What's the difference between a Sauvignon Blanc and a Chardonnay?

Ask Dr Vinny

Hello there! I'm Dr. Vinifera, but you can call me Vinny. Ask me your toughest wine questions, from the fine points of etiquette to the science of winemaking. And don't worry, I'm no wine snob—you can also ask me those "dumb questions" you're too embarrased to ask your wine geek friends! I hope you find my answers educational, empowering and even amusing. And don't forget to check out my most asked questions and my full archives for all my Q&A classics.

Dr. Vinny,

What’s the difference between a Sauvignon Blanc and a Chardonnay?

—Comfort, Johannesburg, South Africa

Dear Comfort,

Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay are both the names of grapes, and can also refer to wines made from these grapes. They’re both white wines, and both can have citrus or tropical flavors, but the similarities stop there. Chardonnay is typically a richer, heavier white compared to Sauvignon Blanc, which is usually much lighter-bodied, with more mouthwatering acidity.

The rest of the details of how they taste and smell really depend on where they were grown, what their vintages were like and what kind of winemaking decisions were made. But if I were speaking in broad generalities, many of the best Chardonnays can have flavors of apple, fig, melon, pear and peach, and with oak influence can also take on spice, butter or hazelnut nuances.

Sauvignon Blanc can also be made in a spectrum of styles, but it often showcases a hallmark herbal or grassy note, or a minerally note that’s like crushed rocks or sea salt, and it’s typically crisp and refreshing in style. And while it can see the inside of an oak barrel, it’s much less common for it to have as strong of an oak influence as do many Chardonnays.

Keep in mind that not all Chardonnays and Sauvignon Blancs will say “Chardonnay” or “Sauvignon Blanc” on the label. Sometimes a wine is labeled after its region of origin instead. White wines bearing the Pouilly-Fumé and Sancerre appellations are made from Sauvignon Blanc, while Chablis and Meursault are regions in Burgundy where the wines are made from Chardonnay.

If you found this interesting, you might want to check out one of my most popular questions ever, which deals with the differences between Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon.

—Dr. Vinny

How to Taste Tasting Descriptors White Wines Chardonnay Sauvignon Blanc Ask Dr. Vinny

More In Dr. Vinny

How do you order a glass of red wine? I want to try Zinfandel but I’m not sure how to word it.

Wine Spectator's expert Dr. Vinny offers tips for ordering wine at a restaurant.

Sep 18, 2020

Why are beers aged in wine barrels? And what's a "foeder"?

Wine Spectator's expert Dr. Vinny explains why large, used wine barrels, or "foudres," have …

Sep 16, 2020

Can I recycle wine bottles that have metal or plastic capsules on the top? Is it true that some capsules contain lead?

Wine Spectator's expert Dr. Vinny offers tips for recycling wine bottles and handling older …

Sep 14, 2020

Half of a broken cork ended up in my wine bottle. Is that OK?

Wine Spectator's expert Dr. Vinny offers advice for what to do when a cork breaks.

Sep 11, 2020

Are all wine barrels toasted?

Wine Spectator's expert Dr. Vinny explains why oak barrel staves are toasted.

Sep 9, 2020

Why is “smoke taint” a problem? Don’t they clean the grapes?

Wine Spectator's expert Dr. Vinny explains how smoke taint works, why it can't be "washed …

Sep 7, 2020