Chardonnay vs. Pinot Grigio – Which is Best?

Chardonnay and Pinot Grigio are two of the most popular types of wine on the market. In fact, in the United States, Chardonnay accounts for 13.3 percent of the total wine sales market share.

All About Chardonnay

The name Chardonnay comes from the village of Chardonnay in the Mâcon region of Burgundy. It was spelled a variety of ways through the years until “Chardonnay” became standardized in the 1890s. The word “Chardonnay” means “place of thistles.”

Chardonnay is highly adaptable to a wide range of climates and soils. It is the most widely-distributed white wine grape in the world, planted in nearly every wine region. Chardonnay was created by accident with a crossing of Pinot Noir and Gouais Blanc grapes. Gouais Blanc is an obscure grape that is virtually non-existent in France today.

Chardonnay grapes are a white wine grape variety that is grown worldwide. The grape has a green skin and a neutral flavor which means that winemakers can affect the taste through technique, oak, and terroir. Chardonnay grapes are rarely blended into white wine blends with the exception of sparkling wines where they may be blended with Pinot Noir. Chardonnay grapes are a major portion in the production of Champagne as well as other sparkling wines such as Trento and Crémant. If you see the term “Blanc de Blancs” on a Champagne label, the wine is usually 100 percent Chardonnay.

The growing location has a broad impact on the flavor of Chardonnay wine. Chardonnay grapes are grown in warm climates such as Napa Valley or Australia generally have tropical fruit flavors such as pineapple, mango, or papaya and soft acidity. Chardonnay grapes are grown in cool climates such as Willamette Valley generally have flavors of apple, pear, peach, and citrus with bright acidity. The buttery or oak flavors of some Chardonnay wines are usually the result of winemaker choices and not a characteristic of the grape itself.

Chardonnay Wine Production

Burgundy, in France, is famous for its production of Pinot Noir grapes, a red grape variety, however, more Chardonnay grapes are produced there than Pinot Noir. Nearly 60 percent of Burgundy’s wine production is Chardonnay versus 30 percent for Pinot Noir.

Carl Wente immigrated to the United States and studied winemaking under Charles Krug in Napa Valley. He purchased 48 acres in the Livermore Valley in 1883 and expanded when his sons, Ernest and Herman, decided to join the family business. Ernest persuaded Carl to import Chardonnay cuttings from the University of Montpelier in France. They used these cuttings and Chardonnay budwood which had been brought to the United States from Burgundy in 1882 to engineer vines with favorable traits. These vines were replanted over 30 to 40 years and became known as the Wente Clone. This variety was planted in many California vineyards and is responsible for nearly 80 percent of all Chardonnay plantings in America today.

In 1941, there were less than 100 acres of Chardonnay planted in California. Today, Chardonnay grapes are planted on more than 100,000 acres throughout the state. Currently, Chardonnay wine is the best-selling wine in the United States – red or white! Americans drink over 840,000 bottles of Chardonnay per year!

The Taste of Chardonnay

Chardonnay wine has a reputation for being buttery, but the buttery flavor has more to do with Malolactic Fermentation than with being aged in oak barrels. This fermentation occurs when malic acid, derived from the Latin name for apple, converts to lactic acid after all the sugars have already been converted to alcohol. The result is a buttery, rounded texture. If the winemaker does not allow the Malolactic Fermentation to occur, the wine will taste tarter and crisper.

Chardonnay is also known for flavors of vanilla and toasted oak. The longer a winemaker allows the wine to age in oak, the more it will take on vanilla and earthy flavors. If you do not like those flavors, don’t give up on Chardonnay. Try one of the delicious bottles of unoaked Chardonnay. The full flavor profile of Chardonnay is illustrated in the flavor wheel below.

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The primary flavors of Chardonnay grapes are a yellow apple, starfruit, vanilla, pineapple, and butter. It is dry with a medium body and low or no tannins. Chardonnay wine has a medium acidity and at 13.5 to 15 percent alcohol by volume (ABV) – the amount of alcohol in an alcoholic beverage.

