Sauvignon Blanc vs Chardonnay

April 23, 2012 Blog » Wine Tips & Tricks » Sauvignon Blanc vs Chardonnay

a chilled glass of chardonnay on a hot day

what's not to love?

Take a closer look at Sauvignon Blanc vs Chardonnay and get a better understanding of the remarkable difference between the two most popular white wines.

Sauvignon Blanc vs Chardonnay

There is a gap between white wine drinkers and red wine drinkers. It is like the gap between roller bladers and skateboarders or the choice of being a snowboarder or a skier. I say: here we are on a snowy mountain, who gives a shit what kind of sled I use to go down?

White wine has carved out a niche as the gateway drug into the wine world.

Perhaps you do not give two shits about white wine and that’s fine, however I’d like to point out that of all the red wine that pumps out of Burgundy every year (the homeland of beloved pinot noir) there is a much larger ocean of chardonnay that is consumed year after year. So let this be a clue for you, proof that white wine is not going out of style. Additionally, since it tends to be more affordable and pairs nicely with cheese, white wine has carved out a niche as the gateway drug into the wine world.
Ripe Chardonnay Grapes on the Vine

Chardonnay, Homecoming Queen

Flavor Profile

When I blind taste chardonnay, I pick it out when I notice the apple flavor. It’s apple + [something] whether it be lemon, pineapple or butter (depending on what region it’s from). From the moment you put it in your mouth until the finish, it fills your palate with weight, texture and flavor; chardonnay is full-bodied.

Buttery Chardonnay

Chardonnay tastes buttery when it’s oak aged. An alcohol ester comes from the oak (vanillan) and adds the vanilla-like flavor and the creamy texture popular in many French and American chardonnays. Oak is probably most commonly used in chardonnay, however it’s increasing in popularity in other varietals too such as semillon, sauvignon blanc and antao vaz (Portugal)

Warm Climate Chardonnay Yellow apple, pineapple and Meyer lemon are all common flavors that come out in warmer climate chardonnay. The texture is a little wider and fatter on the tongue. Warm climate chardonnay also tends to have less acidity and higher alcohol. Warm climate chardonnay regions include Australia, California and Argentina.
Cool Climate Chardonnay Green apple, lemon, lime and this tingly cement rock are flavors of cool climate chardonnay (Cement rock like in 3 Ways to Taste Minerality). Higher acidity is common as is the flavor and acidity running more centrally down the middle of your tongue. Cool climate chardonnay regions include France, Oregon, Mendocino County and parts of Chile (such as Valle de Casablanca).

Read the ArticleRead about unoaked chardonnay

Common Chardonnay Food Pairing

As a full-bodied white wine, chardonnay is perhaps one of the few white wines that can pair well with a variety of foods. The best and most common food pairings with chardonnay are:

  • shellfish (such as scallops, abalone, clams)
  • crab & lobster with a weightier oaked chardonnay
  • chicken with cream sauce
  • creamy polenta
  • cream-based soups
  • richer fish such as salmon, sturgeon and swordfish
  • soft cheeses


Sauvignon blanc has looser clusters than chardonnay

Ripe sauvignon blanc. It has looser clusters than chardonnay


Sauvignon Blanc, Boyfriend Stealer

Flavor Profile

Sauvignon blanc is herbal. It is the wine I lean on when I want to get my vegetable fix for the day. Tasting like green bell pepper, grass and tomatillo it’s a vegetarian food lover’s dream come true and it’s origins in the Loire valley (the “garden state” of France) probably have something to do with that. Look for Touraine, Pouilly Fume and Cheverny for an example of a traditional sauvignon blanc.

Oak Aged Sauvignon Blanc

I’d like to point out a wine-making technique with sauvignon blanc that’s growing in popularity: Oak-aging. When you blend sauvignon blanc with semillon (a very ‘Bordeaux’ thing to do), turns out it has enough body to hold up to a little oak treatment. It makes a wine that has the creamy and buttery character of a chardonnay but without all the fruit. The regions that are doing a bang-up job of this are Washington State, Australia and the Bordeaux region in France. Try one, they will make your grandpa happy.

Warm Climate Sauvignon Blanc Traditionally sauvignon blanc is from cooler climates, however with a long-standing presence in Napa it takes on more peach, passion fruit and kiwi-like flavors. Regions that grow sauvignon blanc that are warmer are California, Australia and Washington State.
Cool Climate Sauvignon Blanc A classic French example of sauvignon blanc is loaded with grassy herbal notes of thyme, bell pepper and gooseberry and a flinty cement-like mineral character. It has a lot of punch up front from the herbal notes and medium-length lighter zesty finish. France, Chile and New Zealand produce cool climate sauvignon blanc.

Common Sauvignon Blanc Food Pairing

Sauvignon blanc with its more herbal flavors and sprite-like character make it a terrific wine to use with foods that use more green vegetables in their preparation and goes well with lighter vinegar-based sauces or green sauces. The most common pairings with sauvignon blanc are:

  • risotto with asparagus
  • pesto sauce
  • tacos with salsa verde
  • lighter white flaky fish such as tilapia, halibut and trout
  • pasta salad
  • roasted vegetables (brussel sprouts, celery root, squash)

By Madeline Puckette
I'm a certified sommelier and creator of the NYT Bestseller, Wine Folly: The Essential Guide to Wine. Find me out there in the wine world @WineFolly