Wine lovers who have come to think of Chardonnay as weighty and thick will find Chablis a revelation. When grown in the cool clay-and-chalk soils around the sleepy town of Chablis, at the northern reach of Burgundy, Chardonnay is transformed into one of the world's most cerebral and distinctive white wines. With its brisk citrus character, floral lift and incisive minerality, Chablis is at once sharper and more delicate than white Burgundy from the Côte d'Or nearly 100 miles to the southeast -- and potentially at least as long-lived. And Chablis is about as far removed from fruit- and oak-driven New World Chardonnay as a white wine can be.
The growing season in Chablis is shorter and cooler than that of the Cote d'Or. The deposits of limestone and chalk here, which give energy to the wines, have the same origin as those found in the Loire Valley and Champagne. Chablis is crisp and minerally, and generally higher in acidity than wines of the Cote d'Or, which tend to have more body, weight and alcoholic strength. Wines from lesser vineyards or lesser producers can be downright meager, with excessive production levels and widespread machine harvesting frequently leading to skinny wines with little flesh or ripeness. But the best grand cru and premier cru Chablis bottlings from the top estates display an uncanny combination of concentration and finesse. While they can seldom match their cousins from the Cote d'Or for sheer power or heft, they are unequaled for precision, balance, and verve. The majority of Chablis producers emphasize the brightness and clarity of their wines by raising them in stainless steel or neutral oak vessels, although some producers continue to make extensive use of small and frequently new oak barrels.