How to Serve Chardonnay Wine

Chardonnay wines do not require, nor do they generally benefit from aging. You can store Chardonnay wine for up to ten years as long as it is stored in a temperature-controlled environment, about 50 degrees Fahrenheit. Chardonnay wine is best served chilled between 43 and 50 degrees.

Chardonnay Food Pairings

Summer barbecues and unoaked Chardonnays go well together. Drink the wine with grilled poultry, fish, or lobster. Chardonnay wine also goes well with creamy soups, pasta with white sauce, risotto, sushi, and other shellfish.

Oaked Chardonnay wines pair well with crab cakes, pork tenderloin, halibut, mushrooms, and starchy vegetables like corn, squash or pumpkin.

Similar Wines

If you enjoy Chardonnay wine, you may also enjoy the following white wines:

  • Viognier
  • Savatiano
  • Roussanne
  • Trebbiano Toscano

All About Pinot Grigio

Pinot Grigio wine is one of the most popular Italian wine styles and is the second most popular white wine in America.

Pinot Grigio grapes are mutations of the Pinot Noir grape and originally come from Burgundy. The French call it Pinot Gris, but it is the same grape. The grapes have a distinctive grey, almost slightly pink color (Gris means grey in French and Grigio means grey in Italian.) The Germans have a variety of the grape that they call Grauburgunder which literally means the grey grape from Burgundy. Pinot Grigio grapes are also grown in California, Australia, and Slovenia, but even though they are the same grape, the wines differ in style.

The Pinot Grigio grape traveled from Burgundy to Switzerland in the 1300s and was one of the Emperor’s favorite wine varieties. The grape then migrated to northern Italy, and that is when they really became successful. Pinot Grigio grew successfully in the Veneto, Lombardy, Trentino, Friuli, and Alto Adige regions of Italy.

The first American Pinot Gris/Grigio grapevines were planted in Oregon in 1966 in Eyrie Vineyards.

There are approximately 71,000 acres of Pinot Grigio grapes planted worldwide. Here’s the breakdown:

  • Italy – 25,000 acres
  • United States – 16,000 acres
  • Germany – 12,500 acres
  • Australia – 7,000 acres
  • France – 6,000 acres
  • New Zealand – 3,700 acres
  • Austria – 550 acres
  • Hungary and Romania comprise the remainder.

Pinot Grigio Wine Production

The Pinot Grigio grape is actually a red grape with the distinctive blue-grey hue. The juice of the grape is pressed out of the grapes and the skins are discarded. The skins are very thin and imbue very little color to the juice. The wine usually has a light, straw color with a slight pink tinge.

Depending on the winemaker’s style, Pinot Grigio wine can be either light- or medium-bodied with a sharp acidity to almost full-bodied with a rich texture. They are generally produced as very dry, unoaked, and unblended.

Pinot Grigio grapes mature quickly and are usually one of the first grapes varietals harvested each year, sometimes as early as late August. This captures the perfect amount of acidy and brings out the bright fruity flavors. The Alcohol By Volume (ABV) in Pinot Grigio wines range from 11.5 to 13.5 percent and has a shelf life of three to five years.

It takes approximately six months to produce the wine, so it is usually ready by late winter or early spring. Chardonnay takes longer to produce and would only be half to three-quarters complete at this time. The Pinot Grigio is ready to drink as soon as it is bottled.

Pinot Grigio has three main flavor profiles that vary depending on where the grapes are cultivated.

Mineral and Dry

This style comes from northern Italy, Austria, and Hungary. It is usually produced in stainless steel tanks without any oak aging. The mountainous terrain ensures that the grapes have a high acidity and produce an exceptionally dry white wine. It is the classic Pinot Grigio which wine drinkers love for its simplicity and low fruit taste. It generally has an alcohol level between 10 and 12.5 percent Alcohol By Volume (ABV).

