Anthony Rose: Heart of steel

I find it hard to say the word chablis without my mouth starting to water. While most chardonnay likes a touch of oak for texture, chablis doesn't need it. In fact its mouthwatering qualities derive from lack of use of oak in all but the grander premier and grand cru manifestations. Why is that? Thanks to a delicacy born of its cool location at the northern tip of Burgundy, chardonnay here reacts like the aromatic grapes of Alsace and Germany, preferring little or no oak to show at its bone dry, tongue-tingling best.

Minerality is a hard term to define but that's what the best chablis is imbued with: a subtle background hint of the oyster-shell-packed Kimmeridgian chalk underlay of its vineyards. The French use of the word terroir to indicate a wine's personality is grossly overused, but few wines display that character more than chablis. As Andrew Jefford says in The New France: "It smells of smoke and stone and winter air; it tastes as quick and fresh as a chill, pebbly stream tumbling off a dark, rain-draped mountain. Do you doubt the influence of soil on wine flavour? If you do, buy yourself a bottle of chablis."

Starting in the supermarket, there's plenty to enjoy in Sainsbury's 2010 Chablis, £9.99, from the consistent Chablisienne Co-operative, a classic case of fruit and stone combining in a tongue-tingling finish. From the brilliant Jean-Marc Brocard, the 2008 Domaine Brocard Chablis, £13.99, Marks & Spencer, has a crème fraîche quality cut by mineral acidity. About as zingy as it gets, the 2011 Chablis La Collégiale from Laroche, £13.99, Majestic, buy two = £11.99, is a glossy chardonnay with a steely bite.

The year 2010 was a terrific vintage for chablis and two favourite producers have excelled. The 2010 William Fèvre Chablis, around £12-£15, Wine Society, Fortnums, Armit, is an appetising style that's all about precision with an incisive cutting edge and nutty finish. So, too, the 2010 Simonnet-Febvre Chablis whose chalky aromas and honeyed opulence carry through to a dry finish, £12.49-£14.99, Handford (020-7589 6113), Partridges (020-7824 9858), Bretby Wine (01283 225029).

In grander premier cru country, the 2010 Damien & Romain Bouchard Chablis Montée de Tonnerre, £27.50, Oxford Wine Co (01865 249500) displays sourdough and crème fraîche notes with a spine of acidity; 2008 Domaine Laroche Vaudevey Premier Cru, £21.50-£21.99, Latitude Wines, Leeds (0113 2453393), The Secret Cellar, Tunbridge Wells (01892 537981), £21.99, with its delicately smoky accent and exotic pineappley whiff shows the chardonnay grape at its purest.

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