All wines in the appellation are white wines from Chardonnay grapes (although there are some smaller minor appellations nearby that produce wines from Pinot Noir, Aligoté, Sauvignon Blanc and others). The area is made up of 20 or so small villages clustered around the centrally located village of Chablis. The region is divided in two by the Serein River.
The Grand Crus of Chablis are connected on a chain of three interlocking slopes on the right bank overlooking the Serein. The 7 Grand Cru vineyards are (from southeast to northwest): Blanchot, Les Clos, Valmur, Grenouilles, Vaudesir, Les Preuses and Bougros. The Premier Crus are situated on a series of hillsides both on the left and right side of the river. The best Premier Crus are, like the Grand Crus, on the right bank facing the southwest (notably, Fourchaume vineyard, located one mile to the north). The soil is a unique combination of clay and chalk called Kimmeridgian, and it is profusely littered by fossils of comma-shaped oysters. It gives the wines a unique profile of aromas and flavors. It is often referred to as a gout de la pierre la fusil, or gunflint character. Another oft-mentioned characterization is that of "wet rocks". The fruit flavor is very reserved, as Chablis' northern location produces grapes that just barely reach an acceptable level of ripeness. Expect green apples, pineapples and pink grapefruits. Finally, the wines are also typified by their bracing acidity, often unforgiving in the wines youth (but improved by decanting young vintages before serving), which allows the wines to age very well.
The 2002 vintage in particular will age exceptionally well for years to come.
Abuse of the name "Chablis"
In an attempt to gain an association with the high-quality French wines, the name "Chablis" has also been used on bottles of generic-quality American-grown white wine (eg, California's Central Valley) with no connection with the French region. This is an example of foreign branding. The practice became common enough that "Chablis," attached to a American domestic wine, ultimately came to convey an image of cheapness.