Fruit Forward and Dry

This style comes from warmer climates like Tuscany, Sicily, Abruzzo, Chile, Australia, and California. The taste is complex and rich, and it is a fruit-driven style. Aromas of lemon, apple, and peach will be predominant. The fruity aroma signifies that this wine style grew in a sunnier climate. This style will have less acidity and more of a smooth mouthfeel, due to the process of Malolactic Fermentation, which is a fancy way of saying that the wine acids undergo a transformation from malic acid to lactic acid. Fruit-forward Pinot Grigio wines are produced in stainless steel tanks or neutral barrels.

Fruity and Sweet

This style is produced in Alsace, France and is due to winemakers trying to reproduce a Hungarian sweet wine called Tokaji. Tokaji was popular with royalty in Transylvania and the Ottoman Empire. Fruity and sweet Pinot Grigio wine will have flavors of sweet lemon, honey, and honey crisp apples. Winemakers also use techniques to increase the mouthfeel texture by using late harvest grapes.

The Taste of Pinot Grigio

A typical Italian Pinot Grigio has a light, crisp, and floral taste. They are sometimes slightly sweet or off-dry.

The bouquet of Pinot Grigio wine is subtle and can smell like any of the following:

  • Citrus, such as lime or lemon
  • Apple or pear
  • Stone fruit such as nectarine or peach
  • Floral such as honeysuckle, orange blossom, or elderflower
  • Herbals such as mint or fennel
  • Other aromas such as honey, ginger, pepper, or almond

Here’s a quick cheat sheet for Pinot Grigio wines based on where they are grown:

  • Italian Pinot Grigio is generally totally dry with bright acidity and bitter almond note.
  • French Pinot Gris is more unctuous with light honey notes.
  • American Pinot Grigio usually has more extravagant fruit flavors and less acidity than its European relatives.

How to Serve Pinot Grigio Wine

Pinot Grigio wine is a young wine and is not meant to be aged but should be consumed within one to two years after bottling. It is best served well-chilled from 45° to 53°F.

Pinot Grigio Food Pairings

Pinot Grigio is a very versatile white wine and can be paired with a wide variety of foods. It pairs effortlessly with the lighter dishes of spring and summer and can also be used for cooking to add a depth of flavor without overpowering the dish. Try pairing Pinot Grigio with:

  • Seafood and shellfish
  • Poultry, pork, and cured meat dishes
  • Pasta with light sauces
  • Aged Gouda cheese, Brie, Camembert
  • Spring vegetables
  • Salads
  • Indian, Chinese, Thai, Japanese, and Tex-Mex dishes

Wines Similar to Pinot Grigio

If you enjoy Pinot Grigio, try some of these similar wines:

  • Albarino
  • Pinot Blanc
  • Unoaked Chardonnay
  • Muscadet
  • White Pinot Noir
  • Chenin Blanc
  • Grechetto
  • Friulano

What Are the Similarities Between Chardonnay and Pinot Grigio Wines?

Pinot Grigio and Chardonnay look nearly identical in a wine glass, but the similarities end there. Pinot Grigio is light with hints of green melon whereas Chardonnay is a little heavier and has hints of fresh-cut grass.

People also ask:

Which is sweeter – Chardonnay or Pinot Grigio?

Pinot Grigio usually tastes less sweet than Chardonnay due to its high acidity level.

Which is drier – Chardonnay or Pinot Grigio?

Chardonnay is a drier wine with a full-bodied, buttery taste. It also can have oak flavors and aromas.

Which is better – Chardonnay or Pinot Grigio?

This is subjective and depends on what you like. Pinot Grigio is light-bodied and has a crisp, citrus flavor, sometimes with a hint of honey. Chardonnay is the world’s most popular wine variety and it is a medium-bodied, dry wine with vanilla, smoky, oak (in oaked varieties) flavors.

What Are the Differences Between Chardonnay and Pinot Grigio?

Chardonnay and. Pinot Grigio is two of the most popular types of white wines in the world. Both wines, however, come from different-colored grapes with diverse flavors based on the different growing climates and soils. Chardonnay wine comes from green-skinned grapes and Pinot Grigio wine comes from grapes with a grayish-blue color.

