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How does Chardonnay compare to Sauvignon Blanc?

Three wine glasses with white wine.
Quick Quiz! Identify which is a Sauvignon Blanc, Oaked Chardonnay, and Unoaked Chardonnay.

Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc are two white wines that are thought of as being wildly different from each other. But, there are situations where I think of them as being somewhat similar. Let’s look at their typical characteristics to get a better picture of these two very popular wines, then identify each wine in the picture above.

Sauvignon Blanc Taste Profile

The hallmark of Sauvignon Blanc is its high acidity and green herbaceous notes. Let’s break down its taste profile a bit further.

Color: Pale straw with a hint of green.

Flavors & Aromas: Citrus notes of lemon and green apple and herbaceous notes of bell pepper and cut grass.

Structure: high acidity, dry (no residual sugar), medium body, and around 12-14% alcohol by volume.

Find out more details about the Sauvignon Blanc taste profile.

Chardonnay Taste Profile

Chardonnay is unique because it can be produced using three different methods. It can be aged in oak barrels giving it a full, rich, oaky flavor. It can be aged in steel tanks giving it a light, bright taste profile. And the last method is by creating a sparkling wine or Champagne. We’ll stick with the first two methods which result in what is called “still” wine (meaning there are no bubbles).

Oaked Chardonnay (ie. matured in oak barrels)

Color: Deep gold. This is because the oak adds color to the wine giving it that deep golden hue.

Flavors & Aromas: Stone fruit notes of peach and tropical notes of pineapple and banana. Additional notes of vanilla, toast, and butter come from the oak barrels.

Wine Structure: Medium acidity, dry (no residual sugar), medium- to full-body, 13-14% alcohol by volume.

Unoaked Chardonnay (ie. mature in stainless steel tanks)

Color: Medium straw. This is a yellowish hue that falls between the pale yellow of the Sauvignon Blanc and the deep gold of the oaked Chardonnay.

Flavors & Aromas: Citrus notes of apple and lemon.

Structure: High acidity, dry, light- to medium-body, and 12-13% alcohol by volume.

Find out more details about the Chardonnay taste profile.

Differences between Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc

The reason these two wines are thought of as wildly different is because an oaked Chardonnay is going to have a fuller body, deeper color, less acidity, and riper fruit flavors than a Sauvignon Blanc.

On the flip side, these two wines can be somewhat similar. This is because both unoaked Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc have medium-body, high acidity, and citrus notes.

Because unoaked Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc share these key characteristics this also means they’ll have similar food pairing options like shellfish, oysters, and lightly seasoned poultry.

Take another look at the picture below to identify which is the Sauvignon Blanc, the oaked Chardonnay, and unoaked Chardonnay. (answers are below the picture.)

Three wine glasses with white wine.
Which wine? #1: Oaked Chardonnay, #2 Unoaked Chardonnay, #3 Sauvignon Blanc.

Top Regions for Sauvignon Blanc

The top producing regions for Sauvignon Blanc are France and New Zealand. In France, this grape is grown in the Loire Valley in a region called Sancerre. Since France labels it’s wines by region, you’ll need to look for Sancerre on the label instead of Sauvignon Blanc.

The best Sauvignon Blanc in New Zealand comes from the Marlborough region. You don’t have to worry about any tricky naming, as the wine will be labeled as Sauvignon Blanc.

Top Regions for Chardonnay

The best-producing regions for Chardonnay are France, California, and Australia. To find unoaked Chardonnay look for French wine labeled Chablis*, Bourgogne Blanc, and Mâcon-Villages. California’s Russian River Valley which is part of Sonoma Coast has some production of unoaked chardonnay. Australia’s Margaret River region produces unoaked chardonnay.

For the oaked variety, look for French wine labeled Meursault, Puligny-Montrachet, and Chassagne-Montrachet. These are all regions within Burgundy, France. From California look for oaked Chardonnay produced in Napa Valley, Paso Robles, and Lake County regions. And lastly, from Australia look for oaked Chardonnay produced in Mornington Peninsula, Yarra Valley, and Adelaide Hills regions.

Chardonnay vs Sauvignon Blanc Wrap Up

Sauvignon Blanc is going to have that higher acidity and green herbaceous notes that typify this type of wine. Chardonnay (the oaked version and most common on American shelves and menus) will be richer, fuller, heavier, with riper fruit flavors. In the meantime, sneaky unoaked Chardonnay will have similar characteristics to Sauvignon Blanc which are high acidity, medium body, and citrus notes. The trick is to figure out which Chardonnay wine has not touched oak barrels. Enjoy your wine journey! Cheers!

*Chardonnay labeled as Chablis is unoaked, while Premier Cru Chablis is sometimes in oak, and Grand Cru Chablis is commonly matured in oak.


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