Consulting enologist Eric \u00adSzablowski\u2019s 2CV Citro\u00ebn bounces along a rocky track at the very top of the steep slope of Vaud\u00e9sir, in the heart of Chablis. Suddenly, he steps on the brake, and we come to a stop.\r\nStepping out of the car, I find it hard to stand too close to the edge, even though I don\u2019t have a problem with heights.\r\n\r\nFrom 597 feet above sea level, Szablow\u00adski and I peer almost straight down 100 feet or so at a sea of Chardonnay vines springing into \u00adaction for the 2015 vintage. It\u2019s one of those vineyards where you need one leg longer than the other to comfortably work it.\r\n\r\nMaking wine here is a tight balancing act\u2014and not only when viewed from a ragtop Deux Chevaux. Chablis joins cool climate, unique location and Kimmeridgian soil to make possibly the purest Chardonnay on the planet.\r\n\r\nIt\u2019s a golden age for Burgundy\u2019s northernmost wine region. Great vintage follows great vintage, and compared to the grand crus of the C\u00f4te d\u2019Or, the grand crus of Chablis are \u00adbargains.\r\n\r\nBut it\u2019s not easy.\r\n\r\n\u201cChablis is at the northern limit of the possibility of making still wines from Chardonnay,\u201d says Lucie Depuydt, winemaker at J. Moreau & Fils. \u201cFurther north, and the wines have to be sparkling.\u201d\r\n\r\n\u00a0\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\nThe Tool\r\nChardonnay may be the grape. But for the folks of Chablis, it\u2019s only the tool.\r\n\r\n\u201cWe are not producing Chardonnay, we are using Chardonnay to express the Chablis terroir,\u201d says Xavier Ritton, the export manager for the La Chablisienne cooperative, one of the best co-ops in France.\r\n\r\n\u201cChardonnay is a neutral grape\u2014it\u2019s the best tool for expressing Chablis terroir,\u201d says Beno\u00eet Droin, of Domaine Jean-Paul & Beno\u00eet Droin, speaking in his cellar under the family house near the city hall of Chablis. His family has been producing wine in Chablis since the 17th century.\r\n\r\n\u201cIn hot years, we have to be careful not to lose the character of Chablis,\u201d says Droin. \u201cIf you don\u2019t pay attention, then you just make Chardonnay.\u201d\r\n\r\nStylistically, Chablis is different from other Chardonnays from Burgundy. It has a texture, a tension and an apple crispness that sets it apart from what the people of Chablis call \u201cSouth Burgundy,\u201d a k a the C\u00f4te de Beaune\u2019s whites from Meursault, Chassagne-Montrachet and Puligny-Montrachet, and certainly from the ripe Chardonnays of the M\u00e2connais.\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\nThe Soil\r\nThe Chablis vineyards are planted on the slopes of the Serein Valley and in the side valleys that form a star centered on the small riverside village of Chablis.\r\n\r\nHere, you can take the Kimmeridgian chalk into your hand and pick out oyster fossils from what was once a seabed. This soil gives enough warmth for the grapes to ripen in short, hot summers, and it imparts intense minerality to the wines.\r\n\r\nYes, Chablis has minerality. It\u2019s a concept pooh-poohed by some tasters because, they say, how can you taste it?\r\n\r\nIn Chablis, they believe you can. For a Chablis producer like Damien Leclerc, managing director of La Chablisienne, minerality is that sense of \u201cpurity, a crystalline expression of the wine.\u201d\r\n\r\nIt\u2019s about saltiness, sea spray and a mouthwatering aftertaste that\u2019s unique to this cool-climate Chardonnay and which brings the wines close to the soil, to the terroir.\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\nThe Purity\r\nMinerals like potassium, calcium and magnesium are present in the grapes, absorbed from the soil via the vine\u2019s roots. It gives the wines what Julien Brocard, of Domaine Jean-Marc Brocard, calls \u201cenergy.\u201d\r\n\r\nHe offers his Les Clos as the epitome of this energy: structured, textured and possessing intense, almost chewy, acidity.\r\n\r\n\u201cThey should be pure, with nothing between the wine and the soil,\u201d he says.\r\n\r\nWhat almost all Chablis doesn\u2019t have are oaky flavors. Producers mature a proportion of their wines in wood, but in barrels up to eight years old. The oak is there for its oxidative character, not to impart any toasty notes.\r\n\r\nJust a few exceptional producers\u2014the most famous being Fran\u00e7ois Raveneau and Vincent Dauvissat\u2014ferment and age their wines in oak to produce offerings that are closer to southern Burgundy in style and richness.\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\nThe Quality\u00a0Pyramid\r\nAt the top of the Chablis hierarchy, the steep southwestern exposures of the region\u2019s grand cru vineyards yield complex, ripe wines. Even in warm vintages like 2009 and 2013, these wines possess ample structure and restrained power.\r\n\r\nThe seven grand crus are Bougros, Les Preuses, Vaud\u00e9sir, Grenouilles, Valmur, Les Clos and Blanchot. La Moutonne, shared between Les Preuses and Vaud\u00e9sir and used on labels by Ch\u00e2teau Long-Depaquit, is not an official grand cru (the owners forgot to register it) but is of similar quality.\r\n\r\nThese wines can age well for many years. If looking at a restaurant list, start with wines that go back five or 10 years. These are great main-course companions, especially the old vintages.\r\n\r\nPremier crus reflect their more varied terroirs\u2014Szablowski says each one is a different universe.\r\n\r\nHe has the same three-dimensional map that every Chablis vigneron uses to explain the layout of the vineyards. The earth-bound premier crus of the Serein\u2019s left bank are the southeast-facing slopes of Montmains, Vaillons, C\u00f4te de L\u00e9chet and Beauroy. The premier crus of the right bank\u2019s southwest-facing slopes look to the air and the sun: Fourchaume, Mont\u00e9e de Tonnerre, Mont-de-Milieu and Vaucoupin.