Some 16km south of Pontigny, the pretty red-roofed village of Chablis is home to the region’s famous dry white wines. Lying in the valley of the River Serein, the town is surrounded by rows of vines, interspersed with yellow splashes of fields full of sunflowers. While wandering around the wealthy, modern village take a look at the side door of the church of St-Martin, which is decorated with ancient horseshoes belonging to sick horses left by visiting pilgrims – St-Martin being the protector of horsemen.
The wacky Corkscrew and Vineyard Museum at Beine, a ten minutes’ drive west of Chablis, is great fun; spot the phallic and occasionally X-rated bottle-openers and corkscrews, and indulge in a little wine tasting.
The combination of fossilized/limestone Jurassic soil, as well as a perfect vineyard climate with hard, wet winters and dry, sunny summers have made the village of Chablis one of the best-known names in dry white wines. Chablis follows the four Burgundy denominations in its own, particular way: the plots on a plateau are the cheapest, denominated as Petit-Chablis. The ones with a northern or eastern orientation (and thus limited sun exposure) are simply called Chablis. Those facing south or west are much more expensive and classified into 79 premiers crus. At the top of the pyramid are 103 hectares on the west side of the Serein facing south and comprising just seven grand crus that many believe produce the finest dry white wine in France: Blanchot, Bougros, Le Clos, Grenouilles, Preuses, Valmur and Vaudésirs. You can pick up a premier cru bottle in local cellars for €12 and a grand cru for less than €30.
For tastings try domain Jean-Marc Brocard in Préhy (wbrocard.fr); they use a unique biodynamic model of viniculture which they are happy to explain to you (in English). Vititours offer English-speaking tours that end in tastings (wchablis-vititours.fr). They can pick you up from any hotel within a 35km radius of Chablis, which includes Auxerre. The hotel Du Vieux Moulin also offers tastings of its own domain Laroche.