Written by: Tim Edison

Updated on: November 21, 2022

Sauvignon Blanc vs Pinot Grigio

Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio are two of the most popular white wines. Both originate in France, are light-bodied, and are dry (unless made with residual sugar), but they use different grapes with distinct flavors and notes for different tastes.  

Choosing between the two can be challenging, but there are noticeable differences that make each stand out in their own right.

In this guide, we examine the differences between Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio, breaking down their tasting notes, aromas, alcohol, acidity, and more. 

Which is right for you? Let's find out!


Sauvignon Blanc vs. Pinot Grigio: Tasting Notes Compared

Although most Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio wines are dry, you can pick up off-dry and sweet varieties. In any case, Pinot Grigio usually tastes a little sweeter overall due to softer, fruitier flavors and more green fruit notes. 

The typical Sauvignon Blanc has bold grapefruit flavors, citrus, lemon, lime, and passion fruit. Cold climate varieties have a chalky quality with grassy notes. 

Pinot Grigio has balanced flavors of green apple, pear, stone fruit, and nectarine. Orange zest and lime are welcome notes in cool-climate wines.  

Both wines stand up to light oak aging, which imparts woody and herby notes. Lees-stirring and malolactic fermentation in New World varieties introduce creaminess in Sauvignon Blanc and notes of honeydew in Pinot Grigio. 

In summary – Sauvignon Blanc is more tart than Pinot Grigio with bolder citrus flavors, while Pinot Grigio has a balanced, sweeter flavor packed with green fruit. 


Sauvignon Blanc vs Pinot Grigio: Aroma

Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio are so approachable because their noses perfectly match their flavor profiles. What you smell is what you taste, but both wines offer depth, developing new aromas and flavors with every sip. 

However, Sauvignon Blanc is undoubtedly the more aromatic of the two, with citrus, freshly cut grass, and mineral aromas bursting out of the glass. The bold bouquet can also have notes of tropical fruit like kiwi and mango as the wine temperature rises. 

Pinot Grigio is much more subtle, with notes of lemon, lime, pear, and peach on the nose. Cool-climate wines have a sweeter nose with notes of honeydew. The easiest way to tell if a wine is Pinot Grigio is by its subtle, fruity aromatics. 

That isn't to say that Pinot Grigio has a lackluster nose compared to Sauvignon Blanc - it's just more subtle with no in-your-face notes.


Sauvignon Blanc vs Pinot Grigio: Color

Pinot Grigio's subtle flavors and aromas are reflected by its pale-yellow hue, best described as fresh straw or pale gold. 

Sauvignon Blanc is a medium yellow wine bordering on gold. It's more yellow than Pinot Grigio, with a subtle green hue in unoaked varieties. 

You can tell the wines apart by their brightness – Sauvignon Blanc is a brighter yellow than Pinot Grigio, which can sometimes appear almost clear. 


Sauvignon Blanc vs. Pinot Grigio: Alcohol Content

Both wines usually check in at 12.5% to 13.5% alcohol by volume (ABV), less than Chardonnay but more than Riesling. However, some Sauvignon Blancs can top out at 14.5% ABV, so this wine is more likely to have a higher alcohol percentage. 

Wines with more alcohol have fuller bodies and more intense flavors, while lower-alcohol wines are lighter and (usually) less acidic. 

Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio are also available as 'light' or 'low alcohol' wines (and as alcohol free wine) with an ABV between 4.5% and 7.5%. These wines undergo an additional dealcoholization process that removes the alcohol but keeps the fruity flavors intact. 


Sauvignon Blanc vs. Pinot Grigio: Sweetness/Dryness

Pinot Grigio and Sauvignon Blanc wines are dry, but you can also find off-dry and sweet varieties made with late-harvest grapes that contain more sugar.

Additionally, blended varieties of both wines are off-dry to sweet, such as Bordeaux's Sauternes, which blends Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon or Muscadelle.

If we compare Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio as pure wines, Sauvignon Blanc is usually drier than Pinot Grigio, with more acidity and bite. However, Pinot Grigio is in no way sweet; it's dry, even if the subtle, fruity flavors make it taste sweeter than a Blanc. 

