Chardonnay vs. Sauvignon Blanc
Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc are two of the most common white wine varieties in France and the New World, and two of the most popular (and most purchased or drunk) white wine varieties in the United States.
When considering Chardonnay vs. Sauvignon Blanc, let’s start with a breakdown of the two grapes’ characteristics, body, and flavor profiles.
Chardonnay vs. Sauvignon Blanc: Characteristics
Chardonnay Grape Characteristics, Body, and Flavor Profiles
Chardonnay is a green-skinned grape variety that originated in the Burgundy region of France. As a varietal, it naturally produces relatively dry, medium-bodied, white wines with moderate acidity and alcohol.
Flavors and aromas commonly found in unoaked Chardonnay wines (though these greatly vary based on where the Chardonnay is grown) are: lemon, pear, apple, minerality, tropical fruit, etc.
Once oaked, the wines tend to emanate flavors and aromas of vanilla, spice, lemon curd, and other creamy or toasted spice-related aromas and flavors.
Sauvignon Blanc Characteristics, Body, and Flavor Profiles
Sauvignon Blanc is a green-skinned grape variety that originated in the Bordeaux region of France. As a varietal, it generally produces light-bodied wines that are high in acidity and with light to moderately high alcohol.
Like with Chardonnay, the body, alcohol, flavors, and aromas of a Sauvignon Blanc greatly depend on where the grapes are grown. However, the following aromas and flavors are commonly found in Sauvignon Blanc wines: grass, grapefruit, lychee, lime, tropical fruit, and green herbaceous notes.
Sauvignon Blanc from a region such as Marlborough in New Zealand tends to be light-bodied, bright, and crisp with classic flavor and aroma profiles that include more green (grassy or herbal) and grapefruit notes.
Whereas, Sauvignon Blanc from a region like the Napa Valley in California tends to be slightly fuller bodied, rounder, and more opulent. Alternatively, Sauvignon Blanc from the Loire region of France tends to be on the leaner and more mineral-driven side, with lots of citrus and mineral descriptors and razor sharp acidity.
Chardonnay vs. Sauvignon Blanc: Regions
Three of the most famous Chardonnay wine producing regions
Chardonnay originated in the region of Burgundy thousands of years ago but it was during the 11th century when a real focus started being placed on producing quality wines in the region.
Within Burgundy, there are multiple appellations (called Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée) that are world famous for their white wines (made from 100% Chardonnay) including: Chablis, Côte d’Or, and Mâconnais (within which is encompassed the well known sub-region of Pouilly-Fuissé).
Appellations like Chablis are known for their crisp, unoaked, and mineral driven Chardonnay, while appellations such as Mâconnais are known for a slightly fuller style with some oak and less crisp minerality (closer to a California Chardonnay in style than Chablis). Then there are other even more prestigious sub-regions such as Chassagne-Montrachet and Puligny-Montrachet (set within the Côte-d'Or appellation) that are known for their complex, oak-aged, age-worthy Chardonnays.
While white Burgundy (Chardonnay from Burgundy) tends to be quite expensive, the less expensive French Chardonnay options can generally be found from the Mâconnais region (look for Macon or Pouilly-Fuissé on the bottle).
Chardonnay is one of the three main grape varieties in Champagne, and the only white wine grape in the region. Most Champagnes are composed of a blend of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Pinot Meunier, or Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. There are a small number of Champagnes produced with 100% Chardonnay but these make up less than 5% of wines produced in the region of Champagne.
In a cool climate region like Champagne, Chardonnay tends to develop much higher acidity. When blended with Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, Chardonnay brings acidity, freshness, and body to a Champagne cuvée.
If you’ve ever drunk an amazing Champagne, chances are that you were drinking Chardonnay!
In the New World there’s no more famous region than the Napa Valley for Chardonnay. Though the region had been growing grapes and making wine since the 1800s, it was the 1976 Paris Tasting that really spearheaded Napa Valley’s rise to international acclaim. The globally recognized blind tasting competition (which primarily included top level European estates) tested Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon from California against some of the most prestigious producers in France. The end result? California ended up taking home top honors for Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon grown and produced in the Napa Valley.
The rest, they say, is history. After the momentous Paris Tasting results, California saw the number of wineries in the Napa Valley increase from just a couple of dozen or so in the 1980s to the few hundred that exist today.
