The Differences Between Chardonnay & Moscato

Recently white Moscato wines have begun to rise in prominence and popularity within the wine community, prompting wine enthusiasts to ask what the difference is between Chardonnay and Moscato.

Chardonnay is a single type of wine that, while versatile, is predominately dry and full bodied. Moscato is just one of the many types of Muscat grapes, and is known for being sweet and light bodied.

The differences in origin, grapes, flavor, and pairings mean that, while Chardonnay and Moscato are both white wines, they are far from the same wine. This article will discuss each of the differences between Chardonnay and Moscato at length.

How are Chardonnay and Moscato Made?

Almost all of the differences between Chardonnay and Moscato stem from how different their wine grapes are.

Chardonnay wine comes from the Chardonnay grape, a French strain originating from the Bordeaux region. They were first discovered during the Roman occupation of what was then Gaul, around the 2nd century AD, although where Chardonnay may have come from before that is still a matter of debate.

Chardonnay grapes are famous for the remarkable durability, as unlike most grape strains Chardonnay adapts easily to almost any climate or soil composition. This means Chardonnay can be grown across many different terroirs, making it not only easy to cultivate but shockingly diverse in flavor for a single strain of wine.

Chardonnay grapes grow in large, bright green bunches in large clusters on the vine, creating massive harvests for vineyard owners. This combination of prestige, durability, and harvest size have earned Chardonnay the title of: “the winemaker’s grape”, and Chardonnay vineyards can be found the world over.

As a side note, there are certain factors during the production process that can subtly change the flavor of Chardonnay, for example, grapes harvested later in the season have more natural sugar and are less dry, while juice aged in oak wood barrels develop more tannins, creating a noticeably smoother texture, bordering on creamy.

Despite only becoming popular in recent years, Moscato’s origins are actually much older than even Chardonnay. The earliest ancestors of modern Moscato grapes date back to ancient Egypt and Persia, around 3,000 BC. This makes Moscato older than iron, which was only discovered in 1,200 BC.

Modern Moscato grapes are grown primarily in Italy, although new Moscato vineyards have begun to crop up in America and Austraila. Moscato develops early on the vine with large, vibrant bunches, as white Moscato strains in particular can range from orange, to yellow, to green in color.

All Moscato grapes are rich in natural sugar which gives them a particularly sweet flavor and has made Moscato popular not only as wine but as table grapes and raisins as well. This fast harvesting season and extreme sweetness have made Moscato very popular with modern vintners looking for a sweet but easy to cultivate wine.

Despite their high sugar content, most Moscato wines are created with a low alcohol-by-volume in mind, with some vintages being as low as 5.5%. Some Moscato’s simply use less yeast in their fermentation, while others use special processes like freezing the wine to prevent more fermentation.

While they are both ancient strains of grape, Chardonnay is noticeably hardier than Moscato, which is more diverse and naturally sweeter.

What do Chardonnay and Moscato Taste Like?

Due to differences in their wine grapes and production, the flavor of Chardonnay and Moscato are almost exact opposites.

Most Chardonnays follow the same dry, fruity, and mildly acidic flavor as other traditional white wines. Chardonnay often tastes strongly of pineapple, pear, or starfruit, juicy tropical fruits with a tinge of citrus. At the same time Chardonnay’s body is remarkably rich and smooth, closer to a red wine than the usual crisp bubbliness of most whites.

Chardonnay also has a naturally high alcohol content, at least compared to other white wines which are generally less alcoholic. Most white wines exist between 11% and 13% ABV, while Chardonnay can range from 13% to 15%, with some vintages outside of Europe reaching as high as 20%.

However, depending can develop different notes and bodies depending on how the wine is made. An earlier harvest will create a slightly sweeter flavor, as the grapes will maintain more of their natural sugar and lose some of their acidity. This means that more mature Chardonnays are sweeter and smoother than fresh vintages.

Oaking also has a strong impact on the qualities of Chardonnay, as oak wood contains tannins that impact the flavor and body of wine. Oaked Chardonnay has a texture comparable to light butter or cream, and often has strong flavor notes of vanilla and cocoa. Because of this Oaked Chardonnay, although rare, makes a strong dessert wine.

Moscato, like Chardonnay, shares some of the qualities of traditional white wine but radically diverts from others. In the case of white Moscato it retains the light, bubbly, and crisp body that white wines are known for, but due to the high sugar and low acidity in Moscato grapes the wine is noticeably sweeter that most other white wines.

This sweetness is complemented by a high level of fruitiness in both the flavor and aroma of Moscato. Bottles of Moscato often have an intense taste of apricot and peach to them, while the bouquet of Moscato borders on perfumed, as it combines strong fruity scents with floral notes such as fresh roses.

This sweetness and fruitiness are also spared by Moscato’s incredibly low ABV, which is far lower than the average for white wine. Moscato’s ABV ranges from 5% to 7%, almost half the normal ABV range for white wines at 11% to 13%. This makes Moscato very mild and helps to bring out its natural flavors more.

Due to the vast diversity of Moscato wine, having nearly 200 different varieties across red and white strains, the wine also comes in a wide range of variations. Moscato can be sparkling, fortified, blended or made into a blush, all without having to mix the wine with other grape strains.

Chardonany’s dry taste and full body contrast perfectly with the sweet taste and lighter body of Moscato wine.

What do Chardonnay and Moscato Pair With?

Due to their flavor and body palates being almost polar opposites, Chardonnay and Moscato pair with very different foods.

Chardonnay is a very mild and smooth, so as a general rule you do not want to pair it with overpowering flavors. Creamy dishes and mild seafood pair well with a glass of Chardonnay, as do sweet vegetables simple, baked meats. Look for creamy soups and pastas, or for meatier seafoods like cod and lobster.

In contrast, Moscato’s sweetness and fruitiness pair well with strong, bold flavors like spice, sour, and bitterness. Cured, wild meats, strong cheeses, and heavily spiced meals such curry all pair well with Moscato, as its sweetness and low ABV can take the edge off stronger foods. This sweetness also makes Moscato a good dessert wine for cakes, pies, and ice creams.

Just like their flavors, Chardonnay pairs with foods that are the exact opposite of Moscato, with the former pairing with mild foods and the latter pairing with bolder flavors.

Conclusion

The rising popularity of white Moscato has prompted white wine enthusiasts to ask what the difference is between Chardonnay and Moscato.

Chardonnay is a dry yet full bodied wine known for its smooth body and mild flavor, which pair well with mild foods. Moscato, on the other hand, is sweet and light bodied with a strong fruity flavor that pairs best with other strong flavors.