All Chablis, from the finest to the most inconsequential, is basically one sort of wine. It is of course always white (although a little passable rosé is made in the nearby village of Irancy. from the Pinot Noir grape, and sold as Irancy); it is always dry—pleasantly so in good years, yet hard, almost tart, when the weather has been less favorable. Recent vintages rate about as follows:
1958—Excellent Will be on the market by early 1960.
1957—Frost. Practically no Crop. To be avoided.
1956—Quite good, better than expected. Small production.
1955—Very good, the better wines becoming very scarce.
1954—Poor. No longer on the market.
1953—Extremely small crop; fine, full-bodied wines, now almost unprocurable.
1952—Excellent, now growing old unless ideally stored.
Between the very finest Chablis, of which there is never enough, even in the most copious years, and the modest Petit Chablis, usually sent off in little feuillettes, or thirty-two-gallon barrels, to be drunk by the glass in Paris bistros, a world of difference nevertheless exists. And this difference, fortunately for the consumer, has been clearly and uncompromisingly set forth by French law.
- Chablis, to begin with the commonest and most general appellation, is a wine made from the Chardonnay grape, with at least ten per cent alcohol by volume, produced on certain delimited areas of chalky soil in twenty specific townships, or communes. The maximum legal yield per acre is four hundred twenty-five U.S. gallons; the twenty communes are as follows; Chablis, Beinc, Béru, Chemilly - sur - Serein, Chichée, Courgis, Fleys, Fontenay, Fyé, La Chapelle-Vaupelteigne, Lignorelles, Ligny-le-Châtel, Maligny, Milly, Poilly, Poinchy, Préhy, Rameau, Villy, and Viviers.
- Petit Chablis (which used to he called “Bourgogne des Environs de Chablis”) is a very similar wine of a somewhat lower class, coming from the same twenty townships, but with no restrictions as to the chalkiness of the soil. It need contain only nine and one-half per cent alcohol; fresh and delightful when young, it is generally short lived, and a Petit Chablis much over two years old is a poor risk.
- Chablis Premier Cru is of a definitely higher grade than cither of the preceding. It must come from one or more of twenty-one specific vineyards, in the nine best of the district's twenty townships. It may be sold simply as “Chablis Premier Cru” or under the vineyard name, as, for example, “Chablis Fourchaume” or “Chablis Montée de Tonnerre,” or under a combination of the two. as “Chablis Premier Cru Fourchaume” or “Chablis Fourchaume Premier Cru.” Here, more or less in order of quality, are the twenty-one “First Growth” vineyards together with their townships. It is worth remembering that the right bank of the Serein is sunnier, and offers a better exposure.
- Chablis Grand Cru. This vintage, literally “Chablis Great Growth,” or, better translated, “Chablis Great Vineyard,” is something very special, and with it we have reached the top of the ladder. Only seven small vineyards are entitled to this rank (although an eighth name, Momonne, is involved—sec further on). All seven lie on the right bank of the Serein, in the commune of Chablis itself; their average annual production runs in the neighborhood of six thousand cases, all told, and of course in many years it is far lower. Production may not legally exceed three hundred seventy-five U. S. gallons per acre, and the wine must be at least ten and one-half per cent alcohol by volume (it is usually about twelve per cent and may run thirteen per cent). The wine is rarely sold as “Chablis Grand Cru,” far more often under the name of the vineyard, and the words “Grand Cru” may, but need not. appear. More or less in order of quality, here are the Grand Cru vineyards: Vaudésir, Clos (or Les Clos), Grenouilles, Valmur, Blanchots, Preuses, and Bougros.