Who doesn’t love a good glass of white wine?
Whether you are making an elaborate meal and in need of some crisp flavors, having a romantic dinner for two, or simply enjoying a glass at home after a long day, there is always a reason to have some white wine on hand.
However, picking that perfect white wine when standing in the aisle is where most people struggle.
What’s even worse is when some snobby guest goes off on a wine rant about why you should have chosen the OTHER type of white wine. But what is the difference between these two wines? Aren’t all white wines basically the same?
Pinot grigio and sauvignon blanc are arguably the two most popular white wines on the market, but their color is where their similarity stops.
So, what’s the difference between pinot grigio and sauvignon blanc? These two are made from entirely different grape varieties and have vastly different textures, flavors, aromas, and of course uses. Pinot grigio tends to have a wider range of characteristics whereas sauvignon blanc is usually a medium-bodied complexly flavor wine.
In today’s jam-packed article, we will be looking at every single difference between these two wines, including their origin, how they are made, their characteristics, and of course, how they can be used and paired with food.
So, grab a glass of your favorite wine, and let’s get started!
What Is Pinot Grigio?
Pinot Grigio is a variety of white wine grapes commonly found around the world. It is actually the second most used white wine grape varietal in America and one of the best-selling wine styles in the world!
The exact origin of Pinot Grigio has been up for debate for centuries, however, it is most likely that the wine style originated in Italy while the grape varietal originated in Burgundy, France.
The French refer to this style of wine like Pinot Gris.
These two countries, however, aren’t the only producers of Pinot Grigio. In Hungary, it is known as Szürkebarat, in Switzerland as Mavoise, and in Germany as Rulander.
Each region, while following similar methods and body structure of the wine style, still produces vastly different flavor profiles.
The Grape Variety
As we have mentioned, this grape varietal most likely originated in France and was exported to Italy where it was used to make wine.
As with virtually any type of wine, the wine itself is named after the grapes it was made from.
So a cabernet sauvignon has been made using a combination of cabernet and sauvignon grapes. Pinot Grigio has been made using Pinot Gris grapes.
These berries have a light grey-blue flesh color with deep rose-colored skin. They grow in clusters that closely resemble cones, which may be where the “pinot” comes from in the name.
Pinot Grigio grapes grow best under cooler climates and mature quite quickly compared to other varieties. They also have a higher natural sugar level, which is why this wine style weighs on the sweeter side of the flavor profile.
And, when this wine is fermented, these sugars are converted to alcohol and naturally yield a very high ABV (alcohol by volume) percentage.
This is a truly fascinating wine with a lot of characteristics. This wine is commonly produced in both Old World and New World wine regions.
If you know even a bit about wine you know that this can lead to major differences in flavor and even physical characteristics.
The more recognizable of the two is the Old World Italian style. This is definitely a light-bodied version with a much more neutral flavor profile (as Old World wines tend to have).
They also tend to harvest the grapes earlier to prevent the wine from having an overly developed fruity flavor profile and color. This style also tends to be more acidic.
Now, when it comes to New World Pinot Grigio, a lot of people prefer the full-bodied and complex flavor profile. Countries that have perfected this style include Oregon, South Africa, and Marlborough.
This wine has low acidity, high alcohol levels, and a more oily texture which all contribute to its full body. And, you can also pick up tropical fruit flavors like mango and melon.
Regardless of the origin of the wine, the color does vary depending on the wine-making method chosen. Usually, it has a golden yellow hue that some can also describe as copper.
However, there are some versions that have a light pink hue to them due to the grape skins.
Skin-contact winemaking is a method used where the grapes are allowed to sit with their (rose-colored) skins, which naturally imparts color to the wine.
This helps add more flavor notes and gives a wine some color. All roses’ and red wines are made using this method.
How Pinot Grigio Is Made
Pinot Grigio is usually produced as a varietal wine, which means it is primarily just made from one type of grape variety, in this case, Pinot Gris. Pinot Gris grapes do best in cooler climates. These regions produce more crisp wine.
Pinot Grigio is rarely aged in oak and more often in stainless steel barrels to ensure the fresh and fruity flavor is preserved.
