Chablis Premier Cru
- By Morgan Harris MS
- 15 Oct 2020
- 5 MIN
- Level 201
Many experienced sommeliers consider Chablis 1er Cru to be the most prototypical wine of Chablis. Village wines represent the appellation well in a generalized fashion, but without filigree or nuance to convince anyone of Chablis’ status as a world-class wine region. Conversely, the Grand Crus can be atypically rich compared to the bulk of wine produced in the appellation. Add to this that Grand Cru frequently see élevage in some new French oak, enhancing their already particular presentation of intensity and power; in short, they can often taste more like “Grand Cru” than Chablis. 1er Cru Chablis represents a middleground, where the appellation shines though, but the drinker gets a detailed picture of soils and vineyards as well.
Chardonnay provides the perfect tabula rasa on which to lay the considerable frequency of Chablis’ terroir; nowhere is this more apparent than among the 1er Cru. Each of the 1er Crus have soils that are slight variations of the classic Chablisienne kimmeridgian chalk, but a 1er Cru is also largely defined by aspect and position on the slope. With only a couple of notable exceptions, the vineyards are almost universally south or east-facing, on hillsides that generally travel between 150 metres and 250 metres above sea level. None of the 1er Cru vineyards run directly down to the Serein river or any of its tributaries.
Besides the physical details of the vineyards, Chablis 1er Cru contains several bureaucratic idiosyncrasies. First, Chablis 1er Cru isn’t actually its own appellation, as is the case with most Cote d’Or 1er Cru AOC; it’s a style designation within the Chablis AOC. Second, Chablis has many nested lieux-dits inside of 1er Cru vineyards, which is a relatively singular occurrence for Burgundy. For example, Vaillons is very large for a 1er Cru at over 120 ha in size, but contains seven sub-1er Cru vineyards; these have a square-rectangle relationship. If you see Beugnons or Sécher on a label they could have been labeled as Vaillons. However, a producer can’t label a Vaillons tout-court as Beugnons or Sécher just because they feel like it. All in, there are 40 recognized vineyard names that can occur on a Chablis 1er Cru label, but only 17 major vineyard sites.