The white wine grape holds within it a plethora of unique textures, delicious flavor notes, and sumptuous aromas. Among the most notable are the chardonnay and the sauvignon blanc.
If you haven’t had a chance to try these out, never fear! Updating your white wine vocabulary will not only include learning about regions, but also food pairings and recipe ideas. What is the best white wine for a risotto? What kind of varietal should you choose for that white cheese, table grape, and salami charcuterie?
Learn more about chardonnay vs sauvignon blanc so you can pick out the perfect white wine for your occasion.
What’s The Difference Between A Grape Variety, A Varietal, And A Wine Type?
These are simple distinctions that can often trip up beginner wine drinkers. Once you learn the difference, though, you’ll be set up to explore an entire world of wine complexity.
To start things off easy: grape variety and varietals are one and the same! They simply refer to the grape used to create the wine, such as the sauvignon blanc, the cabernet sauvignon, and the pinot noir. A wine type, however, is a more broad classification. Think red wine, white wine, sparkling wine, rose, and Moscato. A wine type not only involves a cluster of grape varietals, but it also has to take into account the production methods involved.
Muscat is the grape varietal, while Moscato is the wine type (and while it’s often fizzy, there are exceptions). The production method of the wine type rose, as another example, involves leaving the juice in contact with the skins for a short period of time to create that classic rosy color. Starting to make sense?
Is White Wine Healthy For You?
Red wine often comes with the fine print of having health benefits. How true is this statement? This phenomenon has been heavily studied in the medical community over the years, with sometimes contradictory information emerging on the matter.
Too much alcohol, as you will likely know, will always be bad for you. It puts extreme stress on your liver — the part of your body that filters out toxins — and can lead to long-term health problems like liver damage, hypertension, and addiction. In moderation, however, wine can actually be quite wonderful for your physical well-being. Resveratrol is a type of antioxidant found in all types of wine, providing your body protection against cell damage. White wine is not often cited in discussions of wine and health, but it does have a sizable amount of resveratrol.
Drink your white wine in moderation and mix it in with a recipe now and again. You’ll be giving your body an antioxidant boost it’ll appreciate.
How Are White Wines Generally Distinguished From Each Other?
Whilst it’ll be a while before you can eat out at a restaurant or bar safely, that doesn’t mean you can’t still figure out the minute differences between each white grape varietal as you cook at home or enjoy a wine-and-movie night.
White wine grapes have just as much complexity as red wine grapes, with tendencies toward certain flavor combinations and mouthfeels. The most well-known are chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, riesling, pinot grigio, and muscat. Lesser-known white grape varietals you might come across are pinot gris, grenache blanc, and airen. Common flavors you’ll enjoy are tart fruits such as pineapple, gooseberry, lemon, lime, and nectarine, with some varieties skewing toward floral and stonefruit. Mouthfeels can range from very dry to juicy and smooth.
That’s only the tip of the surface. The Grüner Veltliner is a white grape variety that can get a little spicy and there are some chardonnay bottles with downright oily, buttery mouthfeels. Speaking of which…
Chardonnay Vs Champagne
Now that you’ve gotten to dip into the world of white wine, let’s first distinguish between chardonnay and champagne. This is a very common mistake for new wine drinkers and for good reason.
They’re both white wines boasting pale colors and frequently pulled out during a celebration. This is an unsurprising mix-up, considering chardonnay is one of the major white wine grapes planted in the Champagne region of France. The biggest distinction between these two drinks is that champagne is fizzy while chardonnay is not. Champagne is also sometimes used as a generic term for any sort of sparkling wine, though true champagne has to actually be grown in the region it’s named after to be deemed legitimate.
Now for a vocabulary refresher. Champagne and chardonnay are both white grape varietals, but champagne has the additional distinction of being a very unique wine type that is inherently linked to a specific region.
Chardonnay Vs Sauvignon Blanc
Crisp and delicious, both chardonnay and sauvignon blanc are the undisputed champions of the white grape. They easily make up the majority of white wine sold around the world and are often the first tried by new wine drinkers.
