglass and stainless steel storage tanks. Their wines are given the minimum amount of processing to highlight the unique terrior of the vineyards.
Château de Maligny is imported by Parliament Wine Company and should be widely available. 2005 is shaping up to be an excellent vintage, and there is plenty of ’05 Chablis to be had.
Cancel your membership in the ABC (Anything But Chardonnay) Club, put back the box of Franzia Chablis and try the real deal. You’ll be glad you did.