The east coast is sweltering. Here in Washington DC, temperatures are expected to top 100 degrees today — and things aren’t expected to cool off anytime soon. So get your grills and ice chests ready, because Old Man Summer is knocking at the door.
I’ve been in DC for a number of years now, and I’ve seen people use all sorts of heat-blocking devices to stay cool — ranging from the cheap and silly to the gaudy and outrageous. My solution to the heat comes from just over 4,000 miles away, from a sleepy town of 2,580 people.
There live the people of Chablis, who can ease our summertime sweltering with their native elixir. Winemakers there battle fierce winters and worrisome autumns to craft bottles of citrus and mineral-laden potations that ought to be cracked en masse anytime that thermometer hits three digits.
Chablis has something for everyone — from its cheap, ready-to-drink Petit Chablis, to its standard Chablis, to its Premier Cru and Grand Cru bottlings.
Chablis is an ethereal place, thanks largely to the stark white Kimmeridgian soil, on which the region’s finest vineyards sit. This prized soil is an amalgamation of chalk, limestone, and clay where one can easily find the fossilized remains oyster shells and marine creatures. The soil has a bleached look to it — so much so that “at twilight,” according to Karen MacNeil, “you feel as though you’re on the moon.”
The grapes in Chablis need more than just great soil to thrive, of course. The aspect of the vineyards is more important here than perhaps anywhere else in France — and possibly all of Europe, save for a few spots in Germany. All of the Grand Cru and highly regarded Premier Cru vineyards lie north of the town with a southern exposure, with eastern exposures also making fine wines.
Once upon a time, the wines of Chablis were the top whites for many Parisian restaurants. In the late 19th century, however, vintners in Chablis fell on hard times thanks to oidium and phylloxera. This was compounded when the Paris – Lyon – Marseille railway was built, bypassing Chablis altogether and making wines from the Midi cheaper and more accessible.
Fortunately, Chablis was too unique to fall completely off the map — and today, it’s experiencing a resurgence of sorts. The region’s more simple wines are firm and refreshing, and the better bottles leave even the best palates searching for appropriate descriptors.