Is Chardonnay Sweet or Dry?

We’ve come a long way from “anything but Chardonnay.” This grape varietal has since staked its claim as the most popular white wine in the world. Its incredible versatility makes it a great choice for food pairings ranging from fresh fish to buttery apple pie.

If you’re new to wine, Chardonnay is an excellent introduction. But with its pleasant, standout minerality and refreshing fruit flavors, is Chardonnay a dry or sweet wine?

Let’s take a closer look at this delightfully versatile white wine.

is Chardonnay Sweet or Dry? Infographic

What Does Chardonnay Taste Like?

When it comes to wine tasting, don’t forget that not everyone’s palate is the same. 

Chardonnay is dry with a mineral aftertaste, bright acidity, and alcohol levels that range from moderate to boozy. Flavors range from apple and lemon to papaya and mango or buttery with vanilla spice notes, depending on how it’s made.

In general, a wine with fruity notes may lead the drinker to believe it’s on the sweeter side. But sugar content has the final say in whether a wine is dry or sweet.

During the fermentation process in winemaking, the wine’s natural yeast or added yeast converts the grapes’ residual sugars into alcohol. Stopping fermentation early causes residual sugar contents to be higher, resulting in a sweeter wine.

Here is the breakdown of sweetness levels in white wine:

Bone Dry: Less than 1 gram of sugar per liter.
Dry: Less than 10 grams of sugar.
Off-Dry: 10-35 grams of sugar.
Sweet: 35-120 grams of sugar.
Very Sweet: More than 120 grams of sugar.


        Usually, we begin to detect wine sweetness at around 7 grams of residual sugar per liter. Like most wines, there are dry styles and sweeter styles of Chardonnay, though an average glass contains less than two grams of sugar, making it a dry wine.

        Apart from fermentation, the growing climate greatly influences Chardonnay’s taste.

        Did you know?

        Chardonnay is used to make French sparkling wines similar to Champagne, the most notable of which is Blanc de Blanc.

        Cool Climate vs. Warm Climate Chardonnay

        Crafted from the green Chardonnay grape, this wine is incredibly influenced by the climate and terroir (soil) it’s grown in. 

        Cool climate Chardonnay is much lighter and acidic with bright green apple, lemon, and pear notes. It’s also much lower in alcohol content, with around 12-13% ABV (alcohol by volume). 

        Some cool climate Chardonnay regions include Burgundy, New Zealand, Northern Italy, Germany, Austria, and Chile

        Warm climate Chardonnay grown in countries like Spain, South Africa, Southern Australia, Southern Italy, and California is the polar opposite of cool climate Chardonnay. These wines boast a high alcohol volume of around 14% ABV or higher, subtle acidity, a fuller body, and bold tropical fruit flavors.

        It’s no mystery why some Chardonnay wines are mistaken for sweet, as those grown in warmer climates are bursting with guava, pineapple, mango, peach, and passion fruit notes. 

        There’s also another story to Chardonnay’s unique fermentation process.

        Two glasses of Chardonnay

        Oaked Chardonnay vs. Unoaked Chardonnay

        There’s a great debate between Chardonnay enthusiasts regarding oaked vs. unoaked Chardonnay; we love them both, but which do you prefer?

        Let’s take a look at these two winemaking techniques.

        Oaked Chardonnay

        If you’ve tasted a luscious, warm Chardonnay with buttery flavors, it’s likely been fermented in oak barrels. This is what gives the wine its rustic, spiced, woody characteristics and fuller body. 

        Oaked Chardonnay undergoes a process called malolactic fermentation. This converts the wine’s potent malic acid into softer, creamier lactic acid (similar to milk), giving it that buttery appeal.

        This type of Chardonnay also expresses tropical fruit flavors like papaya, dragonfruit, and mango. 

        You will find oaked whites in New World regions like Napa Valley, South Africa, and Barossa Valley in South Australia.

        While Chardonnay isn’t a true dessert wine, oaked Chardonnay is sweeter than unoaked Chardonnay, which is what we’ll discuss next.

        Unoaked Chardonnay

        Unlike bold oaked Chardonnay, which takes on the notes of vanilla spice from its barrels, unoaked Chardonnay is crisp and bright due to undergoing fermentation in stainless steel tanks.

        This imparts a pure, bright, high acidity, and dry flavor profile with citrus, green apple, and pear notes. The pleasant minerality and crispness tingle the palate, similar to other white wines like Pinot Grigio and Sauvignon Blanc. 

        You can find unoaked Chardonnay in cooler climate regions like those in France, Chile, and the Pacific Northwest. 

        Unoaked Chardonnay hails from its namesake village in Burgundy, France. The grape results from a cross between Pinot Noir and Gouais Blanc. If you have a chance to visit Burgundy, don’t forget to sip its Chardonnay.

        We’ve compared two versions of this favored white wine, but how does it compare to other famously dry white wines?

        Pouring a glass of white wine

        Comparing Chardonnay to Other Dry White Wines

        If you love white wine, odds are, you love Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio just as much as we do. But how do these crisp sippers compare to Chardonnay?

        Sauvignon Blanc

        If you thought unoaked Chardonnay was dry, Sauvignon Blanc is even drier, crisper, and more acidic on the palate. There is also a distinct herbal note, like “grassy” variations from New Zealand.

        Pinot Grigio

        Like unoaked Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio is aged in stainless steel tanks, though like Sauvignon Blanc, it’s even drier and more acidic than the aforementioned varietal. French styles of Pinot Gris are a bit softer and more oily on the palate. 

        Wine vineyard

        So, is Chardonnay Dry or Sweet?

        The word is out, and we concur that Chardonnay is indeed a dry white wine. However, aspects like personal taste, how the wine is fermented, and how much natural sugar remains all play a role in Chardonnay's taste.

        If you serve Chardonnay chilled, you might also believe it to be sweeter as the cold brings out its fruity and aromatic qualities.

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