\r\n\r\nThe premier crus may be served as ap\u00e9ritifs or paired with food. Try them with seafood or lightly sauced chicken, veal or pork.\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\nBlending at the Base\r\nThe next level of the quality pyramid is simply called Chablis. These wines are generally blends from different vineyards on slopes not quite at the premier cru level. Chablis represents a producer\u2019s style, while reflecting the weather variability that can give searing, shocking acidity one year and an almost honeyed character the next.\r\n\r\nThese wines aren\u2019t for long aging, so make your choice based on recent vintages. Use this category to bring friends from the taste of California to Chablis.\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\u201cLittle\u201d Chablis\r\nAt the base of the pyramid, Petit Chablis is Chardonnay planted on the plateau above the slopes in younger Jurassic soils known as Portlandian. These are fruity, gentle wines that are great as ap\u00e9ritifs. Light and bright, they\u2019re to be enjoyed in the year after harvest. Not much is imported, so when you find one, try it.\r\n\r\nMost Chablis producers make wine in every category, and none of them are terribly expensive. Even great grand crus are usually under $100 at retail. Compare that to the several hundred dollars being asked for grand crus from the C\u00f4te de Beaune or to the prices of top Sonoma, Napa and Central Coast Chardonnays.\r\n\r\nPremier cru Chablis retails for less than $50, while most Chablis and Petit Chablis are between $18 and $30. For a fine Chardonnay, these are bargains.\r\n\r\n\u00a0\r\n\r\nLa Colline des Grands Crus includes the seven grand crus detailed here.\r\n\r\nBougros (37 acres): Aroma is key to robust and rounded wines here at the northern end of the grand crus. Structure enters with a steep parcel called Les Bouguerots. Look for: Domaine William F\u00e8vre C\u00f4te Bouguerots.\r\n\r\nLes Preuses (26 acres): Stony, steep vineyards, the highest of the crus, produce structured, mineral wines. Look for: Domaine \u00adVincent Dauvissat.\r\n\r\nVaud\u00e9sir (38 acres): Two extraordinarily steep slopes face each other across a narrow track. Crisp wines face southeast; elegant and richer wines face southwest. Look for: Pascal Bouchard (a blend of both slopes).\r\n\r\nGrenouilles (23 acres): At the base of the slope, the most full-bodied, generous and open wines come from the richest soil of the grand crus. Look for: La Chablisienne Ch\u00e2teau \u00adGrenouilles.\r\n\r\nValmur (26 acres): This vertical cru is wedged between Vaud\u00e9sir and Les Clos. Elegant wines with a mineral backdrop have a great ability to age. Look for: Domaine Jean-Paul & \u00adBeno\u00eet Droin.\r\n\r\nLes Clos (64 acres): Less steep, on one long slope, it\u2019s the most homogenous and finest grand cru. The result: long-lived and structured wines. Look for: Domaine Christian Moreau P\u00e8re et Fils Clos des Hospices.\r\n\r\nBlanchot (31 acres): This southernmost cru turns southeast to catch the morning sun. Chalky white with blue lime soils, it \u00adproduces wines that are very mineral and crisply elegant. Look for: Domaine Laroche La R\u00e9serve de l\u2019Ob\u00e9dience.\r\n\r\n\u00a0\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\nFrench Chablis's Best Recent Vintages to Buy, Drink and Age\r\n2014 | Very crisp, this vintage combines great fruit with ample acidity. Drink the best from 2020. 94 points.\r\n\r\n2013 |\u00a0A hot vintage after weather disasters en route to harvest. Wines can be honeyed and are almost drinkable now. 90 points.\r\n\r\n2012 | Intense, structured wines, classic for their minerality and tight texture. Age the best examples for 10 years. 95 points.\r\n\r\n2011 | A vintage that brought out the fruitiness in Chablis. Delicious wines that may not last long, so drink now. 94 points.\r\n\r\n2010 |\u00a0The summit of Chablis, ripe wines that never lose touch with their terroir. Age the best; drink from 2017 and later. 96 points.\r\n\r\n2009 | Immediately appealing, these are now developing complexity, so don\u2019t worry about further aging. 95 points.\r\n\r\n2008 |\u00a0The first in a trio of fine vintages, the wines are ready to drink, even the grand crus. 91 points.\r\n\r\n2007 |\u00a0Chablis now mature; premier and grand crus are ready to drink. 90 points.\r\n\r\n2006 | A difficult vintage that showed the mineral side of Chablis. Drink now. 91 points.\r\n\r\n2005 | Rich wines with tropical fruit flavors. Considering this ripeness, the top wines have surprising longevity. 95 points.\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\nFood Pairing Tips\r\nLight in alcohol, refreshingly crisp, fruity but textured, Chablis appeals to Chardonnay lovers who want energy and poise in their wines.\r\n\r\nMichel Vignaud, chef and owner of Chablis\u2019s leading hotel, Hostellerie des Clos, has been cooking in Chablis for 35 years. As we sat in the bar of his restaurant, Vignaud told me to pair Chablis with anything from cold cuts to lobster, and especially with grilled or fried fish. He\u2019s even created a veal kidney dish that shows how grand cru Chablis can pair with meat.\r\n\r\n\u201cMy best Chablis memory,\u201d he says, \u201cis of a premier cru with fish that was simply grilled in butter with a touch of fennel. There was nothing between the fish and the wine. They were in harmony.\u201d\r\n\r\nChardonnay drinkers who taste Chablis for the first time are sometimes shocked. The pure fruit and intense, youthful acidity, the crispness and nervy texture without heavy oak, are like nothing else in the Chardonnay world.