In terms of production and consumption, these two white wines lead the pack. And while both are hugely popular among wine lovers, they have distinct flavor profiles. Let’s take a closer look at the delicious differences between Chardonnay vs Sauvignon Blanc.
In styles both buttery rich and crisply dry, Chardonnay is a titan among white wines. Meanwhile, Sauvignon Blanc has its own legion of loyal followers, who enjoy its more fragrant and fruity notes.
And while both originated in France, their flavor characteristics now vary widely depending on the international wine regions that produce them.
In this easy-to-follow guide, we’ll take a closer look at each wine’s flavor profile. Plus, we’ll review ideal food pairings, body styles, average cost, and more.
- The origin of Chardonnay
- The origin of Sauvignon Blanc
- Chardonnay flavor characteristics and aroma
- Sauvignon Blanc flavor characteristics and aroma
- Acidity in Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc
- Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc: Body
- Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc: Color
- Chardonnay food pairings
- Sauvignon Blanc food pairings
- Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc: Cost
- Chardonnay vs Sauvignon Blanc summary
- More wine tasting guides
The origin of Chardonnay
Chardonnay hails from the Burgundy region of France, which is located in the eastern part of the country. Researchers believe the earliest forms of the wine may have first been produced during Roman times.
Chardonnay grapes are actually an offshoot of several other grape varieties, having derived from Pinot Blanc, Gouais Blanc, and Pinot Noir (a wine grape traditionally used to make red wine).
Along with Pinot Noir, Chardonnay is now one of Burgundy’s two dominant grape varieties. And in terms of global production, it’s the most widely grown white wine grape, with about 519,000 acres of Chardonnay vines worldwide. It grows well in both warm and cool climates.
Apart from France, Chardonnay is widely produced in the United States — particularly California, Oregon, and Washington state — Australia, New Zealand, South America, and Italy.
The origin of Sauvignon Blanc
Originating in central France’s Loire Valley, Sauvignon Blanc is believed to date back more than five centuries. But it wasn’t until the 1700s that it began to gain popularity in both the Loire Valley and in the Bordeaux region of France.
Like Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc also has a connection to red wine. But instead of being derived from a red wine grape, it helped produce one; and a major one at that.
It was crossed with the red Cabernet Franc grape to create Cabernet Sauvignon, — now the most widely planted wine grape in the world.
Sauvignon Blanc now ranks behind only Chardonnay as the world’s most planted white grape variety.
It thrives in regions with mild temperatures. In addition to France, other major Sauv Blanc-producing regions include the United States, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa.
Chardonnay flavor characteristics and aroma
Flavor profile is a main difference between Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. But the wine-making process also plays a large part, especially in how Chardonnay can be fermented and aged.
Like with other wines, both climate and processing can affect Chardonnay’s flavor profile.
Chardonnay produced in warmer climates, including parts of California and South Africa, tends to have notes of peach, apple, pineapple, and fig. These wines are often aged in oak barrels to both bolster the wine’s body and produce additional flavor characteristics.
Cooler climate Chardonnays, such as those produced in Europe and parts of North America like Oregon, often exhibit more citrus flavors, along with apple, honey, and mineral characteristics. These wines are typically not oaked; rather they’re often aged in stainless steel tanks.
Oaked vs unoaked Chardonnay: What does it mean?
When referring to oaked vs unoaked, we mean how the wines are fermented and stored during the winemaking process.
Oaked wines are stored and aged in oak barrels for at least part of the process, which can include both fermenting and aging or aging only. The oak barrels can impart rounder, softer flavor profiles, along with notes of spice and vanilla.
On the other hand, unoaked chardonnays are not aged in oak barrels. Instead, the wine is fermented and aged in stainless steel tanks before its bottled. This generally produces a bright, dry wine with a lighter body and crisper finish.
Why is some Chardonnay buttery?
More full body Chardonnays are often referred to as “buttery.” This descriptor can apply to both the taste and the texture of the wine. It’s created using a process called Malolactic Fermentation (MLF).
MLF is a second fermentation that the wine goes through. During this process, bacteria convert malic acid in grapes into lactic acid. Malic acid naturally tastes like tart green apples, but lactic acid is soft and buttery.
This yields wines that have a round, creamy mouthfeel and a slightly buttery flavor and aroma.
Sauvignon Blanc flavor characteristics and aroma
Usually aged in stainless steel, Sauvignon Blancs are fruit-forward wines. Typical flavors range from green apple, melon, and white peach to tropical fruits like papaya and passion fruit, depending on the growing region.