When winemakers leave some residual sugar behind, this impacts the taste of Sauvignon Blanc more than Pinot Grigio because it strips much of its tartness. 


Sauvignon Blanc vs Pinot Grigio: Acidity

While Pinot Grigio has medium to high acidity (leaning towards medium), Sauvignon Blanc has high acidity, giving it a zingier profile. 

If Pinot Grigio excites your palate, Sauvignon Blanc smacks it, with the refreshing acidity helping accentuate the citrusy flavors. In contrast, Pinot Grigio's moderate acidity carries all those balanced green fruit flavors with a mineral twist.  

It's also worth noting that there are regional differences in acidity. For example, Old World wines like those from France have more acidity than New World wines. More acidity is also typical in cool-climate grapes. 

If you find that your Pinot Grigio or Sauvignon Blanc is too acidic, you can dial it down by increasing the serving temperature because lower temperatures sharpen acidity. Try serving it at 55°F (12°C) and see if this helps to balance things out. 

Related: Thirsty for more wine comparisons? See how Pinot Grigio compares to Pinot Noir next.

Sauvignon Blanc vs Pinot Grigio: Body

Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio have a light to medium body, but you can expect more texture from Sauvignon Blanc. Pinot Grigio is a little lighter and softer, with a crisp mouthfeel, while Sauvignon Blanc lingers with a chalky quality. 

If you adore light white wine, you can't go wrong with either variety; Pinot Grigio is lighter, but some people enjoy the fuller texture of Sauvignon Blanc. 

It's crucial to note that the higher the alcohol content, the fuller the wine becomes, so you get a fuller body with higher alcohol content. If you want a super-light-bodied wine, look for an ABV of 12.5% or less in both varieties. 


Sauvignon Blanc vs. Pinot Grigio: How They're Served

Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio should be served chilled like all white wines, with a temperature between 45–55°F / (7-12°C) being perfect. 

A higher temperature will dial down the acidity but increase the taste of alcohol, so you need to find a balance. We like a temperature around 48°F. 

You can serve both wines in a standard or oversized wine glass, and no decanting is needed. An oversized glass helps the wines breathe, but this isn't necessary to bring out the flavors – both have developed flavors right out of the bottle. 


Sauvignon Blanc vs Pinot Grigio: History

Both grapes have a history stretching back several centuries, but the crown for the oldest mentioned grape goes to Sauvignon Blanc. 

Sauvignon Blanc originates from the Loire Valley, France. It is mentioned as early as the 1500s as "fiers," which translates to "proud." The modern name "Sauvignon Blanc" translates as "wild white," which it gets from its wild-looking leaves and bark. 

However, it was in the 18th century that Sauvignon Blanc gained fame among French winegrowers across the Loire Valley and Bordeaux. 

Today, Sauvignon Blanc is grown in New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, Italy, Chile, and the US. It is New Zealand's most popular grape and the US's fourth. 

Pinot Grigio has an equally fascinating history. It originates from Burgundy, France, and is known as Pinot Gris. Gris and Grigio grapes are the same – the only difference is the country of origin or the name a winemaker prefers to adopt. 

Pinot Grigio of Italy is more famous than Pinot Gris of France, and many of the finest wines are from Veneto, Lombardy, Friuli, Trentino, and Alto Adige. 


Sauvignon Blanc vs Pinot Grigio: Popularity

Both wines are popular, but Pinot Grigio is more so. 

Pinot Grigio is the second most popular white wine in the world behind Chardonnay, and it ranks in the top three most popular white wines in the United States. 

Sauvignon Blanc is the eighth most planted grape in the world and has earned its place as one of the world's favorite white wines, coming in at around sixth. 

Pinot Grigio's popularity stems from its light body and easy drinkability, while Sauvignon Blanc offers a tart profile and a fuller texture perfect with rich foods. 


