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Chablis: Chic or Not

On Wednesday I was invited to taste through a small range of examples of 2008 vintage Chablis with Arnaud Valour of the Burgundy Wine Board. Naturally I accepted – and it had nothing to do with the branded gifts I took away (although I’m particularly grateful for a copy of Rosemary George’s wonderful book; The Wines of Chablis)

I’d say that the wines were great, but they were only a selection of 6 bottles (blind – i.e. without saying which they were) and chosen to be the best of the region in this vintage, so you’d expect them to be. I was particularly impressed by the quality and easier drinking style of the Petit Chablis wines – they had more character than I really expected. For those unfamiliar with the Chablis hierarchy, this is:

  • Petit Chablis – the least expensive, simple, crisp wines
  • Chablis – a range of wines, but fresh, delicate and with hints of “minerality” (like the aroma of shells on the beach – see video)
  • Chablis Premier Cru (or 1er Cru) – more complex wines that must come from only 40 or so vineyards
  • Chablis Grand Cru – the most intense, age-worthy and usually stunning examples; only 7 vineyards on one slope go to making these

I asked Arnaud what he though were the unique style characteristics of Chablis, and why people should chose Chablis, and I recorded the answer (I apologise for the poor quality sound):


Of course, the wines got better as we went up the scale, getting more rounded, more complex and showing those classic Chablis characters. It does seem that 2008 will be a good vintage for the region. It also seems that sales of this premium region are as affected by the credit crunch as everyone else, so you may be able to pick them up for a decent price when they hit the shops and merchants.

For the premier cru wines (I tried an interesting organic 1er cru) and above, it would be a crime to drink a 2008 now as they’ll develop over the next decade, but the trouble will be finding someone who will keep them for you, so it might be worth getting a few and keeping them in a cool corner for a future special occasion.

Chablis Online

But this blog isn’t about tasting wines or about specific regions. I also spent a while asking Arnaud about the online marketing and social media plans of the Chablis region. After all, Chablis already has brand recognition around the world, you would think it could leverage this to its advantage online too.

It seems that there are plans to launch a new site at http://www.chablis.fr – I see there is a site there now, but it has numerous flaws, so I’m hoping it is a work in progress. Considering how controversial internet marketing of alcohol is in France these days, it is good to see that not everyone is abandoning these efforts. Apparently Chablis is out to broaden its appeal to “women and younger consumers”, mainly, it appears, through tasting events in Chablis itself. For the rest of us, the plan is to focus on the wine trade. Unfortunately the wine trade is already familiar with the wines, and with hundreds of regions competing for their attention, I wonder how effective this will be (it got me writing about it I suppose). I was specifically told they had no plans for Facebook fan pages, blogs or twitter accounts, which unfortunately fits the stereotype of French wine marketing.

Arnaud himself was very articulate, friendly and spoke excellent English, but there are only so many people he can meet in person. Surely they could find a way to “amplify” his message through social media channels easily enough?

In short, Chablis continues to be a great wine, it continues to be a reasonably expensive wine, and it doesn’t have much new to say about itself from a marketing perspective, so continues to speak to the same consumers. If you buy it, you’ll probably keep doing so. If you don’t, what reason have you to start?

Question: What does Chablis mean to you?

I wonder if I could urge you to go and taste a bottle of Chablis, any style, any vintage, and let me know what you think of it? How did you find the wine? Did you like it? Was it good value for money? How was it being sold compared to the competition? If you would consider undertaking this mission, please do let me know what you thought here in the comments.

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