I know I know…
Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc?! They are as different as oil and water! Why would you compare them?
In some ways, yes. But there are several interesting overlaps that make a comparison between the two worth your time!
Let’s start with the most controversial of the two: Chardonnay.
General Flavor Profile of Chardonnay
Chardonnay. Your first thoughts are probably cream, butter, oak, apple, and pineapple.
Those are absolutely the flavors of most classic Chardonnays.
But what if I said you could also taste jasmine, almonds, lemon, and pear?
Chardonnay is an incredibly versatile grape, so you can find options that will stun your taste buds.
It’s just a matter of knowing where to look.
This is the variety of Chardonnay you are probably most accustomed to.
In fact, these wines are one of the reasons many people say they dislike Chardonnay!
For oaked Chardonnays, the grapes are allowed to age in oak barrels. These barrels impart their rich woody flavor.
The wines end up full of oak notes and tend to be bigger and riper with lower acidity.
Occasionally oaked wines also go through lees aging within the barrels. This gives them that bread or toast flavor.
However, oaked wines are a relatively new development. You’ll find them from regions like California, Chile, and other New World countries.
The original Chardonnay is much different!
For those of you who shy away from the big old oaks and rich butter, hope is not lost!
Unoaked Chardonnay was the original variety, and we still have it around.
These wines tend to be lighter and crispier. (Almost like a Pinot Grigio or Sauvignon Blanc.) They are aged in stainless steel barrels, so they retain the lighter, subtle flavors of their terroir.
Rather than oak, butter, or toast, you get the flavors of the grape itself. They are crisper, more acidic, and lighter!
Unoaked Chardonnay can be found from regions like France, Italy, and the United States.
What’s with the butter flavor?
One of the most iconic flavors of Chardonnay is butter.
This is caused by a process called malolactic fermentation.
Malolactic fermentation converts malic acid (which gives a wine that tart flavor) in lactic acid (making it creamy). The process is caused by bacteria called Oenococcus Oeni.
You will most commonly see malolactic fermentation in oaked wines since it tends to occur as wines age in oak barrels.
However, some unoaked wines are allowed to undergo malolactic fermentation as well.
Not all Chardonnays have this component. It is more common in California and New World Chardonnays. Wines from France only rarely perform malolactic fermentation.
A recent development allows only part of the wine to undergo fermentation, so wines will have a richer and creamier body. But, they won’t suffer any loss of acid or more subtle flavors. It’s a great way to add complexity without losing terroir!
The vanilla flavor you sometimes taste is separate and is caused by a compound called vanillan.
Warmer Climate Chardonnay
Chardonnay grapes are exceptionally sensitive to the terroir of the region they’re grown.
Because of this, Chardonnays can be incredibly varied in flavor profile!
Warmer climates tend to produce richer, more fruity and ripe wines.
These are the wines that are heavy on pineapple, papaya, peach, or starfruit. You’ll probably recognize these flavors as more “classic” California Chardonnay.
Best Warmer Chardonnay Regions: Napa Valley California, Chile, Australia
Cooler Climate Chardonnay
Chardonnay grapes originated in Burgundy, France which is a naturally cooler region.
Cooler Chardonnays are stronger on apple and citrus with notes of flowers or even nuts.
These climates produce wines that are less overly ripe, generally crisper, and finish on a vibrant citrus note.
Best Cooler Chardonnay Regions: Burgundy France, Ontario, Oregon
Chardonnay Food Pairings
Chardonnays are rich wines, so they should be paired with stronger flavors and creamy textures.
- Cheese: Cream cheese, Brie, Camembert, Cheddar, Blue
- Entrees: Shellfish (lobsters, scallops, crab), Creamy Pastas Risotto, Delicately seasoned chicken, salmon, or pork
- Apps: Bisques or creamy soups,
- Desserts: Crème Brûlée, Peach Cobbler, Apple Desserts
Price for a good bottle: $15-35
My Top Chardonnays
Chardonnay Dom. de Brau $15
This Chardonnay is aged in 50% new oak, so the wood palate is very strong. Fortunately, the heavy tropical flavors can handle added oak! Rich in pineapple and papaya, the wood keeps the wine from turning overly fruity. Serve with rich creamy seafood soups for a stormy summer evening!
Brea Wine Co. Unoaked Chardonnay from California $19
Stainless steel-aged Chardonnay creates a light wine full of freshness and acidity. Perfect for sunny summertime, the wine starts with white flowers, grapefruit, pear, and signature apple. But true to the richer, warmer Chards, Brea ends on pineapple and apricot. Delicious for a summer evening!
Eden Road “Long Road” Chardonnay from Australia $28
Aged for twelve months in 15% new French oak, Eden Road is just complex enough without losing any of its natural flavors. There is a strong natural acidity with flavors of lemon, but the oak adds a hint of smoke. A delicious Chardonnay for oaked and unoaked lovers alike!
Sauvignon Blanc is always a safe bet white wine.
It pairs wonderfully with food and it has remarkable versatility. You can find a Sauvignon Blanc for any occasion!
General Flavor Profile of Sauvignon Blanc
Sauvignon Blancs are known as the “green” wine. They have strong notes of grass, green bell peppers, lime, wet stone, and herbs.
They tend not to be very complex and are good for light sipping and refreshing a meal.
However, as with Chardonnay, a change of climate and some oak brings out a whole new side to these wines!