Let’s start off with the similarities. Both chardonnay and sauvignon blanc are green-skinned white grape varieties, which contributes to their glistening golden and soft beige colors. They also have a tendency to lean toward smooth, tart, and dry mouthfeels. This is about where the similarities end, as chardonnay is often celebrated for how delightfully buttery and creamy it can get. Your chardonnay bottle is more likely to feature flavor notes of vanilla, butterscotch, and tropical fruits like pineapple.
Sauvignon blanc, on the other hand, is even drier and leans toward fruity tart flavors like nectarine, lemon, and gooseberry. While chardonnay is sometimes used for risotto recipes, I prefer sauvignon blanc for its bright and zesty notes. Chardonnay vs sauvignon blanc is a common question that you can finally share the answer to with your friends.
Sauvignon Blanc Vs Sauvignon Gris
Another interesting contrast that you may come across in your wine journey is the closely related sauvignon blanc and the sauvignon gris. Just like the pinot grigio and the pinot gris grape varietals, the primary difference is where they’re grown.
Sauvignon blanc is practically the standard white wine grape, meaning you’ll find it pretty much anywhere wine is grown. Sauvignon gris mutated from sauvignon blanc and is considered a more specialty white wine grape, difficult to find outside of France and Chile. Mutations are no less valid than original grape varieties, as there are dedicated audiences to unique color mutations and grape hybrids. Pinot blanc, for example, is very popular for its powerful floral notes and consistently full body.
We’re not quite done chugging along on this white wine train. Chardonnay vs sauvignon blanc has another aspect you’ll want to consider…
Does Region Really Matter When It Comes To White Wine?
Absolutely, another important vocabulary term to know when drinking wine is ‘terroir’: the individualistic soil quality, temperature changes, and climate that contributes to subtle shifts in wine grape varietals.
This is what has a common grape varietal like sauvignon blanc having surprisingly different mouthfeels and flavor notes depending on where it was grown and cultivated. Your sauvignon blanc grown in New Zealand has a higher chance of having more poppy and striking passionfruit flavors, whereas sauvignon blanc grown in France may range from being a touch smoky to gentle and floral. Californian sauvignon blanc, despite being much younger than its Old World counterparts, is consistently ranked highly by wine critics.
When it comes to chardonnay vs sauvignon blanc, they both can sit side-by-side, as far as I’m concerned. They’re just too delicious!
What Should I Pair Chardonnay And Sauvignon Blanc With?
If you decide to go out and buy a bottle of both, you may just wonder what to do with them beyond a simple glass. Should you try your hand at a recipe or see what sort of snacks have been sitting in your cupboard?
Sauvignon blanc is the de facto choice of many risottos, an iconic Italian rice recipe that goes perfectly with grilled chicken and a side of greens. While you may be tempted to pick up a riesling instead, it’s best to stick with a dry and tart white wine so you don’t accidentally overwhelm the flavor of your dish. As for chardonnay, you need to first figure out whether it’s oaked or unoaked. The former is heavier and has a more distinctive ‘oaky’ flavor, while the latter will be fresh and light enough for all sorts of recipes. Even a risotto!
Oaked chardonnay, thanks to its stronger flavor, is great if you’re a blue cheese fan. Unoaked chardonnay, on the other hand, should be placed alongside a salmon or white fish dish that can truly complement its buttery finish.
Grape varietals. Mouthfeels. Regions. It’s a lot to take in, but it’s worth it.
My first introduction to white wine was a pinot grigio given to me on a summer day. The apple and pear notes were divine, hitting crisp while still lingering on the tongue. It was, quite literally, a taste of what white wine can do. I’ve since bought sauvignon blanc and rieslings, with the goal to get my hands on a bottle of Grüner Veltliner.
If you know someone who wants to dive into white wine, link them to this list. In the meantime: do you prefer chardonnay or sauvignon blanc?