Not sure how to choose between Chardonnay vs. Chablis? You’re not alone. There’s some confusion between these wine terms. You’re about to find out the difference and everything else you need to know
The difference between Chardonnay vs Chablis is simple. Chardonnay is a white wine grape, while Chablis is a French wine region. All white whites made in Chablis come from Chardonnay grapes. However, chardonnay wines made in other places are not called Chablis.
1) What is special about Chardonnay made in Chablis?
Located in the cool climate of Burgundy, Chablis style Chardonnay has more acidity, and less fruit than Chardonnay made in other places. A Chablis will give you a pure taste of chardonnay grapes because Chablis wines are exclusively made from chardonnay grapes. Unlike Chardonnay made in California, Chablis rarely has vanilla or butter flavors because Chablis is rarely aged in oak barrels. The highest levels of Chablis wine like the Grand Cru (i.e., “the great growth”) are typically aged in oak barrels.
Chablis wines also are subject to French wine laws and customs. For instance, French wine law sets a variety of quality standards like the “Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée” (AOC) standard. These wine standards and requirements mean you can feel confident in the quality of the wine.
2) How much does Chablis cost?
It depends on where you buy it! The least expensive way to buy Chablis, like any wine, is to buy it from a store and enjoy it at home. In contrast, you will typically pay higher prices when you order Chablis from a restaurant. The good news: you don’t have to worry about spending over $100 to enjoy a quality bottle of Chablis wine.
Let’s assume that you are looking for Chablis from an online wine store like Wine Library. In that case, you can easily find bottles of Chablis for less than $30, such as the 2019 Vincent Dampt Petit Chablis ($18.99) or the 2019 Domaine Du Colombier Chablis ($19.55). It is probably best to avoid trying to find Chablis for much less than $20.
Suppose you find that you like Chablis; consider trying out some of the higher quality wines. Checking on Wine Library, I found two higher end Chablis: 2018 Roland Lavantureux Chablis Grand Cru Bougros ($99.99) and 2018 Roland Lavantureux Chablis 1er Cru Fourchaume ($54.99). As a general rule, certain types of Chablis, like a Grand Cru Chablis wine, will typically sell for more than $50 per bottle. It is generally best to start with lower-priced Chablis to see if you like it and then buy higher-priced wines later.
Tip: Look closely at the wine label before you buy! I have seen some American wines call themselves “Chablis,” even though they are not made in France. If you are looking for a French wine specifically, such wine labeling practices can confuse you. You can double-check in several ways, like looking for “Product of France” on the label or “AOC” (Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée).
If you buy a glass of Chablis in a restaurant, the pricing will be pretty different. The typical wine markup in a restaurant is two and a half times (i.e., 250%) of the wholesale price. If a restaurant buys a bottle of wine at $20, then you might end up paying more like $50 for the bottle in a restaurant. The relatively higher wines’ prices in restaurants are a fundamental reason why waiters and sommeliers will offer you a small taste of wine before pouring a full glass. It is your opportunity to decline the bottle and request something different if you happen to dislike the wine.
Fortunately, there is a simple way to handle Chablis’ price differences as a beginner. At first, start by buying wines at home. For example, you could try three different bottles of Chablis for less than $100 at home. Once you find one or two styles of Chablis you like, you can then make a note of those preferences and order those when you go out to restaurants.
3) Chardonnay vs Chablis: What food pairings work?
In general, Chardonnay and Chablis go with the same kinds of foods. The reverse is also true. Chablis and Chardonnay generally do not pair well with foods like red meat (e.g., beef) and spicy foods. Those intense flavors will overpower a Chablis.
Let’s start by looking at some of the most popular Chablis wine pairings. Typical Chablis food pairings include seafood (e.g., oysters, mussels, and shrimps) and cheeses (e.g., goat cheese, Gouda, and Gruyère). Further, you can also enjoy pommes frites and sausages with Chablis. With seafood, make sure you choose a dish without sauce or seasonings for the best experience.
In contrast, an oak-aged Chardonnay will pair well with most of the foods mentioned above. There are some differences. With oak-aged chardonnay pairings, you can pair the wine well with salmon. In addition, an oaked chardonnay goes well with white meats (i.e., chicken and pork) with a fair amount of seasoning. You can also enjoy an oak-aged Chardonnay with pan-seared scallops.