For instance, those produced in France tend to exhibit more citrus, peach, and grassy flavors than those made in New Zealand, which feature more tropical flavors.
In terms of aroma, notes of passion fruit, mango, nectarine, and fresh-cut grass are common, as are mineral characteristics like wet concrete and chalk. Don’t worry, the wines themselves won’t taste like that, but those minerally aromas can help give them a pleasantly dry finish.
Acidity in Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc
Acidity levels in Chardonnay often track with the climate in which it is produced. Those grown in warmer climates tend to have medium to low acidity.
Higher temperatures allow the grapes to ripen more, which decreases acidity levels and produces more natural sugar. Those sugars also help moderate and balance the acid in the wine grapes.
Cool climate Chardonnays often have higher levels of acid. That’s because the lower temperatures delay ripening, keeping natural sugar levels in the grapes low.
Sauvignon Blanc often has high acidity, which is due primarily to the cooler regions in which the grapes are grown. The acid in the wines coats the sides of your tongue and awakens the mouth when you drink them. And you’ll often detect some zingy tartness. It’s a big reason why Sauv Blancs tend to be bright and zesty.
Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc: Body
As we noted, how they’re fermented and aged affects the body of Chardonnay wines. Oaked ones are generally more full-bodied; unoaked wines are usually crisper and lighter.
And because oaked Chardonnays often align with warmer growing regions, they also are typically higher in alcohol. That’s because as grapes ripen, they produce more sugars. The longer they stay on the vine and the more sun they’re exposed to, the higher sugar levels they’ll contain. That sugar is later converted to alcohol during the fermentation process.
The alcohol content in warm-climate Chardonnays often can get as high as 15% ABV. Colder climate ones average between 13-13.5% alcohol by volume.
The body for most Sauvignon Blancs ranges from medium light to very light. This applies to those produced in nearly all growing regions worldwide. Exceptions include warmer areas like California and Spain, which produce a slightly fuller-bodied style of wine.
Alcohol levels in most Sauvignon Blanc wines fall between the 12.5% to 14% range.
Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc: Color
Unoaked Chardonnay is generally pale or light yellow in color. That’s due in part because they have little or no exposure to oak barrels during the fermentation and aging process.
By contrast, oaked Chardonnays are often a darker gold or yellow. Often, the longer the Chardonnay has been oaked, the richer the color. A darker hue also can also indicate it has undergone malolactic fermentation, so along with a rich golden color, it will also have a rich and buttery taste and texture.
Sauvignon Blanc is on the lighter side of the white wine color spectrum. They’re generally pale yellow to light straw or gold in color.
In some cases, you may see slight hues of green in Sauvignon Blanc, resembling some of its green apple and grassy flavor and aroma profile.
Chardonnay food pairings
Creamy dishes with richer sauces, and more succulent seafood, can complement more full-bodied Chardonnays. Pair them with dishes like Lobster Pasta, Grilled Bacon-Wrapped Scallops, or Stuffed Pork Loin.
Sauvignon Blanc food pairings
These light-bodied wines pair well with white meat, whitefish, and shellfish. So foods like shrimp, halibut, and chicken are all great options.
Good cheese pairings include softer varieties like brie or feta.
Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc: Cost
Because Chardonnay is so widespread and varied, prices range widely as well. Very high-quality Chardonnays can fetch $100 and more, but you don’t need to spend that much to enjoy a nice bottle. You can often find good Chardonnay for around $25 dollars at many wine shops and grocery stores.
Sauvignon Blanc is often affordable in terms of wine prices. Many fetch around the $15 mark per bottle and are suitable to be consumed right away. Some higher-end bottles can cost $30 to $50. Expect to pay even more for very high quality selections.
Chardonnay vs Sauvignon Blanc summary
Here’s a quick breakdown of the main differences between these most popular white wines.
- Primary growing regions: France, United States, New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, South America
- Worldwide growing acres: 519,000
- Body: Medium-light to full
- Color: Pale yellow to rich gold
- Acidity: Low to medium-high depending on climate
- Flavor notes: Citrus, apple, honey, pineapple, peach, fig, and minerals
- Cost: $25+ for ready-to-drink Chardonnay; $50 and up for higher quality
- Primary growing regions: France, United States, New Zealand, Australia
- Worldwide growing acres: 299,000
- Body: Light to medium-light
- Color: Pale yellow/green to light gold
- Acidity: Generally high
- Flavor notes: Green apple, melon, passion fruit, papaya, citrus, white peach
- Cost: $15+ for ready-to-drink; $30 and up for higher quality
More wine tasting guides
Learn about more wines and their distinct flavor profiles by checking out the posts below.