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November 9, 2023 - Wine

The Cloudy Bay Guide to: Sauvignon Blanc vs. Chardonnay

Ask someone what they think of when they hear the words ‘white wine’ and, chances are, they’ll say one of two varieties: Sauvignon Blanc or Chardonnay.

These two beloved white wine varietals have become firm favourites. While Chardonnay has a long history of prestige, Sauvignon Blanc is a wine we at Cloudy Bay hold dear to our hearts. On a long restaurant wine list, both varieties are safe choices: you can’t go wrong with either.

But as any wine drinker can tell you, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc are very different wines. Their flavour profiles and characteristics have one or two similar elements but are very different in style.

Chardonnay tends to be fuller-bodied and more complex, with tropical fruits, citrus, and vanilla (often a result of ageing in oak barrels). Chardonnay is also often blended with Pinot Noir to make sparkling wines like Champagne and, of course, our Pelorus methode traditionelle.

Sauvignon Blanc, on the other hand, is lighter-bodied, known for its vibrant acidity, bright citrus and tropical fruits, and grassy or herbaceous notes. Where Chardonnay can take a moment to reveal itself, Sauvignon Blanc is often immediately captivating and inviting.

New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc vs. New Zealand Chardonnay: a matter of style

Of course, wines are about interpretation. Every country and winery has its style (or many styles) of Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc.

Sauvignon Blanc has become New Zealand’s signature wine variety. Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc helped bring New Zealand wines to the world with its intense aromatics, vibrant acidity, and distinctly tropical notes.

But while New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc is more famous, New Zealand Chardonnay is held in very high regard by serious connoisseurs. New Zealand Chardonnay tends to showcase the balance of fruit and acidity, with flavours ranging from citrus and stone fruits to subtle oak influences. These wines often exhibit elegance, complexity, and a vibrant freshness that reflects New Zealand’s cool climate and unique terroir.

The differences between Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc

Sauvignon Blanc is famous for its vibrant acidity. It’s a fresh, lighter-bodied white wine, usually on the drier end of the spectrum with low residual sugar. While some Sauvignon Blancs - such as Cloudy Bay Te Koko - are aged in oak barrels and with wild yeasts, most are made in stainless steel tanks. This preserves the vibrancy and freshness.

By contrast, Chardonnay tends to be fuller-bodied, softer, and richer in texture. Chardonnay is most often aged in oak barrels, which can draw out vanilla notes and rich smooth characters. Both tend to have tropical and citrus fruit flavours, but chardonnay tends also to have more complex and savoury notes such as vanilla, minerals and hazelnut.

Sweet or dry?

Both Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc are considered dry white wines. This means they both contain very little residual sugar, especially when compared with sweeter white varieties like Riesling.

However, in some cases, Sauvignon Blanc is used (usually with Semillon, another white variety) to make very sweet dessert wines such as the famous–and famously sweet–Sauternes. It’s worth seeking out an example to see just how diverse a single variety can be.

Cloudy Bay Chardonnay

Cloudy Bay Chardonnay is elegant and refined, a Chardonnay for connoisseurs and food lovers. Chardonnay was the second wine in Cloudy Bay’s portfolio and has quietly - but firmly - held onto its reputation as a refined food wine.

Created from a love for the Burgundy style, it has a unique Marlborough-style freshness. The citrus, stone fruit and orchard blossom characters are underpinned by more savoury elements like hazelnut and crème pâtissière. It’s a prime choice for gastronomic adventurers and pairs well with just about any cuisine.

Cloudy Bay’s approach to Chardonnay is all about balance and harmony. Vineyards planted in the stony soils of Wairau Valley and the dense clay of the Southern Valleys work together to create a wine that marries ripe stone fruit and citrusy elegance. Produced with painstaking care and traditional techniques, Cloudy Bay Chardonnay spends 11 months in oak barrels before it goes into bottles.

Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc

Since the first vintage, Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc has captured global attention with its electrifying, unforgettable flavour. Cloudy Bay’s signature style is famously zesty, fresh and vibrant.

Lime, lemongrass and juicy stone fruit mingle and meld into a mouthwatering palate balanced by mineral notes and a long finish. Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc is a wine that rewards patience, ageing gracefully for a decade or more - if you can wait that long.

Today, our Sauvignon Blanc comes from vines in three Wairau Valley sub-regions: Rapaura, Renwick and Brancott Valley. The free-draining gravelly soils and the valley’s climate harmonise to create the perfect conditions for Sauvignon Blanc grapes. The resulting wines are pure and vibrant and truly capture Marlborough sunshine in a bottle.

Chardonnay food matches

Chardonnay is quite possibly the ultimate food wine. Its versatility and range of flavours make it a beautiful match for a wide array of cuisines and occasions.

Chardonnay pairs well with white meats thanks to its weight and flavours of citrus, apple and tropical fruits. The rich texture also pairs well with seafood in creamy and buttery sauces such as lobster and scallops while its roundness and subtle oak influences make it an excellent match for rich dishes such as Alfredo pasta and risotto. It also works well with a wide array of cheeses, from hard cheddar to soft camembert.

A few Cloudy Bay favourites for Chardonnay include Caprese salad, spaghetti vongole, smoked aubergine and griddled flatbreads. We love it with anything barbecued, chargrilled or smoked, too.

Sauvignon Blanc food matches


Sauvignon Blanc is an excellent companion for an enormous variety of dishes and cuisines. Fresh seafood, such as oysters, shrimp, grilled fish and sushi complement the wine's crispness.

Sauvignon Blanc also shines with spicy food. Unlike the subtle aromatics and rich flavours of Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc’s acidity and freshness can cut through and balance a range of spicy cuisines, including Indian and Thai.

The Cloudy Bay rule of thumb is that if it goes with lemon, it goes with Sauvignon Blanc. For example, Sauvignon Blanc pairs beautifully with goat cheese, salads, asparagus, and lighter fare with herbal or citrus-based sauces.


There are no rules

Of course, there is no right or wrong way to enjoy wine. Try a glass of Chardonnay with a hot vindaloo, or a Sauvignon Blanc with barbecued steak. Match Chardonnay with salads and Sauvignon Blanc with charcuterie. The most important difference between Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay is simply your preference for either or love of both.

Whether you prefer the vibrant and herbaceous nature of Sauvignon Blanc or the elegant and complex nuances of Chardonnay, exploring the diverse expressions of these wines promises a remarkable journey for your taste buds.


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