Two of the most popular and common white varieties are Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. Comparing some basic differences between Chardonnay vs Sauvignon Blanc can help you more easily choose the right wine.
Sauvignon Blancs tend to be lighter in body than Chardonnay, although there is a range that varies, according to the location it is produced and the winemaker/house style. I will highlight some comparisons and note some of those differences here, attempting to clarify how you can find what appeals to you.
A benchmark, (and readily available), style for Sauvignon Blanc is the Kim Crawford Sauv Blanc from Marlborough, New Zealand. Light, refreshing and crisp, without being super dry, it is a mainstay and good value wine. The herbal character lends itself to oysters and other seafood, and even a crisp green salad. For a different Sauvignon Blanc from the same region, try the 2016 Tohu. It has wonderful grapefruit notes and is drier and crisper than the Kim Crawford.
For a more full-bodied style, look for a Fumé Blanc or Pouilly Fumé – ( a nod to the style made in the Pouilly Fumé region in France). Fumé Blanc is a Sauv Blanc made similarly to this specific style of French Sauvignon Blanc, usually spending some time in oak barrels. The barrels tend to give the wine a less aromatic character, but a fuller body mouthfeel. Try the Robert Mondavi Fume Blanc, or any Pouilly Fumé from France.
California Sauv Blanc, (especially from Napa), tend to have more tropical fruit flavors and less herbal character than you find in New Zealand wines. Drink these with light chicken or pasta dishes, gruyère cheese or fish and chips.
Chardonnays can be light and crisp, or more full-bodied, creamy, round and heavier than any Sauvignon Blanc.
Look to a French Chablis ( yes, Chardonnay), for a crisp, minerally and citrus character – leaving your mouth watering and ready for a bite of creamy fettuccine Alfredo, or white clam chowder.
Chardonnays from California tend to be fuller-bodied, as they generally age for a period, in new oak barrels. The barrels add to the body of the wine and often give notes of vanilla or a buttery texture. These go well with a nice creamy Brie, charcuterie or lobster with hot butter. Beringer Private Reserve Chardonnay Napa Valley fits this bill.
You can also find some of the lighter, crisper Chardonnays made in California. Look for descriptions that include minerality, citrus, no oak; and avoid descriptors like vanilla, cream, or butter if you want to seek out this lighter style. Give Stags’ Leap Chardonnay Napa Valley a sip. It’s a crisp and refreshing example.
Ultimately, your palate will be the best guide for the types of Chardonnay vs Sauvignon Blanc that you prefer.
About guest blogger Beth-Ellen Fried
Beth-Ellen Fried-Clausen is the wine specialist at Costco Wholesale, Marina Del Rey, CA. She is a certified American Wine Specialist, NASA, and working on WSET, Level 3 Advanced.