Pacific Rim
August 9, 2021 | wine | Pacific Rim

What is the Difference? Chardonnay and Riesling

Chardonnay: The Basics

Chardonnay is a white wine that first originated from the Burgundy region of eastern France. But today, the green-skinned grapes are grown in many other places, including New Zealand, California, and many parts of Europe. While the grape itself is neutral, the wine is vinified in many styles that add a variety of tropical fruity flavors during the manufacturing process. In general, Chardonnay wines tend to be light- to medium-bodied with mild acidity and may contain flavors of apples, plums, and pears.

Beautiful white wine in wine glass

Chardonnay made in Australia is known to have citrus flavors. Chardonnay wines that have undergone malolactic fermentation tend to be nuttier and mildly acidic but may also have a hazelnut flavor or a buttery aftertaste. Chardonnay can also be found in several superb sparkling wines. Today, Chardonnay remains one of the most popular white wines for people of all ages. It is reasonably pierced and readily available.

Riesling: The Basics

Riesling is another white wine made from grapes in the Rhine region of Germany. The key difference between the grapes used to make Chardonnay and the Rhine grapes are that the latter often exude aromatic flavors and give the wine flowery or fruit flavors and high acidity.

When discussing Riesling vs. Chardonnay, a similarity of both is that the origin of the wine strongly influences its flavor. Riesling wines have fruity flavors with noticeable acidity in cooler climates, but in warmer climates, such as in Austria, the wine tends to have peachy and citrus notes. Like Chardonnay, Riesling made in Australia has a characteristic citrus aroma. The one area where Riesling differs from Chardonnay is that aged Riesling takes on the distinct petrol character. 

Today, Riesling wines are made in many parts of the world, including South Africa, most of Europe, California, Washington state, New York, New Zealand, China, and Canada.


Riesling wines tend to be sweet, semi-sweet, and dry. In addition, there are also several types of sparkling Riesling wines. In terms of quality, Riesling is often in the top three white wines, along with Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay.

When discussing Chardonnay vs. Riesling, the Riesling wines tend to be medium-bodied, mildly sweet, or dry. They all tend to have some type of fruity flavor. On the other hand, Chardonnay is a medium-bodied wine with mild acidity and is usually dry rather than sweet. It may also have fruity flavors of apples, lemon, hazelnuts, etc. Oaked Chardonnay, however, is a heavy-bodied wine and also emits subtle notes of nuts and vanilla.

Color and Climate

Riesling vs. Chardonnay: Riesling wines tend to be of lighter color or yellowish in nature, whereas Chardonnay wines are often brown or gold-colored; this is chiefly due to the oxidative process during winemaking. 

In general, the majority of Chardonnay wines will be on the darker side or light brown or golden in color.  Chardonnay, made from the temperate regions of Chile, Burgundy, Oregon, and New Zealand, will exude a tinge of lime, citrus, or even tangerine. The Chardonnay from warmer climates, like South Africa, California, and Southern Australia, will exude ripe tropical flavors of apricot, passion fruit, and even lemons.

In addition, Riesling wines are often recognized by their distinct slender bottle-shape with a long neck.


The light-bodied Riesling wines do not tend to have a strong aroma, but the aged Riesling will have a distinct petrol aroma. If you have a good nose, you may also be able to pick up the fruity aroma of apples, pears, apricots, lime, or other citrus fruits.

Chardonnay vs. Riesling finds that Chardonnay is much different compared to Riesling in the aromas. The Chardonnay may have a nuttier aroma, mixed with cedar and vanilla. Similar to Riesling; however, there may be underlying notes of apples, lemon, and citrus

Wine and Food Pairing

Because Riesling is highly acidic, it tends to pair with diverse foods, including Thai, Indian, Mexican, and Asian cuisine. The mildly sweet Riesling goes great with curried and spicy Indian cuisine.

Chardonnay tends to pair well with Italian foods, pasta, fish, roast meat, and seafood. It is also a great wine to be consumed with desserts.

Which is Better?

Both Riesling and Chardonnay are great wines and very affordable. There is no major difference between the two, and, at the end of the day, the decision as to which one to pick depends on personal preferences. 

If you prefer a light-bodied sweet wine, go with a Riesling, but if you prefer a medium- to full-bodied, dry wine, go with Chardonnay. The good thing is that there are so many types of Riesling and Chardonnay wines; you can pick and choose until you find out which one you like the best.

You can learn more from the experts at Pacific Rim and Company.  The 2018 Silver Totem Chardonnay is a fine example of a Chardonnay produced in the Columbia Valley region in the State of Washington.  It is refreshing and crisp while also being vibrant and juicy with vivid fruity flavors.


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