Chardonnay and Pinot Grigio are two of the most popular types of white wines on the market. However, there are a few key differences between the two. Chardonnay can, and is often, aged in oak barrels, which give it a uniquely smooth body and texture.
Chardonnay is also a major component in many types of sparkling wines, most famously champagne. It originated from the eastern regions of France and today it is one of the most widely grown grape varietals in the world.
In contrast to this, Pinot Grigio (also known as Pinot Gris), while still a very widely grown grape varietal, has a much lighter body and offers a much more crisp and acidic flavor palette than the fruitier body found with Chardonnay.
The Pinot Grigio grape originates from the Burgundy region of France and has been around for an extremely long time (since the middle ages) and it is very genetically similar to the Pinot Noir grape- the only noticeable difference between the two is the color. This is because one is a mutation of the other.
While the Chardonnay grape originates from Eastern France, it is now so popular and widely grown that it can be found in every wine-growing region in the world. As a grape, it is very heavily influenced by the terroir- also known as the environmental factors that contribute aspects to a bottle of wine.
If grown in a cooler climate a Chardonnay can present itself as a medium-bodied wine with crisp, mineral flavors. It will often have notes of things such as green apples, pears, green plums, and other green fruits.
Warmer climate Chardonnay has very different traits. It often boasts a much fruitier palate where you will find notes of citrus fruits, peach, melon, and more. Warmer climate Chardonnay has a much more full body to it. This is because the grape has a comparatively higher sugar content when it is harvested to a cooler climate drink.
A good rule of thumb is that the warmer the weather of the growing season, the fruitier the wine will be. This is illustrated perfectly with Chardonnay as grapes grown in a very hot climate will have tropical flavors like figs, mangoes, and so on.
Chardonnay is a very versatile grape, and as such, it can be made with almost all winemaking styles depending on the preference of the winemaker. However, it is most commonly fermented using two different styles of production, malofermatic and oak aging.
Malofermatic fermentation is the process used to describe the conversion of the very acidic malic acid into lactic acid, which is much more mellow and palatable. This process occurs during the second fermentation and is used to reduce the acidity of the wine and give it the buttery flavor that is so commonly associated with Chardonnay.
Oak aging is commonly used in line with barrel fermentation, and it is another way for Chardonnay to achieve its classic buttery texture, but oak aging will also affect the color of the wine and the tannic profile of the wine. Chardonnays aged in oak have a much higher tannin level than other wines aged with different methods.
Because of this fermentation process, Chardonnay is one of the few white wines that have a noticeable influence from tannins. Tannins are a naturally occurring bitterness that is found in stems, seeds, and grape skins. It is also the reason why an over-brewed tea tastes very bitter.
White wines are usually fermented without any of the things that would normally make a wine taste tannic. Chardonnay usually is as well. It gets its tannins from the oak barrels that are used in the winemaking process.
Chardonnay is also unique as it is one of the few white wines that are an appropriate choice for aging thanks to its natural acidity and level of tannins from the oak barrel. If the wine is not barrel-aged then it is not a good choice for keeping to vintage.
Thanks to the versatility of Chardonnay, pairing it can be a pleasure and a headache. A good rule to remember when pairing wine and food is to match the density of the food with the wine. A light salad won’t pair well with a Chardonnay because Chardonnay is a heavy wine. You should also try to make sure that you are serving white meat with white wine, and red meat with red wine.
A Chardonnay will go well with meats such as turkey or chicken and will be even better if the food is roasted. This is because the extra flavor of the roasting will bring out extra flavors to stand up to the palate of the wine. An oaked Chardonnay goes very well with Asian food, smoked fish, and other food that is usually too bold to be easily paired but too light to go with a red.
Pinot Grigio is grown all around the globe, much like Chardonnay. It’s also from France, but the Burgundy region, and not the eastern region. It is widely produced using two different methods: the Italian Style, and the Alsatian style. There are other ways of producing the wine but these are the most widely accepted.
The Italian Style of production gives a more acidic wine. This is because the grapes are harvested earlier in order to retain a classic crispness. This also means that the grapes don’t have a chance to become very fruity, and the wine is left with a neutral flavor profile. Typically, this method of production is used in Italy and other ‘old world’ wine areas, such as Germany.
In contrast to this, the Alsatian style of wine production produces a wine that has lower levels of acidity and higher levels of alcohol than its Italian style counterpart. This wine also has a much fruitier flavor profile, with notes of things such as mango and other tropical fruits. This style of wine is usually produced in New World wineries, as well as the Alsace region, bordering France and Germany.
Thanks to its light body and acidic nature, Pinot Grigio pairs very well with fish dishes and pasta dishes with a light sauce. It’s a good choice too if you are serving a vegetable dish or a salad with a zesty dressing.
What is the Difference Between Chardonnay and Pinot Grigio?
In short, quite a lot. Chardonnay is a buttery full-bodied wine that is often produced using oak-barreled aging and can be held to make vintage wine. Pinot Grigio is a wine that is often drunk very young and has two very different methods of production.
An Alsatian style of wine may be on par with a young, warm climate Chardonnay in terms of fruit notes but the differences in the body will be extremely obvious. An Italian Style Pinot Grigio is completely different to Chardonnay and drunk on different occasions, with different meals, and so on.
The differences between Chardonnay and Pinot Grigio are almost innumerable, and their similarities depend mostly on the method of production and broader topics such as grape colour and country of origin. This can be broadly attributed to them being fundamentally different types of wine- one a light-bodied and one a full-bodied.
However, despite the differences between Chardonnay and Pinot Grigio, they can both be used to pair with certain foods such as a Chicken Alfredo. A Chardonnay will give a congruent pairing with its buttery taste and texture, and a Pinot Grigio will give a complementary pairing by cutting through the cream with its acidity.