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

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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

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