Chardonnay has always seemed to be associated with an oak and buttery flavor profile. Sometimes these wines can be to “weighty” and just aren’t hitting that freshness we sometimes look for in wine. In the last couple of years we have seen a rise in “un-oaked” Chardonnay. Although we are seeing an increase of this style of Chardonnay being produced domestically, one region in France has been at it all along; Chablis.
Like most of France, most of the plantings in Chablis can be attributed to Romans. There are records of wine from Chablis being sent to England in the late 1500’s. Chablis is the third most Northern wine making region in France and the Northern most part of the Burgundy appellation. This northern region is on the edge of being able to produce grapes and really helps to preserve acidity. Chablis is planted with almost exclusively Chardonnay and its generally cool climate produces these leaner higher acid wines. The Kimmeridgean Clay that runs across the English Channel through Chablis is the base soil in Chablis. Limestone with fossilized Oyster shells and a layer of Chalky soil is what gives the wines a great mineral quality as well.
Now it is hard to say that winemakers do not use oak in Chablis but lets say that traditionalist see in as a point of controversy. Even before the introduction of Stainless Steel vessels for fermentation were introduced, Chablis producers generally preferred neutral or used oak so that the barrels would not impart flavor to the wine. Now there are some producers that are seeking a more “modern” style of Chardonnay and are using new oak, but it is still rare. Chablis is known for its lean and fresh flavor profile and this is compromised by fermenting and or ageing in oak barrels.
The next time you are looking to pair some shellfish or are looking for an un-oaked Chardonnay to enjoy, don’t forget about Chablis. These are great and noble wines that have been perfecting this style for hundreds of years. You can feel pretty confident that most AOC Chablis is void of oak influence and should deliver that fresh high mineral flavor profile!