Comparing Chardonnay and Riesling is relatively easy if you know the differences and similarities.
Riesling is not as trendy as Chardonnay other than in Germany, where the wine began. Chardonnay originated in Burgundy, France but has a strong foothold in many regions worldwide.
You can drink them as a sparkling or still wine. They also have nearly the same amount of dryness and alcohol, yet their flavor is ultimately different.
Understanding their differences when exploring Chardonnay vs Riesling helps wine drinkers know which wine to serve.
Chardonnay or Riesling
These two white wines have captivated palates worldwide for decades. The dry crispness and floral bouquet of Riesling and Chardonnay give these renowned wines distinction.
Yet, the difference between them is that Riesling usually has a slight sweetness and high acidity. And Chardonnay is generally dry.
Chardonnay takes on the characteristics of the winemaker’s knowledge and handling of the grape. Here, the Chardonnay grape may become dry to slightly sweet, aged in oak, unoaked, or the vintner may botrytize the grapes before pressing and fermentation.
Botrytized wines are naturally sweet and produced from grapes affected by Botrytis cinerea through particular conditions.
Also called noble rot, grey rot or noble fungus, it involves complex enzymatic conversions plus concurrent dehydration of the grape, resulting in a highly concentrated product.
In fact, winemakers can botrytize Riesling and Chardonnay to add another depth of palate. Vintners can make several types of wines from these two grapes, and most likely, your palate has enjoyed a few of them.
How are Chardonnay and Riesling Made?
The green-skinned grapes of Chardonnay grow worldwide, including in California, New Zealand, and many regions in Europe. Whereas the grape is neutral, the wine can take on different characteristics based on where it grows and the winemaker.
It’s primarily dry, medium to full-bodied, with moderate acidity and alcohol. Chardonnay has flavors ranging from lemon and apple to pineapple and papaya.
When aged in oak, it offers notes of vanilla as a secondary flavor. Other secondary flavors include cinnamon, nutmeg, and coconut.
Using the diacetyl process creates these flavors that give the buttery and creamy character of Chardonnay. Diacetyl is a byproduct of malolactic fermentation, converting malic acid (tart green apple taste) to lactic acid.
Immediately after harvest, the Riesling goes through a cold stabilization process, storing the wine just above its freezing point.
The wine stays at this temperature until most of the potassium bitartrate, acid salt of tartaric acid, has precipitated out of the Riesling wine.
After, the winemaker usually filters the wine, removing any remaining impurities like yeast. Most processes include sterile filtering to prevent re-fermentation in the bottle because the wine may contain the residuals malic acid and sugar.
What are Chardonnay and Riesling Made of?
The green-skinned grapes of Chardonnay make the wine. They adapt to many climates and produce a variety of wines. Chardonnay can taste rich and oaky or crisp and clean, depending on where it grows and the winemaker’s choices.
The Riesling is a fragrant white grape that delights the nose. It produces a floral white wine with fruit flavors. The grape originates in the Rhine River region that runs through parts of Germany, Switzerland, and France.
How are Chardonnay and Riesling Similar?
Chardonnay and Riesling are white wines that err on the dry side but have a fruity flavor. They come from neighboring countries where they are still popular. Yet, both grow in other parts of the world.
Chardonnay produced in Australia has a flavor and sweetness closer to Riesling than a classic Chardonnay. On occasion, Australian Chardonnay and Riesling offer notes of lime based on where they grow in specific regions of the country.
Winemakers can produce Riesling and Chardonnay in any style, from sparkling to table wine, dry to sweet. Both are exceptionally versatile, and you can enjoy them young or aged. Each one is an excellent wine and affordable – $10.00 to $15.00.
If your preference is a light-bodied, sweet wine, then have a Riesling, but if you like a medium to full-bodied, dry wine, then it’s Chardonnay. Yet, their differences are minimal at the end of the day.
The choice weighs on personal tastes. Pick and choose until you’ve found the one you like the best.
Chardonnay Vs Riesling
- Riesling comes from Germany, while Chardonnay comes from France
- During the mid-19th century, Riesling gained popularity worldwide. Chardonnay grows in many countries, including England, the United States, and New Zealand.
- Chardonnay grapes thrive in limestone and chalky soils, while Riesling grows in blue slate but can grow in another terroir.
- Chardonnay can express the region where it grew in its taste profile, and the Riesling can do the same.
- Growers harvest Riesling grapes early in the year to capture their acidity and crispness, whereas growers harvest Chardonnay later in the year when they have fully ripened.
- Chardonnay has a dry (medium to full-bodied) fruity flavor of lemon, apple, papaya, and pineapple with moderate acidity. Riesling is crisp with tasting notes of apricots, apples, peaches, pineapples, pears, and bright citrus fruits.
- Riesling has high acidity levels, whereas Chardonnay has moderate acidity.
- It’s best to enjoy Chardonnay within three to seven years, while Riesling is two to five years.
- The bottle price of a Riesling ranges from $6.00 to $45.00, while Chardonnay ranges from $10.00 to $70.00.
