hablis is approximately halfway to Paris from the Côte d'Or. When driving there from the golden slope you take the A6 motorway towards Auxerre. After leaving Beaune you are surrounded by grazing cattle and fields of wheat and other crops. At Nitry you leave the motorway for the considerably smaller D91. As the road narrows and you're still surrounded by rolling hills you can't help wondering if you are on the right track as there are no vineyards in sight. It is not until you get very close to Chablis that you actually see any vines. Just before you enter the village you have the premier cru Vosgros on your right.
The name Chablis was first mentioned in print in 867, when Charles the Bald gave the town and the monastery of Chablis to the monks of Tours. Already during the 15th century the wine of Chablis was exported in large quantities. The town was badly hit during World War II, but flourished again during the 1960's when they had found means to fight diseases and the frost attacks during the spring.
Chablis is a charming little town of 2 432 inhabitants (2010). The river Serein cuts through the north eastern part of the town. On the same side, up on the slope are the grand crus tightly squeezed together. Technically it is one single appellation, with the seven grand crus being lieu-dits – Blanchot, Bougros, Grenouilles, Les Clos, Preuses (which incorporates La Moutonne), Vaudésir and Valmur.
The size of the town is most comfortable. Everything is more or less within walking distance. The cellars are open to visitors to a larger extent than on the Côte d'Or (even if there has been a change there in recent years). Some producers, such as Domaine Jean-Marc Brocard and Domaine Laroche, even have small shops set up. And there is a good choice of restaurants and hotels right in the middle of town.
The top restaurant is the Michelin-starred Hostellerie des Clos, run by Michel Vignaud. Not only is the cooking lovely; as could be expected the wine list is wonderful reading for the Chablis lover.
– Hostellerie des Clos is my favourite restaurant, explains Lyne Marchive at the well-reputed Chablis estate Domaine des Malandes. They have a very good relation between the food and the wine. They have a very good cellar; they have our Chablis "Tour du Roy". It is not snobbish at all.
– The people from Paris find this address wonderful because it is less expensive compared to the one-star restaurants in Paris. It is less expensive and probably better.
At the other end of the spectrum is the Au Vrai Chablis, a restaurant with good Chablisienne cooking on the rustic side. This is of course coupled with a selection of local wines. Not as vast as at Hostellerie des Clos, but good nevertheless.
– Hostellerie des Clos is the best, but it's not cheap, says Benoît Droin at Domaine Jean-Paul & Benoît Droin. But there is also La Feuillette 132. It's not a very fine restaurant but it's good. The wine list is very good, with many different winegrowers from Chablis. In some restaurants you only have three or four domaines. At La Feuillette 132 you have perhaps 50.
– I also like the Laroche Wine Bar, he continues, even if it is a restaurant run by a domaine. The food is very good. The only problem is the wine. You only have Laroche's wines. The wine is good but you don't always want to drink Laroche.
Unfortunately the Vieux Moulin is no more. This restaurant is nowadays the Laroche Wine Bar (with seven rooms if you feel like staying over) that Benoît Droin mentions, but in the past I have had good food here while being educated in the local red wines such as Irancy and Epineuil by the most helpful patron. These wines never reach Sweden so my experience was limited, to say the least.
The premier crus of Chablis (as well as the vineyards for straight Chablis and Petit Chablis) are spread over a large area. In total there are 19 communes, not counting Chablis itself, that are part of the Chablis vignoble. Altogether there 59 premier crus, but far from all are regularly used on labels. Usually the lesser known are grouped together under more well-known names.
However, the grand crus are easy to reach from the town centre. Avenue d'Oberwesel takes you there in no time; it's just a kilomtre or so to walk.
– I very much like to go to the cross between Valmur, Vaudésir and Grenouilles, says Lyne Marchive. You have a lovely view there over the diffrent grand crus and the village. You can have a picnic there.
Needless to say that you are expected to have a bottle of Chablis in your picnic basket.
© 2013 Ola Bergman