Chablis is located in northern Burgundy (Bourgogne), although the town and its vineyards are located a considerable distance (more than 60 miles/100 km) north-west of Burgundy’s main wine-producing areas around Nuits-Saint-Georges, Beaune, Chalon-sur-Saone and Macon. They are in fact closer to Sancerre (Loire) and Les Riceys (southern Champagne). Consequently, Chablis has a cooler climate than the rest of Burgundy, which contributes significantly to the style of wine its vineyards produce. The effects of terroir on wine can be seen more clearly in Chablis than almost anywhere else.
A key division within Chablis lies between terroirs with Kimmeridgian soils and those with Portlandian soils. Kimmeridgian soil is more highly regarded; it contains greater levels of mineral-rich clay, as well as the essential marine fossils which are responsible for its significant lime content. Kimmeridgian soils are the source of the trademark minerality in Premier Cru and Grand Cru wines from Chablis. By contrast, Portlandian soils are not so rich in clay and fossils, which results in slightly fruitier wines with a less mineral profile. Petit Chablis wines are most often grown in Portlandian soils.
Chablis wines are made in a style rather different from those produced elsewhere in Burgundy. They are drier and fresher, rather than more weighty and richly flavored. Unlike typical Burgundian white wines, which are barrel fermented, Chablis is usually entirely free of any oak influence. Very few Chablis producers use oak barrels in their winemaking and the exceptions are restricted to the higher-quality wines, whose extra complexity and depth mean that the wines are not overpowered by oak flavors.