Most Chablis is vinified without oak — its minerality provides more than enough interest and texture in the wines. In fact, Chablis is the benchmark by which unoaked Chardonnays are judged, and most don’t come close.
But some wines from the region’s more prestigious vineyards do receive oak aging, namely those from the Premier Cru and Grand Cru areas. While Grand Cru Chablis is almost prohibitively expensive — not unlike top wines from the rest of Burgundy — those from the larger Premier Cru area represent some of Chablis’ best values.
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One to try is the 2020 Chablis Premier Cru “Les Vaillons” from Domaine Long-Depaquit, which is owned by the larger Domaines Albert Bichot. This beautifully subtle $45 wine, at once rich and refreshing, shows exceptional balance with its fruit, stony minerality, and oak elements. Apple, white peach, and apricot are enhanced by touches of caramel, rosemary, and other herbs.
With alcohol at a moderate 13 percent, it was the perfect accompaniment to a dinner of sautéed filets of freshly caught blackfish, also known as tautog, a prized autumn fish in the Northeast renowned for its firmness and sweetness. Try it with all kinds of lighter fish recipes, roast chicken, and fall vegetables.
Les Vaillons is one of the most important Premier Cru vineyards in Chablis, a southeast-facing area known for ample sunshine in its cool climate, which allows Chardonnay grapes to ripen well while maintaining lively acidity. Domaine Long-Depaquit is one of many producers with vines planted in the vineyard.
Its 2020 Premier Cru Les Vaillons is a stellar example of the quality and depth you can find when you venture behind basic Chablis. While the 2020 is the current release, don’t hesitate to try the same wine from other recent vintages.