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White wine guide: chardonnay vs. sauvignon blanc

Get ready to look like a pro by learning about the big differences of these two white wines, where they're made, and how to pair them.

Of the thousands of white wine grapes planted around the world, chardonnay and sauvignon blanc are two of the most popular. More likely than not, one of these varieties was (or still is) your go-to grape at your local wine shop. However, despite running side by side in popularity, these two grape varieties are incredibly different. So much so, that fans of one may entirely reject the other. So what exactly are the differences between these two noble varieties? We've got the answers here.


Chardonnay finds its original roots in Burgundy, France. The variety comprises approximately 500,000 acres worldwide, making it the second most widely planted white wine grape the world (just behind Airen, a Spanish variety used for brandy production.) Wines produced from chardonnay cover a broad range of flavors; in cooler climates, chardonnay-based wines are super crisp and zesty, with bright acidity and dominant flavors of green apple. When vinified in warmer climates, chardonnay will take on more honeyed, tropical fruit flavors-think pineapples, peaches, and all of your favorite juicy stone fruits.

The grape is kind of the chameleon of the wine world, meaning it can adapt to a bunch of different terrains. Due to its capability of succeeding in nearly all climates, it's no surprise that Chardonnay is planted in more wine regions than any other grape in the entire world. Though Chardonnay has a strong presence in basically every wine producing country, the variety's most popular regions are Napa, Sonoma, Champagne, and of course, Burgundy.

Sauvignon blanc

Like chardonnay, sauvignon blanc also finds its OG roots in France as well, specifically Bordeaux. The grape's name translates to 'wild white,' due to its southwestern origins.

Sauvignon blanc covers just under 300,000 acres worldwide, which, despite being significantly less than Chardo, is still actually a ton. Our beloved SB is similar to chardonnay in that its wines also cover an array of flavor profiles, though these characteristics are entirely different. In cooler climate regions, sauvignon blanc produces zippy, high acid wines, with snappy, herbaceous flavors of green pepper and grass. In warmer climates, SB based wines show juicy flavors of grapefruit and tropical fruits. Notable regions for sauvignon blanc include Bordeaux, the Loire Valley, and of course, Marlborough, New Zealand.

Most wine drinkers are familiar with the dry, still versions of these wines. Believe it or not, both varieties are responsible for other renowned styles as well. Chardonnay is the face behind some of the world's most celebrated sparkling wines, including our beloved, bubbly Champagne. The grape's naturally high acidity provides the necessary backbone for traditional method sparklers across an array of regions. Sauvignon blanc, on the other hand, lends the required acidity necessary to produce the famed dessert wines of Bordeaux (Sauternes.) With both grape varieties, versatility is key.

Another prominent difference between chardonnay and sauvignon blanc is the use of oak. Fuller-bodied chardonnays often ferment and/or age in some form of oak vessel, whereas most sauvignon blancs avoid contact with oak to preserve the grape's acidity. Though as with any grape variety, there are certainly exceptions; many examples of higher acid, unoaked chardonnays exist, as well as a handful of producers crafting sauvignon blanc in oak.

Pairing with food

Both chardonnay and sauvignon blanc are incredibly food-friendly and make for stellar, mouthwatering pairings. Chardonnay tends to be fuller bodied and less acidic than sauvignon blanc, making it the perfect match for chicken, fatty fish, cream-based sauces, and root vegetables. Sauvignon blanc's lighter body and higher acidity make it the perfect match for goat cheese (tip: what grows together goes together,) sautéed green vegetables, house salads, fresh herbs, and zesty, citrus-based dishes.

Whether you're a chardonnay or sauvignon devotee, there are definitely bottles of each out there to suit any palate. If you tend to stick with chardonnay, look for a sauvignon blanc aged in oak for a richer, lower acid wine. For sauvignon blanc aficionados, check out unoaked bottles of chardonnay, or cooler climate region such as chablis, for zestier, higher acid options. Stepping out of your comfort zone is the only way to discover all of the treasures that the world of wine has to offer.

Curious about other varieties of popular white wines? Check out our white wine beginner's guide.