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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!
Main Differences Between Chardonnay vs Sauvignon Blanc
The Main Differences Between Chardonnay vs Sauvignon Blanc are:
- Chardonnay grapes are exceptionally sensitive to the terroir, whereas Sauvignon Blanc is known as the green wine.
- Chardonnay should be paired with stronger flavours and creamy textures, whereas Sauvignon Blanc is good for light sipping and refreshing a meal.
- Chardonnay can be incredibly varied in flavour profile, whereas Sauvignon Blanc has a generally fresh and zesty character.
- Chardonnay can be aged in an oak barrel, whereas Sauvignon Blanc is too light to stand up to oak-ageing.
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!
Warmer Climate Sauvignon Blanc
If you’ve ever had a Sauvignon Blanc and thought “this is fruitier than I thought!” chances are you were drinking one from a warm region.
Like Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blancs develop richer, riper, and more tropical flavors in warmer climates.
These wines have notes of peach, passion fruit, lemon, and even vanilla that enhance the typically green and crisp wine.
They are happy and bright and summery, as long as you don’t mind a glass of fruit with your veggies! When well balanced, they are some of the most refreshing wines you can taste.
Best Warmer Sauvignon Regions: California, Australia, Argentina, Spain
Cooler Climate Sauvignon Blanc
Again like Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc traditionally comes from a cooler climate. It originated in Bordeaux, France, where it is still grown today.
But unlike Chardonnay, it’s the traditional flavors that you most associate with Sauvignon Blanc rather than the new world, warmer varieties!
These wines contain flavors like grass, bell peppers, gooseberry, minerals, and green herbs that are typical of a Sauvignon Blanc.
For people who dislike green wines, these wines are the culprit. (Much better to try a warmer Sauvignon Blanc or even an oaked one!)
Best Cooler Chardonnay Regions: Bordeaux France, New Zealand, Italy, Oregon
Rising in Popularity: Oaked Sauvignon
There should be a saying “if you find white wine, there’s always someone who will put in oak.”
The growing trend of aging white wines in oak has spread to Sauvignon Blanc.
This is another of the interesting overlaps between Sauvignon and Chardonnay.
Sauvignon, in general, is too light to stand up to oak-aging. However, combine it with some Semillon or Viognier and suddenly you have a wine with enough body to handle a little oak.
These wines still retain their bright, green flavor profiles. However, those crisp flavors soften in aged oaked wine.
The oak also adds flavors like vanilla, licorice, and toast. This makes the typically bright Sauvignon more complex!
The best oaked Sauvignon Blanc is coming out of its home region of Bordeaux, France.
Sauvignon Blancs generally don’t go through malolactic fermentation so they retain their zesty acidic flavors.
You’ll find oaked Sauvignon Blancs coming from regions like Washington, Australia, and Bordeaux France.
Sauvignon Blanc Food Pairings
Sauvignon Blanc is an excellent wine to serve over dinner. It pairs with most summer entrees (think seafood and chicken) and almost any vegetable you can imagine. It is also one of the classic “wine and cheese” party wines.
- Cheese: Goat cheese, Gouda, Havarti, Sharp Cheddar, Gruyere
- Entrees: Thai dishes, Mexican dishes, Shrimp, Pesto Pastas, Roasted Veggies, Trout, Delicate fishes, Chicken, Vinaigrette, Salads, Asparagus, Peas
- Apps: Oysters, Olives, Crab Cakes
- Desserts: Key Lime Pie, Crème Brûlée, Olive Oil Cake
Price for a Good Bottle of Sauvignon Blanc: $12-25
My Top Sauvignon Blancs
Oyster Bay from New Zealand $12
Within a year of opening, Oyster Bay had won the World’s Best Sauvignon Blanc at the International Wine and Spirits Competition. They knew what they were doing from the start! Passion fruit, citrus, and gooseberry finish with a zesty lime finish.
Momo from New Zealand $16
My absolutely favorite everyday wine! A lovely, grassy, green New Zealand variety. Added flavors of creamy peach, guava, and grapefruit fill it with an exotic flavor. Perfect for a sip after work or a delicious seafood dinner!
Touraine Sauvignon Blanc, Pierre-O Bonhomme from Loire, France $19
Deliciously vibrant and summery. Heavy on Passion Fruit that can transport you to paradise with a single sip! Added flavors of kiwi and guava fill it with fruit. Very fruity and perfect for special occasions!
So… Which Is Best?
Well, that’s totally up to you!
If you’re just looking for a wine to sip with a Netflix show, go with your favorite.
If you’re pairing it with food, keep in mind Chardonnay can be too big for more delicate flavors and Sauvignon Blanc can be too green for a creamy dish.
If you love Sauvignon but want to try something new…go for an un-oaked Chardonnay.
If you love Chardonnay but want to branch out…go for an oaked Sauvignon.
In the end, you have to trust your own palate. You know what you like!
Frequently Asked Questions:
Chardonnay and Sauvignon can vary of flavour depending on the wine. But generally, Sauvignon Blac, has a more zesty and herby profile, much acid than Chardonnay, so is not considered a sweet wine. Chardonnay, on the other hand, can have a little of a sweeter sensation due to its fruity notes.
A good Chardonnay is always a great experience, but some experts suggest that serving it cooled, can release the aromas and rich flavours of the wine. For an oaked Chardonnay, serve it at 55 (F) degrees, and for a less oaked bottle, 50F should be fine.
For every kind of wine, a moldy or musty aroma is a sign that the bottle has turned bad. If the colour of the wine looks darker or you can feel a vinegar or astringent flavour, is time to trow that Chardonnay away.