Saturday, April 20, 2019


If Eminem were rapping about white wine, he might have said: 

May I have your attention, please?
May I have your attention, please? 
Will the real Chablis please stand up? 

Chablis... so much to be said about it and evocative of so many personal meanings and  memories. Including perhaps utter shock at the discovery that Chablis is just... chardonnay!  A grape originally from Burgundy, France. Chances are, that if you were drinking "chablis" through the early 2000s, etc. it was literally any white wine that someone wanted to call chablis because it sounds more legitimate than calling it White Wine. It did not *have* to be Chablis from the Chablis AOC in Burgundy - you know, the real Chablis - or even Chardonnay, which no one seemed to think was an important distinction. All this because after reeling in the aftermath of WWs I and II, powdery mildew and phylloxera, Chablis faded into the background for a long time. The vineyards eventually made somewhat of a successful comeback but the casual misuse of "Chablis" continued unchecked around the world. In 2006 luckily, things were cleaned up and a regulation was passed that restricted the name Chablis to wine produced in the Chablis AOC in Burgundy, France, a stone's throw from the charming village of Chablis, and where chardonnay is the only grape used to make Chablis. That's the Chablis we're exploring with The French #winophiles this month (April).

Source: National Academies of Sciences, 
Engineering, Medicine
Now that we know, let's get into it... a nerdy topic very dear to me: masonry, stone, and all things related. Such as geology, which really is just a time-lapse of the life-cycle of stone. It tells the story of how each type of stone, soil, mass of mineral dust was born, how it lived, and how it has continued to shape-shift its way through millions of years. It tells the story of the carbon cycle. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

Terrior - climate and soil - informs the flavour of all edible things including coffee, cacao, and wine. Non-aromatic grapes like chardonnay which aren't loaded with beautiful fruit and floral notes especially rely on terroir and vinification for the final outcome, i.e. what you smell and taste in the wine. Chardonnay is native to Burgundy and, dare I say, the best expression of the grape comes from wine made there. Especially in Chablis, a northerly cold region of Burgundy where the ancient seabed has formed two distinct sedimentary soil types: Kimmeridgian (clay + limestone) and Portlandian (weathered limestone). Both named after stages of the Jurassic epoch and both formed from heated and compressed remnants of ancient molluscs and shellfish. 

Portlandian, Kimmeridgian, Portland stone, Portland cement, limestone, ancient Roman tabby concrete - all same but different, all requiring thermal decomposition of molluscs. Created by heating (burning) shellfish shells, mixing with  more shells, sand, and water, poured into moulds if you're making something like a wall, or left free-form in nature. A basin of limestone marl starts near the Isle of Portland, Dorset in England (where Portland stone originates and where Portland cement was invented), and runs all the way down through Champagne, the Loire Valley, and Burgundy.

Tabby Walls at Ft. Livingston, LA (Source: P. Vora, personal collection)
(Fun Fact: to see Portland stone, visit the UN headquarters in NYC or Buckingham Palace, London. To see dramatic shell-studded tabby walls, see the photo to the left or snag a visit to Ft. Livingston, Grand Terre Island, LA - I worked on that partially submerged structure after the BP oil spill in 2010 and it remains my most challenging and fascinating project.)

Grapevines love limestone soil - it offers an abundant source of plant-accessible calcium carbonate, greater nutrient uptake by the vines, excellent water retention and drainage capacity, so less irrigation and less chance of water-logged soils. All factors which work in favour of chardonnay, a grape with early bud break that thrives in a cool climate. But despite the apparent similarities between Portlandian and Kimmeridgian, both soils have a remarkably different effect on the grapes.

I decided to compare the effect of the two soils by tasting a Petit Chablis (Portlandian) and a 1er Cru Chablis (Kimmeridgian). Paired both with oysters on the half-shell and a spiced ginger-infused mignonette. I also paired the 1er Cru with a classic Bengali (east Indian) dish of red snapper in a mustard sauce, shorshe maach.


2016 DOMAINE L. CHATELAIN PETIT CHABLIS: A simple wine with a medium finish, citrus on the nose and palate, delicious minerality. Crisp, refreshing, and easy to drink. Excellent with fresh, briny local oysters from up the coast. 13.5% ABV, $22

2017 DOMAINE L. CHATELAIN 1ER CRU CHABLIS: A bright citrus and lemon curd base with white flower, green apple, and pear overlays followed by a flinty finish and a soft mouthfeel to balance the acidity. This was an excellent pairing with both, the oysters and the mustard fish. 13.5% ABV, $35

If you need more inspiration to try a Chablis, see what the other French #winophiles are saying about their Chablis adventures:

  • Cam at Culinary Cam Brings Us “Cracked Crab, Cheesy Ravioli, and Chablis”
  • Robin at Crushed Grape Chronicles writes about “Mont de Milieu Premier Cru Chablis from Simonnet-Febvre and Pochouse”
  • Gwendolyn at Wine Predator Shares “Chablis is … Chardonnay? Comparing 2 from France, 1 from SoCal Paired with Seafood Lasagna”
  • Liz at What’s in That Bottle Shares Chablis: the Secret Chardonnay
  • Deanna at Asian Test Kitchen Writes about “Top Chablis Pairings with Japanese Food”
  • Jennifer at Beyond the Cork Screw Has “French Companions: Chablis and Fromage Pavé”
  • Payal at Keep the Peas writes about “Chablis: A Tale of Two Soils”
  • Jane at Always Ravenous has “Pairing Chablis with Marinated Shrimp Salad”
  • Jeff at Food Wine Click! shares “All the Best Food Pairings with Clos Beru Chablis”
  • Jill at L’Occasion writes about “Metal Giants: Windfarms and the Chablis Landscape”
  • Susannah at Avvinare writes “Celebrating France with Chablis and Toasting Notre Dame”
  • David at Cooking Chat writes about “Sipping Chablis with Easter Dinner or Your Next Seafood Meal”
  • Pinny at Chinese Food & Wine Pairings writes about “A Delicate Pair: Jean Claude Courtault Chablis and Sichuan Peppercorn-Cured Salmon”
  • Nicole at Somm’s Table writes about Domaine Savary Chablis Vieilles Vignes with Scallops and Brussels Sprouts Two Ways”
  • Kat at Bacchus Travel & Tours shares “The Delicate Face of Chardonnay: Chablis”
  • Wendy at A Day in the Life on the Farm Brings Us “Chardonnay? White Burgundy? Chablis!”


  1. Wonderful pairings. I like that you shared the different locations with us.

  2. I adore your posts for your "Masterclass" on soils! You brilliantly bring to life the influences of terroir on the wines! Thank you for feeding my inner soil geek!

  3. I love this deep dive into the soils! Very interesting. Particularly liked the details letting us know the great buildings on which we can find these soils.

  4. I've always enjoyed geology and your "tale of two soils" is so interesting. The impact of soil on wine is just one element of terroir and what you taste in the glass. Easy to geek out indeed...the more you know about wine, the more you realize there is so much yet to learn. Nice pairings too!

  5. Thanks for the soil talk, it's so important to the ultimate end product!

  6. I'm so intrigued about your pairing of the 1er Cru with the Bengali. It must be pretty good. I'm a big fan of all Indian food but never pair it with wines. I guess I have more experiments to do!

  7. Very interesting soil exploration with juicy details along with a reference to Eminem. I am going to have to also try a comparison between the two soils via 2 wines side by side!

  8. Fantastic lesson on the soils and the wine and pairings sound wonderful too!