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By The Glass


True French Chablis
is a pure delight

Don't be confused by the name Chablis. California winemakers misuse the name on their labels, usually to identify very inexpensive, generic, often blended white wines.

Chablis is a specific area of France, in the northernmost outreach of the Burgundy region. The soil of its very best vineyards is mainly composed of chalk. The grape variety is exclusively Chardonnay.

The resulting wine is so different from modern-day Chardonnays produced in most parts of the world, especially California.

How different? Chablis is far more "quiet," full of finesse, light-bodied and delicately nuanced than most, if not all, of the popular mid- to upper-end brands of Chardonnay we commonly see on the market.

More important, Chablis smells and tastes of mineral and wet stone nuances first ... NOT of oak barrels or ultra-ripe fruit. And it has a real lemony edge to it.

I just love its purity and the fact that it is so UN-Californian, all because of the unique combination of growing conditions -- the chalk-dominated soil, rolling hills and cool climate.

In my day, tasty French Chablis was served with oysters-on-the-half-shell because of its lemony edge and its lightness on the palate. So was Muscadet. Can you imagine serving a Beringer Private Reserve Chardonnay with raw oysters?

Sadly, Chablis is getting to be a lost tradition. It is a shame.

The American public has such an insatiable appetite for huge, deeply extracted, "loud" Chardonnays that finesse-oriented winemakers end up adding ultra-ripeness to their grape-growing philosophies and new French oak to their winemaking equations -- or fade way into virtual oblivion.

It would be a real shame if you missed out on the uniqueness true French Chablis has to offer, and how wonderfully diverse it is with a wide range of foods.

Try one. A real favorite is by Roland Lavantureux and sells for about $27 a bottle. Taste it and see for yourself.

Chuck Furuya is president of Fine Wine Imports and Hawaii's only master sommelier.

This column is a weekly lesson in wine
pairing written by a rotating panel of wine professionals.
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