Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc are two of the most popular forms of white wine in the world, and as such the two wines are often compared and contrasted.
The main difference is that Chardonnay has a fuller body and fruitier flavor while Sauvignon Blanc is drier, crisper, and more herbal in taste.
These differences stem from a number of factors such as what each type of wine grape is like, how they are created, and qualities of the resulting product. This article will discuss each of these factors and how they create the differences between Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc wine.
Where do Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc Come From?
The differences between Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc begin with their grapes, which might be similar at first look but in fact are wildly different.
Chardonnay comes from the Chardonnay grape, which originated in the Burgundy region of France around the time of Roman occupation in the 2nd century AD, although this origin is disputed somewhat by scholars. Regardless of where exactly they came from, Chardonnay grapes are one of the oldest strains of white wine grapes in the world.
Chardonnay grapes are famously durable, being able to adapt to almost any climate or soil composition easily. This means that Chardonnay grapes will thrive in most grape growing climates so long as they are not overcrowded. This diversity of growing locations means the grapes can develop a wide range of flavors and qualities depending on where they are grown.
Chardonnay grapes are also famous for growing quickly in large, green bunches that create high-yield harvests. A combination of massive harvests, easy cultivation, and environmental adaptability has made Chardonnay famous across the wine-loving world and has won the little green grape the nickname; “the winemaker’s grape”.
Sauvignon Blanc, by contrast, is a more recent strain of wine grape, although it still hails from France, but from the Bordeaux region. Sauvignon Blanc is perhaps famous for being regularly interbred with other varieties and strains to create different Sauvignon wines such as Sauvignon Vert, and it’s very famous red offspring Cabernet Sauvignon.
Sauvignon Blanc is also far less durable than Chardonnay, needing a sunny yet cool climate to thrive. Without proper sunlight the grapes will not thrive to be cultivated, while too much heat can cause the grapes to ripen, then rot, faster than other strains. If Sauvignon Blanc in a hot climate is not gathered fast enough, it will create a flat, acidic concoction.
On the other hand the wine’s ripening reaction to heat can lead to faster grape development if carefully controlled, and the round, green bunches of grapes can be grown quickly under the right conditions. This is why Sauvignon Blanc is often picked, fermented, and served young to prevent over ripening.
Chardonnay’s age and durability stand in stark contrast to the Sauvignon Blanc’s relative frailty but rapid ripening.
How are Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc Made?
While all wines are created through the same process of fermentation and aging, the nuances of both Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc create different qualities in each wine.
One of the key factors in deciding how a Chardonnay tastes is harvesting time, as the grapes become sweeter the longer they stay on the vine. This means that Chardonnay can be harvested well after ripening to create a sweeter final product, or harvested early to create a more astringent taste.
The type of aging barrel used also has an effect on the qualities of the finished product, depending on whether or not an oak aging barrel is used and how young the wood is. Oak barrels, especially young ones, create a smooth and buttery texture with sweet notes of vanilla and cocoa that can heavily alter the overall flavor of Chardonnay.
Due to Sauvignon Blanc’s rapid ripening, however, it has to be moved through the winemaking process more quickly to preserve the flavor, as opposed to how long Chardonnay can sit on the vine. If the grapes become too ripe they will become bitter and acidic in flavor, which is why Sauvignon Blanc’s tend to be extremely young and fresh when compared to other white wines.
There are two other factors in the creation of Sauvignon Blanc that can impact the taste of the wine. The first is whether or not skins and seeds are fermented in the grape juice, which creates a more potent and flavorful wine.
Second is the temperature of the fermenting and aging areas, which have different effects at both ends of the spectrum. Warmer temperatures bring out an earthier flavor while colder temperatures bring out the fruitiness and freshness of the wine.
The main difference between how Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc are made is that Chardonnay is easier to experiment with while Sauvignon Blanc requires more care and attention.
What do Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc Taste Like?
Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc are perhaps most similar when it comes to taste, but even then the flavor and body of both wines can be altered immensely by how they are made.
Chardonnay, with as little modification as possible, has a naturally fruity flavor similar to pineapple, pear, or starfruit. The wine is naturally medium bodied, dry, and tinged with a bit of acidity, but with a smoothness uncommon among other white wines, which are generally extremely crisp and acidic.
Depending on how a Chardonnay is made, however, it can develop a different, often sweeter flavor. If the grapes are harvested earlier, for example, they will retain more natural sugar and create a sweeter wine. If the Chardonnay is fermented twice to remove the stinging malic acid from the grapes it will also create a sweeter, smoother drink.
One of the most important factors separating Chardonnay from Sauvignon Blanc is that Chardonnay can be aged in oak barrels. Oaked Chardonnay has an almost buttery texture with sweet notes of vanilla and cocoa in its flavor. The younger the oak wood in the barrel is, the more potent these changes in taste and body are.
Sauvignon Blanc is closer to traditional white wine than Chardonnay, although it also has a few distinguishing characteristics. Sauvignon Blanc is extremely light, dry, and crisp in body due to how fresh the grapes used in the wine must be. The wine also has distinct notes of savory and spicy similar to peppers and acidic fruit, although there are some notes of fruity sweetness.
Sauvignon Blanc can also be altered by changing the process of how the wine is created to give it new qualities. Adding the skins and seeds of the grapes to the juice, for example, creates a more potent flavor and aroma to the wine. However, adding skins and seeds to the juice impacts the long term aging ability of the wine.
The temperature of Sauvignon Blanc during fermentation can also alter how the wine tastes, with warmer temperatures bringing fruitier flavors while colder temperatures create a crisp yet earthy taste. Sauvignon Blanc can also be put through malolactic fermentation, removing malic acid to create a less acidic and smoother wine.
Even with the many ways that Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc can be altered, there are many differences between the taste and body of both wines.
The popularity and prevalence of Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc has led wine enthusiasts to ask what the differences are between the two wines.
Chardonnay is an ancient vintage, renowned for its hardiness that can range in quality from light, dry, and fruity to full bodied, buttery, and sweet. Sauvignon Blanc, on the other hand, is a more recent and delicate development, but has a lighter, crisper body and a bolder flavor that can be easily enhanced or mellowed in a number of ways.