A good indicator of an aged wine is the color. The lighter the color, the less it was aged (if at all). Wooden barrels also give the wine a deeper color, which Pinot Grigio doesn’t have.
Some winemakers balance out some of the acidity with a process called
Malolactic fermentation, which is a process where the tart-flavored malic acid is converted to softer-flavored lactic acids. This will increase mouthfeel and richness.
Pinot Grigio and Pinot Gris also differ in the way they are made. Pinot Grigio usually refers to the Italian style which is dry and crisp, and that has been fermented in stainless steel barrels.
Pinot Gris refers to the French style of making this wine. The wine is put through the malolactic fermentation process and is aged on the lees (dead yeast) to create a more aromatic wine.
What Is Sauvignon Blanc?
Sauvignon blanc is arguably the most popular white wine in the world! This green-skinned grape originated in France, although the exact region is still very much up for debate. Most believe it to be Bordeaux.
The name of this grape directly translates to “wild white” which refers to its indigenous form found in the South West of France.
Despite being cultivated and produced in hundreds of countries, overall the grapes produce a very crisp, dry, yet refreshing flavor and light color.
A fun fact for you, sauvignon blanc was one of the first wines to be bottled with a screw cap!
The Grape Variety
Sauvignon blanc wine is made from the sauvignon blanc grape varietal. This grape has white flesh and light-green skin that grows in relatively oval clusters.
What makes this varietal so extremely popular is how easy it is to grow. This grape grows amazingly well in both warmer and cooler climates.
Naturally, this also causes them to produce an entirely different flavor profile, making the variety much more interesting.
This grape also tends to bud late but ripen early, another reason it does well in sunnier climates.
The only area where it tends to fail is in regions with extremely high temperatures. This causes the grape to over ripen and produce a dull wine with flat acidity.
This is definitely a wine that can be produced in most areas of the world. As we have mentioned, it grows well in both cooler and warmer climates. The difference is climate also creates a different flavor profile of the end product.
Cooler climates tend to produce a very acidic wine with tons of “green flavors”. This term refers to green-colored fresh and crisp vegetables like green bell pepper and nettles.
Cooler climates also tend to produce slightly fruity flavors (specifically passion fruit) and also give them floral notes (commonly elderflower).
The warmer climate on the other hand produces a less acidic wine with very tropical flavors.
However, in these conditions, the grapes are often over-ripe which causes the aroma to lessen. There are still fruity notes, specifically peach and grapefruit.
Sauvignon blanc wines are almost never aged. When these grapes are aged they tend to develop a vegetable-like flavor similar to that of peas and asparagus.
It is however fermented in stainless steel tanks, which don’t add any flavor or color.
When it comes to the color, generally it has a golden or straw-like color. This doesn’t vary much, but it can become deeper if the grape juice has been left in contact with the skin.
Overall, you can expect a medium-bodied wine that is dry in your mouth. It also has a moderate alcohol level and a crisp flavor profile.
How Sauvignon Blanc Is Made
Winemaking can be quite complicated. It’s not just simply leaving a bunch of grapes to ferment. A lot of work goes into maintaining the vines, picking them at the right time, pressing the grapes, and then making the actual wine.
Sauvignon Blanc has a fairly uncomplicated process. The pressed juice is fermented in stainless steel tanks at low temperatures which helps maintain the fruity flavors.
The wine is then filtered and bottled within a few months of fermentation. It can even be bottled within 4 months after fermentation and enjoyed less than 1 month later.
In France, Semillon grapes are planted in the same regions where sauvignon blanc is planted. Here, sauvignon blanc is seen as second-choice grapes and often blended with the Semillon grapes to make “sauvignon blanc”.
In other regions, however, they only use sauvignon blanc grapes. In these cases, the wine is referred to and marketed as “single varietal wine”.
Pinot Grigio Vs Sauvignon Blanc
So, let’s compare the two wines side-by-side. First and foremost, the biggest and most obvious difference between these two wines is that they are made using different white wine grape varieties.
Pinot Grigio grows best in cooler climates whereas sauvignon blanc grapes can easily grow in both warm and cool climates.
