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Sauvignon Blanc vs Chardonnay: How to know the difference

Okay, so at this point you know you like white wine, but there are still so many choices. You find yourself wondering how do I know the difference between Sauvignon Blanc vs Chardonnay. Which white wines taste dry and which taste sweet? And what about Moscato? While I won’t answer all of your questions today, I will share enough basic differences between Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc that you may start to impress your friends with your information.

chardonnay vs sauvignon Blanc; two bottles of wine to demonstrate the difference between the two.

Chardonnay vs Sauvignon Blanc: The grapes make the difference

Most wines get their names from the grapes used to make them. If you get a wine that says blend on the label , then the wine makers used several types of grapes. Sometimes the creators will list the varietals with the percentages of each type of grape on the bottle.

However, wines made with the same types of grapes often have more differences between them then wines using different grapes grown in the same soil. For instance, take two different Chardonnays, both grown in the same vineyard, but each tastes different. How can that be, you ask? The difference comes from the terroir. This refers to the soil and the conditions the grapes are grown in. One vine grows in sandy soil on the side of a hill that receives a lot of sun. The other grows in a valley where it receives more moisture and minerals from the soil. These conditions will effect the taste.

What is Chardonnay?

Chardonnay is now the most widely planted grape variety, globally.

Wine Folly

Wine makers create Chardonnay from green wine grapes that produce a full bodied, dry, white wine. They are a very neutral grape, meaning they take on flavors from their environment and the way they are aged. These grapes originated in Eastern France but have migrated around the world to places from United States to New Zealand. Chardonnay from France has more of a mineral taste compared to the buttery taste of California chardonnays. This example demonstrates how wines are influenced by the terroir of the grapes. Champagne comes from Chardonnay grapes, but in that case, wine makers introduce yeast during fermentation causing the bubbles.

What does Chardonnay taste like?

As I have already pointed out, it depends where the grapes are grown. When grown in a cool climate the grapes take on a crisp mineral flavor. You might taste hints of green fruits such as apples and pears. However, when grown in a warmer climate the grapes develop a fruitier taste. You will experience notes of melon, peach, and citrus. These wines also tend to have higher sugar levels.

Can Chardonnay be aged?

Sometimes winemakers age Chardonnay in oak barrels for a richer, more complex flavor. Most white wines must be drank between 1 and 3 years after bottling to preserve the flavor. However, Chardonnay grapes have a natural acidity which helps them survive the aging process.

What differentiates Sauvignon Blanc?

Sauvignon grapes lend their name to Sauvignon Blanc wine. These grapes grow in the south of France. Sauvignon Blanc has a lighter body compared to Chardonnay, which has a medium body. These grapes originated in the Bordeaux region of France, but now exist world wide. Sauvignon Blancs have a crisp taste with an acidic component.

What does Sauvignon Blanc taste like?

As with Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc gets its flavors from the terroir. When grown in cooler climates you will taste grassy notes, fresh flowers, and bell peppers. Whereas a warmer climate will cause the wine to develop hints of tree fruits. Wine makers age Sauvignon Blanc in stainless steel tanks to maintain the flavors.

Do Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay have tannins?

Tannins naturally occur within grape skins. People mistakenly think that winemakers create white wines with green grapes and red wines from red grapes. However, the grape skins give wine the red color. Manufacturers discard the skins when creating white wines, while they include them when mixing juices for red wines. The skins cause the red wines to have tannins. Therefore, white wines don’t usually contain tannins. The exception occurs when wine makers age Chardonnay in oak barrels. Those wines absorb some of the tannins from the oak.

Sauvignon Blanc vs Chardonnay food pairing: What should I serve these with?

People generally serve white wine with lighter foods. Both make good accompaniments for fish dishes, chicken, vegetable dishes, and white sauces. However, if you choose an aged Chardonnay, you may want to pair it with smoked fish or Asians food. The richer taste infused from the oak barrels stands up nicely to the cornucopia of spices found in Asian cuisine, as well as the complex taste of smoked fish. And if you prefer white wines rather than reds, you can even pair a full bodied Chardonnay with a steak instead of a rich Tempranillo. It is really a matter of preference.

Sauvignon Blanc vs Chardonnay, which wines did we compare?

We tried Honore de Barticot Sauvignon from France and L’Arca Chardonnay from Italy. Interestingly, these tasted similar. Both felt light and crisp. The Chardonnay had a lighter color than those darker golden wines from California. This leads me to believe that it wasn’t aged. I definitely would have confused this Chardonnay with a lighter wine.

Key Points:

  • The difference comes from the grape.
  • Both wines have a dry feel rather than sweet.
  • Different taste comes from the terroir.
  • Chardonnay contains tannins when aged in oak barrels.

Hopefully this cleared up some of your questions. Now you have increased your wine knowledge and have gained some understanding about how wine gets its different flavors. Impress your friends with what you’ve learned at your next gathering.

Donna Emperador is a creative blogger and copywriter. Donna believes in learning about different cultures while sharing good food and wine. She has lived in South Florida for over 20 years and enjoys spending time traveling and making wine culture easier to understand for readers.

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