Among Chardonnays, Chablis Is Not Better, Just Different

I asked readers to think about how vintages can affect the character of a wine. This can be particularly telling with a wine like Chablis, which at its best has a particular stony, chalky, seashell minerality that I consider the most distinctive expression of chardonnay. I’ve seen many chardonnays from elsewhere described as “Chablis-like,” but never have I found the characterization to be true. This is not to say Chablis is the best chardonnay, only the most singular. The region’s terroir — the combination of soils, climate, altitude, inclination to the sun and human input — produces this idiosyncratic wine. But the terroir is fragile, and the biggest variable aside from the human factor is weather, particularly given the continuing effect of climate change. The weather was relatively cool in 2017, with late frosts that diminished yields, but the wines were vibrant and full of Chablis character, which delighted me. The next year was hot and dry, producing ripe, rich wines that were often excellent but seemed less typical of Chablis. They spoke more of the grape, chardonnay, than the place, Chablis. As part of Burgundy, Chablis employs a hierarchical system in which every bottle is ranked according to its potential for distinctiveness and greatness. At base are Petite Chablis, followed by Chablis, Chablis Premier Cru and, at the top, Chablis Grand Cru. It will be interesting to see whether the 2018s, particularly the premier crus and grand crus, develop more Chablis character as they age.