Chardonnay vs. Pinot Grigio: 3 Takeaways (+ When to Choose Each)

by JJ Buckley Fine Wines

Close-up of white wine in a crystal wine glass

White wine can be ideal for many occasions, but knowing which variety to choose may not be instinctive. Not all white wines taste the same, and each variety has its own distinct features and taste profile.

Two of the most popular options are Chardonnay and Pinot Grigio. They are distinctive wines with some important differences. Comparing Chardonnay and Pinot Grigio can help you understand what makes each one special and enable you to choose the right one for the most enjoyable experience. 

Chardonnay: Bold and Versatile

Chardonnay is a dry white wine with a generally rich body from an easy-to-grow green grape. Chardonnay originated in France, but it quickly spread throughout various growing regions worldwide. It's among the most popular white wines and a go-to for many wine drinkers. 

The taste depends heavily on the growing region, making it difficult to pinpoint the exact profile. The region also influences the grape to determine if the resulting wine is weighty or not. 

Chardonnay from California is often buttery with hints of oak because New World winemakers generally age in new oak barrels. Old World winemakers, such as those in France, produce versions that lean more towards citrus without the oaky tones because they often age in previously used barrels which impart fewer oaky notes in the finished wine. Another reflection on the aging process is that Napa Valley wines have more richness than their French counterparts. Yet, a Chardonnay from Burgundy may develop more complexity. 

Those Chardonnays not aged in an oak barrel tend to have lighter fruity profiles. Some versions have hints of flowers and herbs

Because of its versatility, most people can find a Chardonnay that makes their palate happy. Profiles range from crisp to velvety, with hints of everything from minerals to pineapple to vanilla. 

Regardless of where it came from, this wine pairs well with flavorful dishes and will not get lost beside heavy and creamy foods. Chardonnay is excellent with strong cheeses and seafood, including lobster and salmon. It can do well with rich and decadent dishes, but don't be afraid to pair it with simple fares like macaroni and cheese. 

Pinot Grigio: A Light-Bodied Favorite

Pinot Grigio (also known as Pinot Gris) is a white wine made from a grape with a gray-blue skin (hence the name "grigio" or "gris") rather than green. It originated in France but has become popular in Italian vineyards.

Pinot Grigio is light and a great choice for those new to wine. It's simple and flavorful without being too bold. It's acidic, refreshing, crisp, and all-around easy to drink.

Pinot Grigio has a fruity taste profile that makes it perfect for summer. But drinkers should be cautious when choosing a bottle: Budget versions can be light in body, heavy on the fruit, and sometimes a bit too sweet. For someone who wants a touch more refinement, look for bottles that boast a bit more complexity, perhaps with stone fruit or floral notes. They may cost a little more, but the surprise and intrigue are well worth it. 

Best served chilled, Pinot Grigio echoes lemon, lime, green apple, and honeysuckle. Its simplicity lends itself best to mild-tasting foods, from fresh vegetables on the grill and salads to chicken and pasta with light sauces. 

Chardonnay vs. Pinot Grigio: 3 Takeaways

Though on the nose these wines seem quite different, they do share some similarities. They're both dry white wines that originated in France. But it's the differences that count when you're choosing a bottle for your next dinner party or day on the boat. 

1. The Flavor Profiles Are (Quite) Different

To put it simply, not every Chardonnay will taste the same. However, there are some distinct characteristics you can expect. This wine will have moderate acidity and alcohol content. It usually has some fruity notes as well. 

Barrel aging plays a rather large role in the taste profile. Oak aging produces a fuller body and richer aroma than those aged in stainless steel or concrete, so don't forget to look for these notes when shopping. 

Pinot Grigio is not quite as varied as Chardonnay. Regardless of where it comes from, the profile remains fairly consistent. It typically presents as fruity and crisp, and you can expect to enjoy apple, citrus, and floral notes.

2. Palate Weight

Just as the growing region impacts taste with Chardonnay, it'll influence whether the wine is full-bodied or light. A Chardonnay with more body will have a more powerful nose and be more complex on the palate, and stand up better alongside more decadent foods. 

Of course, some regions will produce a lighter Chardonnay if you're looking for the a Chardonnay flavor profile without as much weight. Wine from the Chablis region in France is often a good option because they don't age in new oak barrels.

Pinto Grigio is almost always lighter-bodied. It's fresh and bright, which is why it is a popular summer choice. It stands up to the heat and leaves the drinker feeling refreshed. The easy nature of this wine is perfect for times when you don't want something too heavy on your palate or just want to make a quick choice that you know you'll love.

3. Different Wine, Different Dish

Despite the variations of Chardonnay, it's in the nature of the grape to hold its own against robust dishes. It won't get lost, and the food won't overshadow the richness of the wine. A bold Chardonnay will enhance the fattiness of a meal and the flavors melt nicely together on the palate. 

Looking at when to drink Chardonnay, most people will use it for weightier meals or decadent hors d'oeuvres. A bold menu is often the greatest match, though unoaked versions can be paired with much lighter dishes. 

As far as Pinot Grigio pairings, think the exact opposite of what you'd pair with a Chardonnay. Pinot Grigio is generally too light to work with the heavier foods you'd serve with a Chardonnay. 

Instead, look to options with less fat. Imagine a quick, breezy lunch menu of fresh vegetables and grilled chicken or a pasta dish dressed in olive oil and lemon. Not every wine has the profile to be a standout star. Pinot Grigio allows the food to shine and serves as a lovely palette cleanser. 

Chardonnay vs. Pinot Grigio: The Bottom Line

When comparing Chardonnay and Pinot Grigio, the bottom line is that Chardonnay is more complex and rich, whereas Pinot Grigio is easy and light. They represent two very different aspects of wine, but both enjoy great popularity. 

Whether you're looking for a buttery Chardonnay or a fruity Pinot Grigio, you'll find it with us at JJ Buckley Fine Wines. We have a range of options to suit your tastes. With our premium retail operation in California and online shop, we are easily accessible to help you make the perfect selection.