Chardonnay has a fresh-cut grass aroma and Pinot Grigio is tart and light, with a hint of green melon. They look remarkably the same in the glass. Pinot Grigio is considered to be a simple wine while Chardonnay is more complex. American Chardonnays are mostly aged in oak barrels which infuses the wine with a buttery and creamy flavor.  A French oak barrel, now used by some American Chardonnay winemakers in Washington state give a cleaner, silkier taste to the wine.

The major difference between these two delightful white wines can only be discovered through tasting them.

People also ask:

Does Chardonnay Have A Higher Alcohol Content Than Pinot Grigio?

Both Chardonnay and Pinot Grigio have an ABV of 13.5 to 14.5 percent.

Highest Rated Chardonnays vs. Highest Rated Pinot Grigio[ii]

Best Under $50

Type of Wine

Winery

Name

Price

Rating

Chardonnay

Kistler

Chardonnay Carneros Hudson Vineyard

$48

97

Chardonnay

Kistler

Chardonnay Sonoma Coast Camp Meeting Ridge

$45

97

Chardonnay

Ramey

Chardonnay Carneros Hyde Vineyard

$48

97

Chardonnay

Shibumi Knoll

Chardonnay Russian River Valley Buena Tierra Vineyard

$45

97

Pinot Grigio

Weinbach

Pinot Gris Alsace Cuvée Ste.-Catherine

$48

94

Pinot Grigio

Zind-Humbrecht

Pinot Gris Alsace Vieilles Vignes

$45

94

Best Under $40

Type of Wine

Winery

Name

Price

Rating

Chardonnay

Rochioli

Chardonnay Russian River Valley J. Rochioli Reserve

$40

97

Pinot Grigio

Marcel Deiss

Pinot Gris Alsace Vendanges Tardives

$40

93

Pinot Grigio

Domaines Schlumberger

Pinot Gris Alsace Grand Cru Kessler

$30

93

Pinot Grigio

Domaines Schlumberger

Pinot Gris Alsace Vendange Tardive

$32

93

Pinot Grigio

Marc Tempé

Pinot Gris Alsace Zellenberg

$38

93

Pinot Grigio

Zind-Humbrecht

Pinot Gris Alsace Calcaire

$40

93

Best Under $30

Type of Wine

Winery

Name

Price

Rating

Chardonnay

Gainey

Chardonnay Santa Ynez Valley Limited Selection

$25

98

Pinot Grigio

Movia

Pinot Grigio Brda

$24

93

Best Under $20

Type of Wine

Winery

Name

Price

Rating

Chardonnay

Saintsbury

Chardonnay Carneros

$15

95

Chardonnay

Beringer

Chardonnay Napa Valley Private Reserve

$20

95

Pinot Grigio

Palmina

Pinot Grigio Santa Barbara Country Alisos Vineyard

$18

92

Pinot Grigio

Domaines Schlimberger

Pinot Gris Alsace Les Princes Abbés

$20

92

Best Under $10

Type of Wine

Winery

Name

Price

Rating

Chardonnay

Corbans

Chardonnay Marlborough

$10

92

Pinot Grigio

Columbia

Pinot Gris Yakima Valley

$10

89

Conclusion:

Choosing between two such popular wines as Chardonnay and Pinot Grigio is very difficult. Most notably, it comes down to whether you prefer a buttery and creamy wine (Chardonnay) over a tart and crisp wine (Pinot Grigio). It gets even more difficult to decide if you go with an unoaked Chardonnay whose taste will not be buttery. I suggest you try a variety of wines based on the lists above and decide what you like best. Pair the suggested wine to your dinner and determine how you like the combination. I prefer a delicious, buttery Chardonnay with meals but tend to order Pinot Grigio for sitting outside in the summer. It’s all a matter of taste, so enjoy the journey! To your health!!

 

Tammy Wunsch

Tammy Wunsch loves wine, vineyards, and travel. Her blog, ExpatWriter.com, prominently features these three topics, as well as information about living the digital nomad life. Tammy is the author of "The Navarre Brotherhood," an adventure novel about a search for the Knights Templar treasure. She lives in the Quiet Corner of Connecticut and spends her free time working on a sequel, planning her next trip, and seeking out new wines to share with friends.

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