Chenin blanc and Chardonnay are both white wines originating from France. Chenin blanc can make dry, sweet or sparkling wine, whereas Chardonnay usually creates a citrus to overripe peach flavor.
What really makes Chenin blanc and Chardonnay different is their region of production. Chenin blanc is mostly from the Loire Valley and the Anjou-Saumur, whereas Chardonnay vines are grown all over France, but are mostly in Burgundy, Champagne, and the Côte d'Or.
In this article we’ll take a look at the differences between Chenin blanc and Chardonnay wines, comparing taste, alcohol content, and price. At the end we’ll look at which one is better for different occasions—and which you may like more.
What’s the difference between Chenin blanc and Chardonnay?
Chenin blanc can have a variety of flavors depending on the style of winemaking. Dry fermented, fresh grapes create flavors similar to quince, ginger and chamomile. When some of the natural sugars are left in, hints of ripe pear, passion fruit and jasmine creep in.
Sweeter styles of Chenin blanc produce flavors of mango, toasted almond and mandarin orange. Sparkling styles range from dry to sweet, and hold the more common characteristics of yellow apple, plum and ginger.
Chardonnay on the other hand can change flavors depending on the ripeness of the fruit, with less ripe offering a more citrus or lemon flavor, while more ripe fruit produces a tropical, pineapple flavor.
Chardonnay flavors can also change with climate. Cooler climates produce more citrus notes, where grapes in warmer climates develop more sugar and lose acidity. Similarly, harvest time will affect the wine in the same way, with an earlier harvest having the same effect as cooler climates and a later harvest the same as warmer climates.
Which is drier and which is sweeter?
Which wine is drier or sweeter will largely depend on the exact wine you buy and how it was made. For example, you could just as easily buy a dry Chardonnay and a sweet dessert style Chenin blanc as you could a sweeter Chardonnay and a very dry Chenin blanc.
Chardonnays in general depend more on where and how they are grown for their flavor, so check which region your wine is from when considering flavor. Cooler climates typically produce Chardonnay with more acidity, citrus flavors and are lighter. Warmer climates have less acidity and riper fruit flavors.
Chenin blanc varies in this same way. For example, a Chenin blanc that is produced in South Africa will likely have a fruiter flavor, where it’s sometimes blended with other styles for a sweeter taste. However, in the cooler Loire Valley in France, ripeness can be very unpredictable, and grapes are hand picked for different styles.
Alcohol content varies, so check every bottle before buying, but in general Chardonnays range from 13-15%, while Chenin blanc ranges from 12-14%.
Calories and Carbs
From the US Department of Agriculture’s FoodData Central, Chardonnay has 84 calories and 3.2g of carbohydrates per serving (5fl oz or 147g). Chenin blanc has just slightly less calories with 80 grams but slightly more carbohydrates at 4.9g at the same serving size.
For a single glass this may not mean much, but for those looking to squeeze as much out of their carbohydrate or calorie count as possible, there could be just enough difference to matter.
Price will again largely depend on the region your wine is from. Chardonnays generally range from $15-40, but you can certainly buy more expensive bottles, with some jumping up to $200-300 price tags and well beyond. There are plenty of good options however in the $20-30 range for the average wine drinker.
When it comes to Chenin blanc, the average price is only slightly higher at $18-45. More expensive bottles can reach into the $300-400 range if you’re looking for an incredibly expensive gift. However, much like with Chardonnay, you can get exceptional quality at reasonably low prices.
Which wine is better?
For your specific taste
If you prefer sweeter wines that are not dessert wines, Chardonnay is most likely better suited for you, as it generally has sweeter notes than Chenin blanc.
If you want something dry and punchy, a Chenin blanc should be your go-to. While you could buy a Chardonnay that has been made with less ripe fruit, allowing for a more citrus flavor, a Chenin blanc will still have the extra acidity to keep it that bit drier.
It’s also very important that you pick the right wine for the occasion. If you are hosting a dinner party and aren’t quite sure what white to go for, a Chardonnay is most likely going to be the better choice with its broader flavor. Is it a celebration though? Then maybe a sparkling Chenin blanc is the way to go.
When it comes to cooking, there are many flavors involved, and the wine you use generally isn’t going to be the centerpiece of that flavor. That said, both Chardonnay and Chenin blanc can work very well in many recipes.
Both can be used for cream sauces, gravies and chicken, however Chardonnay’s lower acidity can make it slightly easier to balance.
The main difference between the two when it comes to cooking is Chardonnay has more sweetness that you need to watch out for if your dish calls for a dry white wine. Chardonnays with a more ripe grape used to make them will add sweetness to whatever you’re cooking with, and can really affect the flavor of things like seafood.
Sparkling wine can also be used for cooking as well, so don’t throw out any leftovers if you might need some white wine to cook with in the coming days. The carbonization will dissipate during the cooking process, so you don’t need to worry about it affecting the flavor.
Chardonnay is a great choice for weddings because it has an elegant flavor and is versatile so goes well with a wide variety of food, like seafood and chicken. It's also widely available and very palatable and familiar to a lot of people.
For weddings, both oaked and unoaked Chardonnay work well as they have rich and tropical flavors respectively. Oaked or wooded Chardonnay is where the wine is aged in a new oak cask, whereas unwooded is matured in steel vats.
Chenin Blanc, on the other hand, can have a slightly sharp taste that may not be as complementary to a meal. That said, Chenin Blanc also goes well with a variety of food.
One of the most notable dishes to pair with Chenin Blanc is Indian cuisine. This means it's a great choice for a wedding if you're serving any kind of Indian food, because it has a nice acidity and aroma that will definitely make for an enjoyable time at the table.