Chardonnay vs. Riesling

Last Updated on August 1st, 2023

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Comparing Chardonnay to Riesling is pitting one of the world’s most popular wines against an underdog. Riesling is a German white wine that remains a favorite in that country but hasn’t caught on as well in North America. However, both Chardonnay and Riesling grapes are capable of making excellent dry white wines.

What Is Similar About Chardonnay and Riesling?

Besides both being white wines, Chardonnay and Riesling are high in acidity. This is bolstered by their grapes being grown in cooler climates. They come from neighboring countries, so their climates aren’t vastly different. However, they are both grown all over the world today, especially in California, Australia, and Austria.

They pair well with seafood like lobster rolls, grilled shrimp, and steamed mussels. Chardonnay and Riesling can be aged in oak barrels to add complexity and flavors like lemon oil, creme brulee, and vanilla. But Chardonnay is oaked far more often than Riesling. This is because its tropical flavors complement those types of flavors better.

White wine being poured from a bottle - Chardonnay vs. Riesling

What Is The Difference Between Chardonnay vs. Riesling?

Riesling is aromatic with a flowery, almost perfume-like smell. Late harvest Riesling wines taste like pineapple or apricot. Early harvests have a more lemon-lime flavor. You might also pick up flavors like apple, pear, or nectarine. Aged Riesling takes on flavors that people describe as gasoline, diesel, or rubber. Sometimes it’s blended with other wines.

Chardonnay can taste like lemon too, but it also has flavors like jackfruit, passionfruit, and figs. Late harvests taste tropical, so think along the lines of mango and guava. Oaked Chardonnay might taste more like caramelized sugar, pie crusts, or vanilla.

Unlike Riesling, Chardonnay enjoys global popularity. It’s one of the most planted grapes in the world, not only because it does well on its own commercially, but it’s also a primary ingredient in Champagne. That doesn’t mean Riesling is inferior in any way. Instead, the trendiness of a specific variety of wine comes and goes.

Which One Is Sweeter Or Drier Than The Other?

Chardonnay is traditionally quite dry. Riesling can be dry but is often off-dry to very sweet, closer to Moscato. However, the sweetness of a wine depends on the climate where it’s grown. Rarely, it might have added sugar to achieve a certain taste. But it’s usually a safe bet that Chardonnay is drier than Riesling.

Which One Has More Alcohol Content?

Both Chardonnay and Riesling are close in alcohol content. Sometimes Riesling has a little less, perhaps around 8 to 10 percent ABV. However, both Riesling and Chardonnay are often around 12.5, sometimes 13.5 percent ABV. Sweet wines tend to have less alcohol than dry ones. So, a Riesling made from late-harvest grapes might be closer to 10 than 12.5.

How Do I Choose Between Chardonnay and Riesling?

Choosing between Chardonnay and Riesling is a little easier than most wine choices. Riesling is sweeter with less alcohol, and Chardonnay is dry with fewer calories and less sugar. Their flavors are also quite different. Chardonnay has traditional flavors that more people might find appealing. Wine shops tend to have a larger selection of Chardonnay than Riesling due to its commercial success.


Chardonnay and Riesling are French and German wines, respectively. As an ingredient in Champagne, Chardonnay grapes are grown far more than Riesling ones. But they still make an excellent wine when not blended with other grapes to make Champagne. Riesling is an off-dry to-sweet wine with sometimes unusual flavors, but it’s still worth trying. Many wine experts rave about aged Riesling. If you’re still indecisive, sometimes Chardonnay is even blended with Riesling, like with Finger Lakes’ 2019 White Blend.