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Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc: Why Choose One Over the Other, When You Can Enjoy Both!

When you think about refreshing, dry white wine, there are usually to camps of thought, Chardonnay all the way, or Sauvignon Blanc is where it’s at. And while I can certainly understand why people sway one way or the other, I myself say yes to both! And, why not really? They are distinctly different, and have a unique profile that pairs so well different foods that both can be equally enjoyed, given the right pairing.

First, let’s talk about the similarities.....

Both of these grape varietals originated from France, no shock there, France is the King when it comes to most of the more popular grape varietals. Chardonnay being most popularly from Burgundy and Sauvignon Blanc originating in Bordeaux- however most Sauvignon Blanc production from France now comes from the Loire Valley. Each have different names in France, Chardonnay is called Chablis and Sauvignon Blanc is often referred to as Sancerre. This I believe, to be one of the biggest reasons everyday wine drinkers from North America don’t drink French wine- because the names are different. But believe me, Sancerre and Chablis are absolutely the founders of the styles we find around the world, and produce some of the best wines I have ever had.

Now let’s talk about the differences.....

There are key differences when it comes to Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay, and those come from the grape varietal, but also the style in which the wines are made. Sauvignon Blanc has a natural green-ness to it; some refer to it as a “grassy” note on the palate. This is a key distinction. It also has refreshing acidity with more apple and lime notes compared to that of Chardonnay. Sauvignon Blanc is usually matured in stainless steel (unless it is a Fume Blanc) and doesn’t see oak (there are exceptions in France) during maturation. Sauvignon Blanc is a refreshing, fruit forward wine that should be drunk young.

Chardonnay on the other-hand tends to have lemon, ripe peach, and even tropical fruit notes, combined with vanilla and creaminess. This is in part the varietal, but also due to how it’s made. Chardonnay typically goes through a process called Malolactic fermentation, where naturally present malactic acid in the grape, is fermented into lactic acid (same acid found in cream and milk) giving the wine a creaminess to it. Chardonnay is also typically matured in oak. Giving it hints of vanilla and baking spice. This is especially evident in chardonnay from California, where they use new American oak barrels, adding very distinct notes of oak to their chardonnay style. French Chablis uses restraint when it comes to wood barrels, and it isn’t often over-powering, allowing the minerality from the terroir to shine through.

Favourite Chardonnays and Food Pairings

To me, Chablis acts as the lemon squeeze and butter you add to seafood. A classic pairing is obviously lobster, but it isn’t something you get to eat every day (unless you are lucky). Chablis tends to have less oak on the palate and more minerality, making it a perfect match to fresh seafood. Cool climate chardonnays are similar to Chablis and there are some great options from Niagara and Washington State.

Warm climate Chardonnay from California or Australia go really well with grilled chicken, or creamy mac and cheese (homemade of course). I always pull out a Chardonnay with a bowl of butternut squash soup and grilled cheese. Believe me, it is delicious!

Tawse Winery Chardonnay, The Beamsville Bench, Ontario

Westcott Vineyards Chardonnay, The Beamsville Bench, Ontario

Louis Jadot Macconais Villages Chardonnay, Burgundy

14 Hands Chardonnay, California

Favourite Sauvignon Blancs and Food Pairings

For Sancerres from France, the ideal food pairing fore me is raw seafood or lightly cooked seafood. Think Sancerre if you are having raw oysters, shrimp cocktail or cold crab. For more grassy/green Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand or even South Africa, I tend to pair this with salads that already have the fresh green-ness to them. An excellent pairing is grilled asparagus with a soft boiled egg and olive oil and lemon juice.

Villa Maria Sauvignon Blanc, New Zealand

Henri Bourgeois Les Baronnes Sancerre, France

Astrolabe Province Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough, New Zealand

Brancott Estate Letter Series B Sauvignon Blanc

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