- The ABV range of Chardonnay is usually 12 to 14 percent, whereas Riesling is around 12 percent.
- Riesling has a sparking look of white wine, and Chardonnay is a white wine with a rich, buttery appearance.
Growers plant more Chardonnay grapes than Riesling grapes, with Chardonnay ranking second as the most planted grape worldwide.
Riesling ranks 20th worldwide with a reputation as a favorite among wine connoisseurs and grandmothers. Its popularity in the Old World never gained fame in the New World like Chardonnay.
Riesling remains the top harvest in Germany, extending approximately a quarter of all Germany’s vineyards. Winemakers outside of Germany hardly ever oak Riesling, while oaked Chardonnay is standard.
Older and used barrels age the Riesling, so the barrels don’t impart many flavors into the wine. Otherwise, it will conflict with the wine’s natural flavors and not complement them.
Therefore, Riesling is sweeter than Chardonnay. Again, it depends on the winemaker. When crafted in Germany, Riesling is dry, while the New World wine is sweeter. Yet, Chardonnay is usually dry, but a late harvest can make the wine sweet. Furthermore, Chardonnay is the main grape in Champagne, ranging from sweet to bone dry.
On average, Chardonnay has more alcohol content than Riesling, with 12 to 14 percent. German Riesling is generally under 12.5 percent and, at times, can go as low as seven percent.
The United States or Australia Rieslings come close to the alcohol content of Chardonnay but typically reach around 13.5 compared to Chardonnay’s 14.5 percent.
How to Drink Chardonnay and Riesling
Typically, a 750ml bottle of wine will serve five 5-oz glasses. Serving Chardonnay at the ideal temperature of 53° to 58° Fahrenheit ensures the ideal aromatics while enhancing the flavor in the wine glass.
The host can place the bottles in the refrigerator or ice bucket with water within an hour before serving.
Burgundy glasses work best for enjoying a glass of Chardonnay. When serving, you can fill the glass below the widest section. That way, the wine gets a chance to breathe, accentuating the aromas and flavors.
Chardonnay pairs well with seafood, Italian foods, fish, pasta, and roast meat. Some even drink the wine with desserts.
Riesling can chill for 90 minutes in the refrigerator at around 47° Fahrenheit since it’s a light and acidic wine. Serving it cold and fresh brings out the wine’s incredible bouquet. Pour a glass third of the way, then swirl, sniff and appreciate the flavors.
Highly acidic, Riesling pairs well with various spicy food like Thai, Mexican, Indian and Asian cuisine. If you have a mildly sweet Riesling, try pairing it with Indian curry and spicy cuisine.
Aligoté also grows in Burgundy and is the secondary wine of the area, but not widely planted. Aligoté is comparable to Chardonnay, with notes of underripe stone fruit, white flowers, and apples.
It holds an appealing minerality and high acidity like the cool-climate, unoaked Chardonnay. Aligoté has a leaner profile and is a light body on the palate, and it’s worth a try as an alternative.
Roussanne is a rare grape variety, but you’ll find it with white blends of Rhone Valley. Still, if you find a bottle, it’s a good option for an oaked Chardonnay.
Mainly grown in southern France and blended with Viognier, Marsanne, and Grenache Blanc, Roussanne offers notes of stone fruit, citrus, white flowers, and honey. Creamy and full-bodied on the palate, it’s a suitable alternative for Chardonnay.
Gewurztraminer is like the Riesling for an intense floral aroma; some consider it the most aromatic white grape you can find.
It has some identifying and unique fragrances, including citrus fruit notes and dominating lychee, ginger rose, and baking spices. However, Gewurztraminer is a low acidity wine, medium-bodied, and leans toward residual sugar – similar to off-dry Rieslings.
Muscat Blanc comes from Greece as an ancient wine grape still used to make dessert and sparkling wines worldwide. The most well-known is the slightly sparkling, sweet Moscato d’Asti of Italy.
Yet, other versions you can find are Muscat Blanc and Muscat-family varietals, like Muskateller from Austria, Moscatel from Spain, and Muscat of Alexandria in dry to off-dry styles.
With their sweet, fruity aromas of orange, lemon, orange blossom, honeysuckle, and pear, Muscat Blanc is an excellent alternative to Riesling.
Frequently Asked Questions
Which Came First, Chardonnay or Riesling?
Riesling has a long history but is still younger than the Chardonnay. The wine started in 1330 when Cistercian monks planted Chardonnay grapes within their Abby.
Some say March 13, 1445, is the day Riesling vines started in Germany, attended by noble families and the Benedictine and Carthusian monks.
Which is Stronger Chardonnay vs. Riesling?
Alcohol By Volume, Chardonnay is stronger than Riesling. Chardonnay ranges from 13.5 to 15 percent. Riesling varies from seven to 12 percent.
Is Chardonnay more popular than Riesling?
Yes. Chardonnay has 31 percent of the wine market and is one of the top three wines worldwide.
According to Dr. Liz Thach, MW, Riesling doesn’t rank in the top ten wines in the United States. Though, it holds its own in Germany as the most grown variety. The Europeans also like to drink an excellent glass of Riesling.