Chardonnay vs Pinot Grigio vs Sauvignon Blanc: Finding the Best White Wine for You
Do you know the difference between Chardonnay vs Pinot Grigio vs Sauvignon Blanc?
How about what makes oaked wine taste different from unoaked wine?
Did either of those questions feel like reading a foreign language?
If so, don’t worry – it will all make sense in just a couple minutes. We know just how difficult it can be to pick out the nuances between different white wine varieties. And we’re here to share the facts on these three great wines, leaving you with some new knowledge with which to dazzle guests at your next dinner party.
Or to simply understand the subtle (and sometimes not-so-subtle) differences between a few of the white wines you’ve probably seen on the shelves of your local store.
And, whether you’re new to the world of wine, or a seasoned drinker expanding your knowledge, there is always something more to learn.
So let’s take a closer look at the differences between Chardonnay vs Pinot Grigio vs Sauvignon Blanc, breaking down their histories, tasting notes, and some of our recommended food pairings. And, of course, we’ll answer your common white wine questions, like, “Is Sauvignon Blanc sweet or dry?”
An introduction to 5 popular types of white wines
It’s always nice to know what some of the most common varieties of white wine are. There are many – oh so many – white wines out there to choose from. But, for the sake of brevity, we’ll share five of our favorites.
When many people think of white wine, they immediately picture Chardonnay. Rightly so, as it is the most popular white wine varietal in the United States.
Chardonnay represents a span of styles depending on the winemaking methods and if the wine was oaked or unoaked. What that means for you is that a glass of Chardonnay can be anything from buttery and creamy to minerally and acidic. That being said, it is often quite dry, with a medium to full body and hints of butter, tropical fruit, and spice.
The range of tasting notes from bottle to bottle and vineyard to vineyard is just one of the reasons Chardonnay has launched to fame – there’s a glass out there for everyone and every taste preference.
Pinot Grigio is a very drinkable wine and the second most popular white wine variety sold in the United States. It has a great balance of being dry to off-dry and crisply refreshing, with notes of pear and mineral on the nose.
You’ll find Pinot Grigio pairs really well with lighter fare and seafood, and is equally as wonderful when enjoyed by itself.
Like Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc is a white wine with assorted flavors. It offers a bold punch of acidity and can range from tropically fruity to green and herbaceous to earthy and flinty. Indeed, no two bottles of Sauvignon Blanc are exactly alike, which is what makes it such a fun white wine to explore.
Sauvignon Blanc is slightly less popular than Chardonnay or Pinot Grigio, but not to any fault of its own. It simply didn’t gain international fame until the 1980s (but more on that later). In fact, some Chardonnay and Pinot Grigio drinkers may be surprised to find they even prefer Sauvignon Blanc after taking a chance on this crisp, zesty wine.
Riesling is a white wine from Germany that can be anywhere from very sweet to bone dry. The sweet varieties age quite well – even better than some red wines – and there are multiple Riesling dessert wines on the market.
Rieslings are aromatic white wines with floral notes and hints of mineral, petrol, and earth. They pair beautifully with spicy foods, especially Asian cuisine.
Gewürztraminer is an incredibly aromatic and vivacious white wine. But, for all its vibrance and versatility, it’s possible you’ve never heard of or tried it. Although it’s quite popular in Europe, white wine Gewürztraminer hasn’t caught on here in the United States as much as some of its drier white wine relatives.
It’s a shame, because Gewürztraminer is alluring and exotic. It’s also the perfect drink for everything from a light summer brunch to a heavy Thanksgiving feast. The tasting notes? Think rose petals, lychee, and the aromas of pumpkin pie spice – from nutmeg to cinnamon to clove.
Chardonnay vs Pinot Grigio vs Sauvignon Blanc
Now that you’ve been introduced to a small part of the white wine family, it’s time to take a closer look at the three whites that are often compared – and confused – with each other: Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, and Sauvignon Blanc.
These popular types of white wine have more in common than you might think, which is why it’s so easy to get them mixed up. All three are made from just the flesh of the grapes and they all vary in their flavors depending on the region from which they originated, as well as the individual choices of the winemakers.
But there are some distinctive differences we can name that set Pinot Grigio vs Sauvignon Blanc vs Chardonnay apart from each other.