Let’s first talk about the color of the wine. The color of the wine won’t necessarily tell you which one of these it is, but it does still tell you a lot.
Warmer regions tend to produce a more straw-colored or yellowish wine – this may indicate that the wine is a sauvignon blanc as pinto grigio is most often grown and produced in cooler regions (again, this isn’t set in stone).
This color (meaning the warmer region) can then also indicate that the wine may have higher sugar levels as the grape matures quite quickly.
White wine with a greenish tinge has most likely been produced in cooler regions and also indicated that the wine is possibly more acidic.
Pinot grigio is usually a pale lemon color where sauvignon blanc usually has a greenish-yellow to straw yellow or golden yellow color, but once again the color will vary according to region and fermentation process.
Aromatics is one of the best ways to tell pinot grigio and sauvignon blanc apart. Pinot grigio has a quite neutral aroma compared to sauvignon blanc.
When you swirl a glass of sauvignon blanc, the aroma almost jumps out of the glass. This is because of its distinct fruitiness and high acidity, whereas with pinot grigio the aroma is very subtle and neutral.
Pinot grigio’s aroma will also depend on which style of wine, the Italian or French style, was used to make the wine. The French-style wine will be more aromatic compared to the Italian style.
When it comes to alcohol content, that of pinot grigio and sauvignon blanc doesn’t differ much! Both wines fall into a moderately low ABV (alcohol by volume) category of 12.5-13.5 %.
We would say that pinot grigio wines are usually much more complex in flavor because of the way they are made (using either new world or old world methods).
They vary from light-bodied all the way to fuller-bodied wines. Sauvignon blanc is definitely a more easy-drinking medium-bodied wine choice.
Pinot grigio again varies in acidity and alcohol level. Sauvignon blancs’ acidity also varies depending on where the grapes have been grown.
One commonality between these two wines is that both (depending on a lot of factors) have a similar flavor note which is a tropical fruit and a crisp dry palate.
|Characteristic||Pinot Grigio||Sauvignon Blanc|
|Origin||Burgundy, France (grapes) Italy (wine)||France (most likely in Bordeaux)|
|Grape Varietal||Pinot Grigio||Sauvignon Blanc (sometimes blended with Semillon)|
|Growing Temperatures||Cooler Climates||Cool and warmer climates|
|ABV (alcohol by volume)||12.5% - 13.5%||12.5% - 13.5%|
|Sugar Content (per Glass)||1-3 grams per glass||1-3 grams per glass|
|Calories (per Glass)||125 calories||123 calories|
|Wine Color||Pale lemon/light straw||Light straw to golden|
|Wine Aroma||More neutral and subtle||Very bold aromas|
|Wine Flavor Profile||Usually more complex in variety. Old-world varieties have more neutral and simplistic flavor profiles. New world Pinot grigio has complex flavor profiles. Light to full-bodied wines.||Simplistic flavors compared to pinot grigio. Depending on the climate the grapes were grown, this can either be very neutral or pungent. Medium-bodied wines.|
Pinot Grigio Food Pairings
In the world of food pairings, there isn’t really a right or wrong as long as you can motivate it! But there are a few wines that definitely pair better with some ingredients than others.
If you pair the wrong wine with the wrong food it might leave your food tasting a bit strange. But, if you get it right, it’s a magical moment of pure bliss!
This wine can be fairly acidic, so try and stay away from acidic foods like lemon or pickles. This also includes tomato-based recipes and citrus-based sauces or dressings.
Fantastic and easy foods to pair with pinot grigio include;
- Seafood like shellfish, sushi, and ceviche
- Light pasta dishes (not tomato-based)
- Cheese such as gruyere and manchego
- Fresh salads
Sauvignon Blanc Food Pairings
Sauvignon blanc has almost too many tasting notes, making it almost impossible to pair with the perfect ingredient. The possible pairings list is endless!
The key to pairing a glass of wine with food is to look for things that complement each other. With sauvignon blanc being a bold wine, you want to look for food with a bold flavor so the one doesn’t overpower the other.
Sauvignon blanc is quite tart, which means it’s great to pair with heavier dishes, as the acidity cuts through the heaviness!
