How I Fell in Love with Chardonnay A Journey Worth Savoring

By Jamie Knee   |   October 31, 2023

As a wine educator, I’ve often encountered wine enthusiasts staunchly proclaiming their allegiance to the “Anything but Chardonnay” (ABC) camp, convinced that chardonnay is simply not their cup of… well, wine. But what if I told you that a transformative experience awaited you in France in a quaint corner of northern Burgundy? Here, in the enchanting realm of Chablis, yes, it’s not only a grape but a place, I discovered a chardonnay that defies expectations and pleases even the most adamant of ABC adherents. Some may even be surprised to learn that chardonnay and Chablis are from the same grape. 

Nestled along the gentle slopes that overlook the serene Serein River, the Chablis region harbors a secret that every wine lover should uncover. Contrary to the heavy oak and buttery flavors that some chardonnays wear like a signature coat (ahem Napa I’m looking at you), Chablis wines boast a personality all their own. They embrace a crisp, minerally, and utterly refreshing character that is a testament to the unique terroir that shapes them.

Now, you might wonder what sets Chablis apart from the vast sea of chardonnays. The story begins with the Chablis vineyards, where the soil composition is a symphony of Kimmeridgian limestone, clay, and fossilized oyster shells. These elements come together to orchestrate a mineral profile that distinguishes Chablis wines from many other chardonnays across the globe.

Here’s another revelation: Chablis wines are meticulously crafted in an unoaked style. Liberated from the influences of wood, the flavor profile emerges in a pure, untainted expression of the chardonnay grape itself, amplified by the region’s distinctive terroir. Venturing into a glass of Chablis is like embarking on an olfactory odyssey. Descriptors like “steely,” “flinty,” and even “salinity” dance upon the palate, a result of the wine’s high mineral content. The very act of sipping transports you to a riverside, where you can almost taste the sensation of damp stone on your lips. If you’ve ever taken one of my wine classes, I’ve likely given you the assignment of licking a seashell the next time you are at the sea, to understand the minerality profile. In Chablis, this mineral symphony is a lively acidity that balances the citrus and saline notes. 

At the heart of Chablis lies a classification system that designates vineyard quality. Grand Cru, the most esteemed designation, is bestowed upon seven vineyards basking in maximum sunlight. Premier Cru vineyards produce wines of subtlety and grace, while village-level Chablis wines offer approachability for newcomers to the world of Chablis.

Ah, the food pairings! Chablis isn’t just a wine to sip; its crisp acidity makes it a treasured companion to an array of seafood dishes. And speaking of treasures, let’s not forget the delectable sea urchin, a Santa Barbara delicacy that pairs splendidly with Chablis. Just as the ocean kisses the shores of Santa Barbara, the delicate brininess of sea urchin harmonizes beautifully with the minerality and acidity of Chablis, creating a symphony of flavors that’s nothing short of extraordinary.

To those who’ve dismissed chardonnay in the past, Chablis extends an invitation to experience a unique and refreshing alternative. As I discovered firsthand, these wines transcend preconceptions, revealing a world of minerality, freshness, and elegance. The absence of oak ensures a palate-enchanting journey unburdened by heavy flavors. From the easygoing village-level wines to the intricate and age-worthy Grand Crus, Chablis offers a symphony of possibilities for every palate.

So, dear wine lovers and ABC skeptics, consider this a heartfelt invitation to explore the captivating world of Chablis. A journey that promises to rewrite your chardonnay narrative awaits, embracing you with minerality, finesse, and a sip of the extraordinary. Cheers to the joys of discovery, and to raising a glass of Chablis to your new wine adventure!  


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