The wines of the Yonne
By Rosemary George MW
This Guide was last updated on 22 December 2009
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Looking southeast along the spectacular slope of the Chablis Grand Cru vineyards. © Mick Rock/Cephas.
The small town of Chablis is the focal point and centre of the eponymous appellation, which includes a further 19 surrounding villages and hamlets. Chablis is the most animated; in most of the others, nothing much seems to stir behind closed cellar doors. Maligny has a medieval château, which is undergoing lengthy restoration, while in Béru the somewhat newer château is open to the public. The countryside is gently undulating, with vine covered slopes.
The nearest town of any size and interest is Auxerre and further afield there are the vineyards of the Grand Auxerrois, all the vineyards of the department of the Yonne that are not Chablis. They include Joigny on the river Yonne and Vézelay in the south with its majestic basilica. Closer to Chablis you will find Chitry-le-Fort, with its dramatic church tower, Saint Bris-le Vineux, with a labyrinth of cellars and the only Burgundy appellation to grow Sauvignon Blanc, Coulanges-la-Vineuse, and Irancy, which nestles in an amphitheatre of - mainly Pinot Noir - vines and cherry trees. Although the town of Tonnerre gives its name to a wine, it lacks the charm and interest of Auxerre; nearby Epineuil is another tiny wine village, with its own appellation.
Chardonnay from Chablis is unique, and quite unlike Chardonnay from anywhere else in the word, let alone Burgundy. Pinot Noir also grows well in parts of the Grand Auxerrois, making a lighter, fresher style of wine.
The vineyards of Chablis lie to the east of Auxerre, with those of the Grand Auxerrois mainly around villages to the south. These are Burgundy’s most northern vineyards, 100 kms northwest of the rest of the region. Indeed Chablis is closer to Champagne than to the Côte d’Or, just 30km as the crow flies from the vineyards of Aube, with which it shares some characteristics. The climate in Chablis is semi-continental, with cold winters, wet springs and quite warm, sunny summers, but not always. Vintages do matter here. There is a high risk of spring frosts, with the need for frost protection, especially in the grands crus vineyards, either in the form of smudge pots or burners, or sprinklers.
The soil is predominantly limestone and clay, with the more highly prized Kimmeridgian clay in the Grand Crus and Premiers Crus vineyards, while Portlandian clay is more commonly found in the outlying vineyards of Petit Chablis. Appropriately, as Chablis is the perfect accompaniment to an oyster, the soil is littered with numerous fossilised oyster shells.
To the west of Chablis, the main town of Auxerre is reached in just under two hours by road from Paris on the A6 motorway exit 19. If you wish to go directly to the village of Chablis leave the A6 at exit 20. By rail the journey time is about two hours to Auxerre, usually necessitating a change at Laroche-Migennes from a TGV to a slower local train. There is an Avis car hire just opposite Auxerre station. The nearest international airport is Paris.
Auxerre Tourist Office,
1-2 Quai de la République, Rue des Fourbisseurs d'Epées, 89000 Auxerre
Chablis Tourist Office,
1 Rue du Maréchal de Lattre de Tassigny, 89800 Chablis
Official Burgundy wine website.
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