A comparison of Pinot Grigio and Sauvignon Blanc
At a glance, Pinot Grigio and Sauvignon Blanc may seem quite similar. To help you set them apart, we’ll start by looking back at their origins.
Pinot Grigio vs Sauvignon Blanc: Grapes
Both Pinot Grigio and Sauvignon Blanc grapes originated in France, but they do not look alike.
Grigio means “grey” in Italian, and so Pinot Grigio is aptly named because the grapes have a dusty greyish skin. Pinot Grigio grapes are also used to make Pinot Gris, the richer French wine style.
Meanwhile, Sauvignon Blanc grapes are bright green, round, and densely clustered. They ripen early and can be grown in a variety of climates. These grapes are especially reflective of their terroir, and the flavors imparted by each region become quite obvious within the wine.
Pinot Grigio vs Sauvignon Blanc: Region
The grapes of both Pinot Grigio and Sauv Blanc may have started in France, but neither found their fame there.
Instead of opting for a rich style like the French Pinot Gris, Italian winemakers decided to produce a dry, everyday style of wine that would work well with most meals and be very easy to drink. And so, Pinot Grigio is most widely grown in Italy, particularly in the North Eastern regions of Lombardy, Veneto, and Friuli.
Likewise, Sauvignon Blanc found international recognition once it moved to New Zealand. There, the sandy soils and cool climate produce some of the best Sauvignon Blanc wines to this day, with particularly fruity, ripe, and pungent flavors.
Another difference between Pinot Grigio vs Sauvignon Blanc is how many regions their grapes are grown in. While Pinot Grigio is the more well known of the two, Sauv Blanc is grown in more regions around the world.
You can find fantastic Sauvignon Blanc vineyards in France, South Africa, California, New Zealand, Australia, and Chile. Whereas Pinot Grigio is mostly made in Italy, France, Austria, Germany, and California.
Pinot Grigio vs Sauvignon Blanc: Tasting Notes
Despite sometimes having similar hues, Pinot Grigio and Sauvignon Blanc have vastly different flavor profiles. Pinot Grigio is usually softer and more subtle, making it popular with beginner wine drinkers. Conversely, a bright, acidic glass of Sauvignon Blanc is anything but subtle.
Additionally, even within its own category of wine, Sauvignon Blanc tastes very different depending on the region it is from. A particular glass could have hints of lime, passionfruit, peach, or grapefruit. And a Sauvignon Blanc from Loire Valley, France will be flinty and earthy, while a Sauv Blanc from Marlborough, New Zealand will be more fruit-forward and acidic.
That being said, all Sauv Blancs share the same characteristic acidity and distinctive green notes. These green notes come from chemical compounds called pyrazines, which impart flavors of gooseberry, grass, or bell pepper into the wine.
Pinot Grigio is a white wine with much lighter citrus notes, and peach or green apple flavors. This is not to say Pinot Grigio is not acidic. In fact, if harvested early, the grapes can give quite a punch to wine, but when comparing Pinot Grigio vs Sauvignon Blanc, the latter almost always has more acid.
On the nose, a glass of Pinot Grigio will have more delicate aromas of honeysuckle or spice, as opposed to the freshly cut grass and bright citrus scent of a Sauvignon Blanc. Indeed, Sauv Blanc is the most aromatic variety of the two.
When it comes to Pinot Grigio vs Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio is just a bit softer on both the nose and the palate.
Pinot Grigio vs Sauvignon Blanc: Food Pairings
At this point, it’s probably not surprising that Pinot Grigio and Sauvignon Blanc pair well with different dishes.
The more delicate Pinot Grigio pairs perfectly with fish and seafood, particularly shellfish. As an Italian wine, it’s a natural complement to your favorite pasta dish, cream sauces, and other lighter Italian cuisine. It also has a special affinity with mozzarella.
While Sauvignon Blanc is also delicious with seafood and shellfish, its bright, acidic flavors are particularly well suited for goat cheese, mild vinaigrettes, white meats, and spiced herbal fare.
Differences between Chardonnay vs Sauvignon Blanc
Chardonnay is the most consumed white wine in the world, so no white wine comparison would be complete without it. Usually quite dry, with rich, fruity flavors, Chardonnay is a favorite of many.