To fully explore the nuances and differences between Chardonnay vs Chablis, consider having a wine tasting at home. Invite a few friends and explore three or four different bottles of wine over an evening. For example, you might buy two bottles of Chablis wine and ask your friends to bring their favorite bottle of California chardonnay.
4) Is Chablis wine sweet or dry?
In general, Chablis wine is a dry white wine. Specifically, you can expect less than 5 grams of residual sugar per liter as a general rule. As a dry white wine, Chablis works well with the main course rather than as a dessert drink. If you are looking for a dessert wine to enjoy, I suggest looking for an ice wine from Canada or a port wine from Portugal.
The Chablis dryness level is easier to understand by looking at a few examples. The following Chablis have all recently platinum awards, according to Decanter, a leading wine magazine.
- Les Clos Clos des Hospices (Domaine Christian Moreau Pére et Fils). This Chablis wine won a platinum award in 2018. It is dry with less than 5 grams per liter of residual sugar and a 12.8% alcohol level.
- Mont-de-Mileu (Domaine Pinson). Like the white wine mentioned above, this white wine has won platinum awards. It is dry with less than 5 grams per liter of residual sugar and a 13% alcohol level.
- Vaulorent (La Chablisienne). From the 2014 vintage, this Burgundy Chablis is dry with less than 5 grams per liter of residual sugar and a 13% alcohol level.
As the list above shows, you can have varying alcohol levels in a dry white wine even when you are comparing between chardonnay vs chablis.
5) Is Chardonnay wine sweet or dry?
Chardonnay is generally made as a dry white wine. That means you can expect minimal sugar like a Chablis. However, the details of a specific wine can vary. For example, a late harvest chardonnay white wine would taste relatively sweet. When in doubt, you are safe to assume that any chardonnay wine you see in a restaurant is a dry white wine.
Let’s look at sugar levels in Chardonnay from outside the Chablis area to see if they have a similar residual sugar level. My favorite Chardonnay wines have come from California; let’s take a look at those wines in terms of sweetness levels. The below examples also come from Decanter.
- Winemaker’s Reserve Chardonnay (Luna Vineyards, Napa Valley, California). The 2018 vintage earned a 94 score from Decanter with 14.1% alcohol. It is a dry wine with 5 grams of residual sugar.
- Estate Grown Chardonnay (Chalone, California). This 2016 vintage earned a 92 score from Decanter with a surprisingly high alcohol level (14.8%) for a chardonnay. It is a dry wine with 5 grams of residual sugar.
- Chardonnay (Chalk Hill, Sonoma Coast, California). This 2018 vintage earned a 88 score from Decanter and a 14% alcohol level. The 100% chardonnay wine has 5 grams of residual sugar.
There’s one distinction to keep in mind with Chardonnay and sweetness. Chardonnay wine aged in oak will tend to pick up some new flavors such as vanilla and butter. Some people perceive these flavors as sweetness even though there is relatively low sugar in the glass. If you dislike the effect of oak aging in wine, you might prefer to pick up a Chablis because they are less likely to be aged in age.
6) What serving temperature is ideal for Chardonnay vs Chablis?
As dry white whites, Chablis and Chardonnay are best served at 42–50 °F (5–10 °C). If they are served too cold, the wine’s taste will suffer. If you are served a wine tool cold, smell it. If you smell very little, give the wine a few minutes to warm up by holding it in your hands.
Putting a bottle of Chardonnay or Chablis in your refrigerator to cool it can help. Keep in mind that most refrigerators operate at 40 °F (4 °C) temperature below the ideal serving temperature. Therefore, putting a bottle for a few minutes makes sense. If the bottle stays too cold, allow the temperature to rise for a few minutes before serving it. To speed up the warming process, hold the glass of wine with both of your hands simultaneously. You will probably find that the wine’s flavor changes as it changes temperature.
Curious About Other More French Wines?
Now that you know the difference between chardonnay vs chablis, why not discover some other French wines? You could find out about the most famous sparkling wines of the world in my introduction to the Champagne Wine Region. For those who want a good overview of all the wonders of French wines, I recommend an excellent Audible course: The Everyday Guide to Wines of France (Audible).