Petit Chablis vs Chablis: it’s a big showdown, but is there a big difference between the Chardonnay-based siblings? I put a fine example of each in the ring together and let them slug it out.
Some Chablis Background
Its location up in the cooler, northern tip of Burgundy means the Chablis region of France produces wines that are more steely/acidic and less soft and fruity than other Burgundys. A lack of oak ageing, plus plenty of time spent fermenting with the deceased yeast (aka “on the lees”) also give Chablis a bready character reminiscent of Champagne, which is made nearby.
Chablis is split into four categories which, in theory, increase in quality (and price) as they decrease in vineyard size. The two most important aspects affecting this four-tier classification are soil type and vineyard position. The most expensive wines come from sloped south-facing vineyards (meaning more sunlight) containing ancient, Jurassic-era limestone soil. They tend to be more complex, with greater depth of flavour.
Grand Cru occupies the top level, with Premier Cru breathing down its neck in second place, followed by standard AOC Chablis, while little Petit Chablis (on average only about £2 cheaper than AOC Chablis), brings up the rear.
But while Petit Chablis is grown in the less prestigious vineyards, its junior status doesn’t mean it’s bad. Not at all. Any wine that carries the Chablis name has to conform to minimum requirements and, as I found in this little experiment, the difference between AOC Chablis and good Petit Chablis can be tough to discern.
In the red corner, the title holder: a 2016 Society Chablis (on the right in the photo above). This exhibited a somewhat more discernible yeasty, “Champagney” character, smelling like it had maintained longer lees contact than the Petit Chablis (although I don’t know for sure if this is actually the case). As expected, white fruit dominated on the nose, with refreshing, acidic citrus in the mouth.
In the blue corner: the Domaine Séguinot-Bordet Petit Chablis. This wasn’t quite as strong on the nose as the Society’s wine, but it retained the trademark Chablis flinty, yeasty character. Even the bluntest of noses would be able to pick this out as a Chablis, no problem. And on the palate there was even less to choose between the two wines. White fruit, stony minerality and youthful citrus still dominated here.
There’s really not much daylight between these two wines, with the Society’s Chablis winning the fight on points in a split decision, due to its marginally more up-front nose. To be fair, the Séguinot-Bordet is a particularly good example of Petit Chablis (the estate also produces Grand Crus Chablis), and these wines are similarly priced.
One thing this little battle has shown me is that the line between the Chablis/Petit Chablis classifications is blurred. Don’t be naive enough to assume you’ll prefer one to the other, just because of its ascribed status and price. I’d pick the Séguinot-Bordet Petit Chablis in preference to many cheaper Chablis AOCs, such as the previously reviewed Lidl Chablis, any time.
The Society’s Chablis 2016, 12.5% volume, is available for £14.50 from The Wine Society