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July 19, 2023

In Defense of Chablis Wine: The Benchmark for Chardonnay

When someone exclaims “I hate Chardonnay” this certified sommelier and wine educator lights up. Instead of rolling my eyes or feeling frustrated that an ABCer doesn’t love my beloved Chardonnay, I look at it as an opportunity to lead them on a journey of discovery and to debunk the idea that there is only one style of Chardonnay. This is a perfect time to introduce them to Chablis wine: the benchmark for Chardonnay. 

To begin with, this idea of “oaky, buttery” Chardonnay came from a time in the 80s and 90s when the nascent American wine palate enjoyed said style. A style of toasty, oak aged Chardonnay that had gone through full malolactic fermentation/conversion, producing wines with extreme dairy notes. These stylistic choices in the winery created wines that were overtly toasty, oaky, buttery, and with lactic notes. The prime examples hailed from California, with Rombauer being the poster child for this style. Like any good thing, the style went too far, and some of these wines were structurally unbalanced and cloying. Consumers to this day, suffer from residual PTSD from those over oaked and overly round Chardonnays, which is why I am here in defense of Chablis wine.

Chablis Wine For the Win

It is quite easy to “defend” Chablis wine from the ABCer. The single best way to do this is with a taste. 67% of Chablis production is exported, and the US is the #1 export, meaning that it’s an “easy to find” wine. Tasting is, by far, the most effective way to open someone’s mind to a new wine, a new grape, or a new region. In this case, a maligned grape (Chardonnay) from a “new to them” region (Chablis). And bonus points if their first Chablis wine taste can include food. Chablis’s acid backbone, freshness, and finesse make it a food friendly wine. Like salt, Chablis can season the food and “lift” it. 

On the back end, we know there are many arguments for Chablis wine. Chablis does not carry any of the same characteristics of the wine that turned someone into an ABCer in the first place. Chablis wine is generally unburdened by oak. When oak is used, it is used judiciously, with a large percent being used and/or neutral.

Chablis Wine: From Soil to Glass to Pairings

The unique interplay of Kimmeridgian soils (limestone, clayey marl, and oceanic fossils) and Portlandian soils (younger with limestone but no clay or fossils) contribute to what makes Chablis wine so special. At the top end of the Chablis wine quality pyramid, 1% is classified as Grand Cru. These wines are rich, textured, and elegant, pairing with everything from crab to curry to burgers. The Grand Cru sites carry the Kimmeridgian soils with the desirable oceanic fossil elements. Premier Cru covers a larger area of Chablis and also produces wines of high quality. Both Crus include plots with specific geological and climatic conditions and enhanced by winegrowers.

The general Chablis wine appellation covers 66% of the region and produces wines that are pure, crisp, and with minerality; with the same Kimmeridgian soils as the crus. Petit Chablis wines are primary, versatile and all-purpose. An accessible entry into Chablis wine both stylistically and in pricepoint. Chablis wine is the perfect gift for your next special occasion!

We tend to homogenize varieties. Case in point: Chardonnay is oaky and buttery. Nope, not accurate! It can express itself in a full spectrum of styles. Chardonnay, one of the most versatile grapes on the planet, is not a monolith and does not deserve to be pigeonholed. It has many moods and many colors. And in Chablis, we have a very small area, with one grape producing a wide array of styles and quality levels.

Nobody puts Chablis in a corner. Chablis chablam!

To experience Chardonnay and so many other types of wine for yourself with an expert Sommelier, join Brianne Cohen on a wine tasting event today. 

I hope you enjoyed this post. If you’re looking to Up Your Wine Game and Drink Better, consider booking a private in-person or virtual wine tasting experience.
Brianne Cohen Wine Educator
Brianne Cohen is a Los Angeles-based certified sommelier, wine educator, consultant, and writer.

Brianne has educated and entertained over 10,000 people through her in-person and virtual wine tasting experiences.

Brianne holds the WSET (Wine & Spirits Education Trust) Diploma certificate, one of the most coveted wine certifications in the world. When she’s not helping people Up Their Wine Game, she can be found judging at international wine competitions

Brianne aims to make wine approachable and conversational, to surprise and delight with unexpected wine finds, and to give people knowledge (and confidence) about wine in their everyday lives.

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Sample Policy

As a wine writer, I frequently accept samples for review on my  website and on my social media channels. Please contact me at brianne@briannecohen.com to discuss sending samples for review. I promise to always be honorable with the samples. I will evaluate all wines in good tasting settings and with no distractions.

All reviews are my opinions, and mine only. Because of the volume of samples I receive, I cannot promise that all samples received will be reviewed, but I will do my best.

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