Here are a few food pairings that you simply can’t go wrong with.
- Cheese! Cheese is one of the most classic foods to pair with sauvignon blanc. Goat’s cheese, brie, feta, and gouda are all great options.
- Shellfish! Sauvignon blanc tends to sometimes have citrus notes so it pairs great with shellfish like prawns, crab, and oysters.
- Fish! Just like with shellfish, it complements delicate white fish like sea bass or sole, but is a great match for sushi as well!
- Spring Vegetables! Like zucchini, artichokes, asparagus, and peas
- Pasta! For creamy pasta’s try to use an oaked sauvignon blanc, but for herbed tomato-based pasta’s pair it with a citrussy or herbaceous sauvignon blanc.
- Asian Or Thai Cuisine! Sauvignon Blanc works great with dishes that have lime and chili in them.
- Mexican Food! Once again, sauvignon blanc works fantastic with lime and chili combinations. An ice-cold glass of Sauvignon Blanc will be the perfect fit to fish tacos or quesadilla with lots of guac!
- Desserts! So this is a great option if you want to tone down on the sweetness a bit. Sauvignon blanc works great with desserts that are light, and tart such as passion fruit pavlovas, mango cheesecake, macaroons, or fruit tarts.
How To Store White Wine – The Right Way!
Wine is very sensitive to heat and light, so all wine should always be stored in a cool dry place. Think about a wine cellar! When you enter it, it is always very dark (there isn’t even a lot of artificial light) and it is very cool.
Unlike your favorite red wine you’ve been keeping around for years, white wine should rather not be aged. This is great news tough because it means you can finish that entire bottle in a week!
White wine is best served chilled, so make sure to pop the wine in the fridge before you plan on drinking it. You can also serve it with some ice (like many do) but just see who you are surrounded by as many wine drinkers frown upon this.
Although there’s no official rule about adding ice to white wine, it does water it down. So rather try pouring ice-cold wine from the fridge to ensure your wine is bursting with flavor.
How To Choose Which Wine To Use
When choosing a wine, first decide on what you’re going to use it for. If it’s simply for drinks, think about what flavors you are looking for – something subtle or bold? Something refreshing or heavy? Something sweet or acidic?
Asking yourself these questions will help guide you not only to a type of wine but a specific brand.
For more neutral wines, a safe bet would be an old-world pinot grigio, but for more bold and pungent wines, choose a sauvignon blanc (preferably from cooler climates) or a new-world pinot grigio.
If you plan on pairing the wine with food, consider what you are preparing. For heavy dishes, sauvignon blanc works great as it cuts through the heaviness with its high acidity. With both wines make sure to not pair it with acidic foods.
Lastly, if you plan on preparing food that has bold flavors, choose a sauvignon blanc, but if you have subtle flavors, pair it with pinot grigio which will ensure the wine doesn’t overpower the food or the other way around.
Now that we’ve gone over all of the differences between pinot grigio and sauvignon blanc, let’s take a look at a few related questions on the subject!
How do you cook with wine?
This depends on what you’re making. If you’re sautéing or frying vegetables for a stew or a dish that needs to simmer, wine is a great way to deglaze a pan to make sure you get all the flavor out.
Simply reduce the wine and pan dripping mixture a little before adding it to the rest of your stew or soup.
Is red wine or white wine healthier?
This is a tricky question. White wine is known to improve heart health and can prevent heart diseases, but red wine has very powerful antioxidants and can help regulate blood pressure.
So, in the end, it depends entirely on what you consider as healthy for your body.
How much wine is the daily optimal intake?
A moderate intake of wine is said to be beneficial. For women, the daily recommended intake is 1 glass of wine per day and for men, 2 glasses of wine are recommended.
How long can opened wine last?
This usually depends on the wine. White wines, roses, and sparkling wines kept in the fridge after they have been opened will last anything between 3 days up until 7 days.
Red wine should not be stored in the fridge once opened, but rather in a cool dry place for between 3-5 days. Remember wine that goes past this day isn’t necessarily bad, the quality just degrades, but it’s still great to cook with!
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