Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc?

Chard? Sauv Blanc? Or Both?

by Wendy VanHatten

Are you or is someone you know a big fan of Sauvignon Blanc, but hates Chardonnay or vice versa? Did you know, in their most extreme forms, they’re not at all similar? Yet there are some commonalities in the more restrained versions of each. So, what’s the difference?

Chardonnay, the most popular white wine grape in the world, was born in Burgundy, France. It’s in the Burgundian style that the wine is the most balanced, where the fruit is less present than the juicy Chardonnays you may have experienced from California. Instead there is an earthier characteristic. These wines are barrel aged and allowed to go through malolactic fermentation, which can soften the wine’s acidity. In addition, new oak is almost never used, meaning the strong vanilla flavors you might experience in New World Chardonnays are virtually non-existent here. Therefore, you have a soft, earthy white wine with a touch of fruit flavors – often green apple – that has a nice weight on your palate.

What if you prefer a heavier, richer Chardonnay? If you’re looking for that taste, you might consider drinking Chardonnays from a warmer climate. Warm weather means riper fruit and more sugar and these wines are often aged in American oak, giving them that final vanilla flavor the wine is so famous for.

If, however, you’re looking for something lean, fresh and vibrant, you want unoaked Chardonnay. It’s here that the grape’s true characteristics are at the forefront and you’re often left with a refreshing, mouthwatering white wine.

This is the style of Chardonnay which comes closest to Sauvignon Blanc.

Sauvignon Blanc comes from theBordeaux region of France, but it really made a name for itself in two other locales that are very different from one another, Sancerre and New Zealand. While the style of Sauvignon Blanc is similar among the wines for Sancerre and New Zealand, in New Zealand the wine has a much higher acidity than its French counterpart. In Sancerre, there is a much higher minerality. What causes Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand to stand out is often the intense grassy notes.

If a sweeter, fuller and rounder Sauvignon Blanc is to your liking, you should instead look to wines made in the United States and Australia, where the warm climate creates stronger flavors of peach, kiwi, and even passion fruit. If you like to drink these wines, look for an unoaked Chardonnay.


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