But how does it stack up against Sauvignon Blanc?
Chardonnay vs Sauvignon Blanc: Grapes
Unlike other white wine grapes, it’s a bit more difficult to identify and separate Chardonnay vs Sauvignon Blanc grapes from one another. They both originate from France and are round and green in appearance, generally growing in tight clusters. One simple way to tell them apart is to know that Sauvignon Blanc grapes will grow in slightly looser clusters than Chardonnay grapes.
They also hail from different parts of France. Sauvignon Blanc grapes come from Bordeaux, whereas Chardonnay grapes are from Burgundy and are used to make both white wines and sparkling wines, including Champagne.
Chardonnay vs Sauvignon Blanc: Region
Both of these wines are grown all around the world in many of the same regions, including France, New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, and the United States.
Sauvignon Blanc is a much more popular choice in Chile, whereas Chardonnay is more common in Italy, Canada, and certain parts of the United States.
Chardonnay vs Sauvignon Blanc: Tasting Notes
Perhaps the easiest way to differentiate Chardonnay vs Sauvignon Blanc is to taste them. Chardonnay is richer and fuller-bodied, with a viscous mouthfeel. Sauvignon Blanc is more light, acidic, and herbaceous.
Both Chardonnay and Sauv Blanc are traditionally quite dry, but some Sauvignon Blancs contain residual sugar, making them sweeter. In fact, some are even so sweet they are dessert wines!
Therefore, we would say Sauvignon Blanc offers a broader spectrum of sweetness.
Both wines are incredibly diverse when it comes to flavor, as they are both very expressive of their terroir. In cool regions, Chardonnay will have a medium body, more acidity, and flavors of apple, pear, and green plum. A cool climate Sauv Blanc can have simultaneous hints of green apple and asparagus, or gooseberry and green bell pepper.
In warm regions, Chardonnay develops more notes of banana, mango, melon, and fig, while a Sauvignon Blanc will have sweeter flavors of passionfruit, pineapple, or fresh peach.
Another contributing factor to the taste of a wine is the material of the barrel it was fermented in. Those that were fermented in oak barrels – a common practice for Chardonnay winemakers – are referred to as “oaked.”
Sauv Blanc is usually fermented in stainless steel tanks in order to preserve the acidity of the wine. However, some winemakers choose to alter the flavor by experimenting with oak barrels.
Wines that are oaked and have gone through the process known as malolactic fermentation will have softened acidity and notes of butter, vanilla, hazelnut, spice, or honey. Therefore, if you already like Chardonnay wine, the best Sauvignon Blanc for you might be an oaked one, as they will share some similar notes.
Likewise, if you aren’t a fan of oaked flavors, unoaked Chardonnay is also available. These wines have more minerality and acidity than a common Chardonnay.
Chardonnay vs Sauvignon Blanc: Food Pairings
As Chardonnay is so full-bodied, it pairs well with a number of foods. Try it with creamy soups and sauces, rich fish and poultry dishes, and soft cheeses.
But stay away from the cream when it comes to Sauv Blanc. Instead go heavier with the herbs, or think light and citrusy, like a summer salad or fresh, green vegetables.
Finding the best white wine for you
Whether you are brushing up your knowledge on the differences between Chardonnay vs Pinot Grigio vs Sauvignon Blanc or you are new to wines, this guide gives everyone a little bit of something to sip on.
Looking for your next white wine to purchase?
We often find that beginner wine drinkers often opt for a Pinot Grigio. But we encourage those that enjoy rich, dry wines to try a Chardonnay.
The best Sauvignon Blanc for Pinot Grigio lovers might be a fruity, off-dry Sauv Blanc from New Zealand. If you’re usually a Chardonnay drinker, the best Sauvignon Blanc might be a lightly-oaked Sauvignon Blanc from California or France.
And to all of our white wine drinkers (whether adventurous beginners or long-time sippers), it’s time to try a crisp Sauv Blanc, like our very own, award winning, Little Sister Sauvignon Blanc!
Judged Best in North America, our Sauv Blanc displays those classic neutral citrus notes, with a floral citrus nose that hints of sea breeze. You can try it during an upcoming virtual wine tasting or shop our Sauvignon Blanc online today.