While the style of Chardonnay produced in the Napa Valley has changed slightly over the years, it has generally been known for a more opulent style of Chardonnay with toasty and/or creamy notes (sometimes going so far as to be described as ‘buttery’) compared to Chardonnays from Burgundy. This is in part due to the warmer weather and vineyard conditions in the Napa Valley, as well as to the amount of new oak used in the making of Chardonnay in the Napa Valley.
Other renowned Chardonnay producing regions include: Willamette Valley, Oregon; the Sonoma Coast, Russian River Valley, and Carneros (Sonoma County); Margaret River, Mornington Peninsula, and Yarra Valley (Australia); the Anderson Valley (Mendocino)
Three of the most famous Sauvignon Blanc wine producing regions:
The Loire Valley (France)
When it comes to Sauvignon Blanc, it is the Loire Valley that is the most famous region world-wide for producing the varietal. For winemakers and vineyard owners around the world, the wines from the Loire Valley serve as inspiration. For wine drinkers and lovers of Sauvignon Blanc, they will never forget their first taste of a Sauvignon Blanc from the Loire Valley region.
While the origin of the Sauvignon Blanc grape is still debated (it’s either Bordeaux or Loire Valley), evidence exists of it being grown and produced in the Loire Valley region since the 16th century.
The most famous appellation in the Loire Valley for Sauvignon Blanc is Sancerre, which is renowned for producing some of the finest Sauvignon Blancs in the world. However there are a handful of other appellations, or sub-regions, that produce top-quality Sauvignon Blancs such as Touraine, Quincy, Menetou-Salon, and Pouilly-Fumé. Most at a more affordable price-point than Sancerre.
While Bordeaux is known primarily for its red wines, the region also grows and produces a couple of different styles of white wines and one of the three, key white grapes grown in Bordeaux is Sauvignon Blanc.
Sauvignon Blanc in Bordeaux is generally blended with Sémillon and/or Muscadelle to produce light, fresh, and fruity, easy-drinking white wines, or to produce richer, more complex, and silky sweet wines.
The most famous white wine from Bordeaux is Sauternes. Sauternes is a sweet, thick wine made from late harvest Sémillon, Sauvignon Blanc and Muscadelle grapes that have been affected with noble rot (a special type of rot that causes grapes to shrivel and therefore produce much more concentrated and sweeter wines).
Marlborough (New Zealand)
Marlborough, New Zealand has been a game changer when it comes to Sauvignon Blanc. Before their distinctive fresh, bright, and easy-to-access Sauvignon Blanc wines hit the international market, the only Sauvignon Blancs the average New World consumer had tasted were from California. And the only Sauvignon Blancs being drunk (or talked about) by most of the rest of the world, were from France.
Between the 1980s to the early 2000s, Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc rapidly made a name for itself, making its way onto supermarket and wine shop shelves all over the world, but especially within Australia and the U.S. The style and flavor profile of New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs was so unique that ‘New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc’ has taken on a life and reputation of its own, beyond the reputation of just the grape itself.
New Zealand now contends with France’s Loire Valley for the most famous Sauvignon Blanc producing wine region in the world.
Other renowned Sauvignon Blanc producing regions include: Casablanca, Chile; Napa Valley, California; Russian River (Sonoma County), California; Margaret River (Australia)
What pairs with Chardonnay?
Depending on whether a Chardonnay has been oaked or not, and where it has been grown/what the flavor profile is, different dishes and foods will pair well with it.
Some ‘classic’ oaked Chardonnay food pairings are: fatty or meaty fish and seafood dishes, such as salmon, fish with a butter sauce, pasta with cream sauce, and early Fall savory vegetables (such as butternut squash), etc. Savory chicken dishes and creamy risottos are also on the list.
Some foods that would pair well with unoaked Chardonnay are things like shrimp or prawns (with citrus in a salad is delicious!), crab cakes, sushi, or grilled fish.
What Pairs with Sauvignon Blanc?
Depending on the style of the Sauvignon Blanc (i.e. where it has been grown, how it has been produced, whether it has been oaked or not), different types of food may pair better than others. However, some good Sauvignon Blanc food pairings include: al dente vegetables (asparagus, zucchini, etc.), oysters, cheese (particularly tangy goat cheese with herbs like the kinds served in the Loire Valley region of France), seafood (lobster, crab, light white fish, etc.), savory citrus salads with chicken or seafood, etc.
Here are some of our favorite bottles of Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc!