White magic Chablis is the northernmost part of Burgundy, in France, and almost all the wines made here are chardonnay. The cool climate makes the chardonnay dry with a crisp acidity that is known as " goût de pierre à fusil", defined as tasting flinty or steely. The soil here is a Kimmeridgian clay, a composition of limestone, clay and fossilised oyster shells that is also seen in parts of Champagne and in Dorset, across the English Channel.

The best of this area's wines come from around the town of Chablis. From a spot at the top of the town, facing southwest, one can see a panorama of the best grand cru chardonnay vineyards - Bougros, Les Preuses, Vaudesir, Grenouilles, Valmur, Les Clos and Blanchot, all planted along the valley of the Serein River before it flows into the Yonne. La Moutonne is an unofficial grand cru because it is recognised by the Bureau Interprofessionnel des Vins de Bourgogne but not by the Institut National de l'Origine et de la Qualité. These distinguished grands crus comprise about 3 per cent of Chablis' annual production.

Forty premiers crus are produced in Chablis, but you may not get the full picture from their labels; small wineries are allowed to use the names of nearby, better-known producers - name dropping at its best!

What is the difference between a grand cru and a premier cru? The latter has about half a degree less alcohol by volume.

Very little oak is used in the production of basic chablis, with the grand cru and premier cru wines getting some time in oak barrels.

Another distinction is petit chablis, which is planted on higher ground in soils with a Portlandian composition - more limestone and rocks, and whiter in colour. The best examples are found just above the grands crus of the town of Chablis. The appellation was created in 1944 and a typical petit chablis is a light zesty version, with a notable flinty mineral base.

The appellation of Saint-Bris, around the village of Saint-Bris-le-Vineux, near Auxerre, produces a quirky wine - sauvignon blanc with a little bit of sauvignon gris. These wines are best described as a lighter version of Sancerre - more citrus (grapefruit and lime) and less grassiness. There are about 100 hectares under cultivation but how did sauvignon come to be made here?

The most likely answer is neighbourly envy as the Loire Valley - where sauvignon grapes thrive - is not too far away and Saint-Bris' winemakers might have sought to emulate the area's success after their own vineyards were destroyed in the 19th century by a phylloxera epidemic.

A unique part of Chablis is Irancy - a commune that was once popular but has been overshadowed by its cousins in the Côte-d'Or. Irancy lies in a valley that shelters precious pinot noir vines from winter frost (but perhaps with global warming this could become less of a threat), making it the most northerly part of Burgundy in which the fickle grape is grown.

Several producers have persevered with this wine and, in 1999, it was rewarded its own appellation d'origine contrôlée.

Irancy wines are a delicate pale ruby with aromas of tinned cherries in their youth, with the single vineyard versions showing more smoky bacon and mushrooms on the nose. They are delicious served slightly chilled.

Nellie Ming Lee is a food stylist and part-time sommelier studying with the Court of Master Sommeliers.