Pairing food and Chablis
Despite the emphasis that winemakers place on the different crus or terroirs of Chablis three factors seem to me to influence a food match more than any other for most of the Chablis you’ll taste - the age of the wine, the vintage and the degree of oak influence, if any.
There are exceptions to this - Chablis styles that are particularly fruity or ones that have more vegetal notes but in general I think you’ll find most wines fall into one of the following five groups.
* Inexpensive young Petit Chablis and Chablis and very young premier cru Chablis
Gougères and other crisp, cheesy nibbles. All kinds of raw shellfish, especially oysters. Simply cooked shellfish dishes such as spaghetti alla vongole or moules marinières. Fish and chips, goujons or other deep-fried fish. Snails - or prawns - with garlic butter. Charcuterie, especially jellied terrines like jambon persillé. Seafood (e.g. crab or prawn) salads. Vegetable terrines. Andouillette (local Chablis sausage made with tripe and served with chips!). Lapin à la moutarde or other dishes with strong mustard-based sauces.
* 2-3 year old unoaked Premier cru Chablis (i.e. still lively and fresh-tasting but more intense)
Smooth vegetable-based soups. Simply grilled fish with butter and parsley. Poached fish with creamy sauces. Cold poached salmon with mayonnaise. Oeufs en meurette Chablis-style (i.e. with a white wine rather than a red wine sauce). Simple fish stews such as pochouse (a creamy stew based on river fish with vegetables such as carrots, leeks and potatoes) or waterzooi. Fish pie. Grilled Mediterranean fish such as rouget or sea bass with olive oil or tapenade. Seafood or spring vegetable risotto. Sushi and sashimi. Goats cheeses. Chaource (light, moussey Burgundian cow's cheese)
* Chablis or premier cru Chablis made in a richer style* e.g. vieilles vignes Chablis, Chablis with more pronounced oak character, more mature Chablis or wines from a warmer vintage such as 2003 or 2005
Rich seafood such as seared scallops or baked crab. Fine fish such as Dover sole, turbot and halibut. Salmon with a beurre blanc or other butter-based sauce or salmon in pastry. Jambon à la Chablisienne (ham in a Chablis-based sauce with tomato and cream). Simply grilled veal or pork chops, especially with mushrooms. Roast chicken, guinea fowl or pheasant (provided the latter is not too gamey in flavour) Washed-rind cheeses such as Epoisses and Soumaintrain
Grand cru Chablis and the best premier cru Chablis*
Similar dishes to the above but using more luxurious or intensely flavoured ingredients. Grilled or steamed lobster, poulet de Bresse, especially with truffles, roast veal fillet, veal kidneys, sweetbreads, very rare fillet steak. An underrated match for foie gras (the acidity can make a more refreshing match and a more congenial start to a meal than a sweet wine). Washed-rind cheeses, provided they’re not too mature (so not quite running over the cheeseboard . . . )
Very old Chablis* i.e. Chablis that has acquired a deep golden colour and rich, honeyed notes. There’s an argument for serving such a rarity on its own but it can also be matched with very simply prepared dishes with pronounced umami flavours, such as roast chicken with a crispy skin, ceps and Vieux Comté or old Gouda cheese.
Of course there will inevitably be some cross-over between the categories I’ve identified. For example almost all Chablis will go with chicken in a white wine sauce but with an inexpensive wine you might add a touch of curry to the sauce whereas with a grand cru Chablis wine you might be more inclined to serve a poulet de Bresse and morels. So it’s also a question of whether the style of the dish matches the price and the age of the wine.
* NB: none of these style should be over-chilled. Serve them a degree or so warmer than you would normally serve a crisp, dry white wine.
Photo © Jean-Jacques Cordier at fotolia.com
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