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Chardonnay vs. Sauvignon Blanc

October 1, 2019

We can all agree that Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc are by far two of the most popular white wines to enjoy. But what really are the differences between the two? We thought we’d get to the bottom of this question with some help from our friends at Ancient Peaks Winery. They grow and produce both grapes and do it fabulously!  Thank you Amanda Wittstrom-Higgins for guest blogging to shed some light on these two noble varieties and for sharing this gorgeous shot of your Oyster Ridge Vineyard on the Santa Margarita Ranch (pictured above) where Chard and Sauv Blanc thrive!

Chardonnay vs. Sauvignon Blanc

While most fine wines originate from the European grape species known as Vitis Vinifera, distinct differences emerge once you begin drilling down into different Vinifera grape varieties, from the rich intensity of red wines like Cabernet Sauvignon to the delicate qualities of aromatic white wines such as Albariño.

According to the book “Wine Grapes” by Jancis Robinson, there are approximately 10,000 different wine grape varieties in the world, many with different aliases according to locations around the world. It seems a daunting task to compare varieties, let alone just two, but with only 64 Vitis Vinifera grown in the Paso Robles AVA, we knew we could whittle it down.

On that note, we thought it would be fun to compare and contrast two of the world’s most popular white wine varieties—Chardonnay vs. Sauvignon Blanc.

The Grapes

Both varieties were popularized in France, but in different regions: Chardonnay in Burgundy, and Sauvignon Blanc in Bordeaux. This is the first telltale sign of the distinctions between these two grapes, as Chardonnay excels in the cooler climes of Burgundy, while Sauvignon Blanc typically requires more warmth to reach optimal ripeness. This phenomenon carries over to California, where you will typically find Chardonnay planted to cooler coastal areas, and Sauvignon Blanc in warmer inland areas. In their native land, the soil profiles are similar with Sauvignon Blanc coming from chalky limestone and clay and some of the best Chardonnay also found in limestone, full of small fossilized oyster shells. Sounds familiar to us here in Paso Robles!

A commonality to both grapes is that they are known as early ripeners, and here in Paso Robles, Sauvignon Blanc is typically one of the first varieties to come off the vine. Yet on the palate, Chardonnay and Sauvignon present two entirely different flavor experiences. These differences are natural and inherent to the grapes themselves, and over time winemakers have adapted their methods to accentuate, rather than obstruct native varietal character.

The Taste

Chardonnay is known for producing wines with naturally rich flavors, often in the tropical fruit spectrum. Aromas of honeysuckle and hazelnuts integrate with flavors of pear, pineapple, and citrus. This richness can lend itself to fermentation and aging in oak barrels, although some Chardonnays are crafted entirely in stainless steel tanks. Many wines from Chablis are made in this style, that focus on a leaner interpretation, with a similar refreshing effect as Sauvignon Blanc.

Sauvignon Blanc typically presents a zippier flavor profile, often with quenching citrus notes and distinct herbal qualities.  Most New World Sauvignon Blancs are cold fermented and aged in stainless steel, creating wines with bright flavors and zingy acidity. This rings true in Paso Robles as the warm environment brings out grapefruit and guava notes yet holds true to Sauvignon’s lean nature.

The Food

The two varietals’ share another commonality, they both pair exceptionally well with a menu from the sea. Sauvignon Blanc naturally excels when paired with crab cakes, delicate white meat fish, herbal/briny sauces, and oysters! Sauvignon’s typical higher acidity can pair well with fatty or sweet. Meanwhile, Chardonnay’s firmer character pairs well with richer seafoods and meaty fish like halibut or cod, grilled prawns, fish pâté, white pastas and risotto, cream chicken and more. A good rule of thumb avoids pairing Chardonnay with overly seasoned food, acidic accompaniments, or bitter dishes. These can dull Chardonnay’s fruit and overpower the pairing.

Final Thoughts

On a final note, we encourage you to not get swept up into the recent pushback on Chardonnay (known as the ABC movement, e.g. Anything But Chardonnay). Just because Chardonnay became popular doesn’t mean it’s not cool or worthy. Why get caught up in trends when you can simply open your mind to the entire wonderful world of wine?

Viva Sauvignon Blanc…and Chardonnay!

P.S. Want to enjoy your own side-by side comparison of Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc grown in the same vineyard? You can do it at the Ancient Peaks tasting room in Santa Margarita. Visit us at Ancient Peaks.com for more information.