Sauvignon Blanc vs Pinot Grigio: Grapes  

The most striking difference between the grapes is the color. Despite producing white wine, Pinot Grigio is a red grape variety. The grapes are brownish pink to purple, growing in small bunches with anywhere from sixty to one hundred grapes. 

Sauvignon Blanc is, as you'd expect, a white grape. The green skins are akin to table grapes, but when picked in the late season, they have a golden-green color. The bunches are larger than that of Pinot Grigio, with fewer grapes. 

While both grapes can grow in warm climates, winegrowers favor cool to moderate climates, from the hills of Alsace to the northern coast of California. 


Sauvignon Blanc vs. Pinot Grigio: Growing Regions

Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio/Gris are global grapes growing in vineyards across Europe, the United States, South America, and South Africa. 

Here are the key regions for each wine:


Sauvignon Blanc Regions 

  • Loire Valley, France – the world's leading producer
  • Marlborough, New Zealand – the country's most popular grape
  • Casablanca Valley, Chile – an emerging region with unique marine soils
  • Western Cape, South Africa – a top producer of warm-climate Sauvignon Blanc
  • North Coast California, USA – provides a perfect, moderate climate
  • Friuli-Venezia-Giulia, Italy – provides a moderate-warm climate for bright notes 


Pinot Grigio Regions

  • Italy (multiple) - Veneto, Lombardia, Friuli, Trentino, and Alto Adige
  • Rheinhessen, Germany – a top producer of cool climate Grauburgunder
  • Austria (multiple) - Steiermark, Burgenland, Niederösterreich
  • USA (multiple) – California, Oregon, and Washington State
  • Alsace, France – the world's leading producer of Old-World Pinot Gris 


Sauvignon Blanc vs. Pinot Grigio: Winemaking Process

Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio are produced in the same way. The process involves harvesting, crushing, and fermenting grapes. Crushing releases juices from the grapes, while fermentation is a timed exercise in which the sugar turns to alcohol. 

Although Pinot Grigio is a red grape, it follows the same process as Sauvignon Blanc with one difference – the skins are removed immediately after pressing to ensure no color transfer, creating the pale gold wine we know and love. 

Flavor complexity – where notes of tropical fruit, grass, and oak are introduced – comes with light oak aging, lees stirring, and malolactic fermentation, which converts acidic malic acid into lactic acid (the component that makes wines taste creamy). 


Sauvignon Blanc vs. Pinot Grigio: Food Pairings

Pinot Grigio is so light and delicate that you must carefully pair it with food. It works well with meaty fish, fresh greens, salads, and simple seasonings. Try it with salted sea bass and monkfish with olive oil and a squeeze of lemon for a taste sensation. 

You can also pair Pinot Grigio with fresh berries and sweet pastries like apricot Danish, but it doesn't work with cream, so don't get out the banana pie. 

Sauvignon Blanc is much more robust with bold flavors. It pairs beautifully with spicy dishes like Szechuan chicken, Pad Thai, and Cajun skewers. Tart vinaigrettes, salty sauces, garlic, and herbs also go well with a crisp Sauvignon Blanc. 

If you love cheese, Sauvignon Blanc is the better option. You can safely pair it with fresh cheeses like fluffy ricotta, soft mozzarella, and crumbly feta. 


Conclusion 

Pinot Grigio and Sauvignon Blanc are both white wines, but they are very different. Here's a summary of the differences and similarities we explored in this article:

  • Both wines are dry.
  • Both wines originate from France.
  • Both wines have a 12.5% to 13.5% ABV, although Sauvignon Blanc can go up to 14.5%.
  • Both wines take well to light oak aging.
  • Pinot Grigio is more popular than Sauvignon Blanc.
  • Sauvignon Blanc is bold; Pinot Grigio is subtle.
  • While Pinot Grigio is packed with green fruit, Sauvignon Blanc has citrus flavors.
  • Sauvignon Blanc has a richer yellow color.
  • Pinot Grigio has medium-high acidity; Sauvignon Blanc has high acidity.
  • Pinot Grigio is lighter and sweeter tasting than Sauvignon Blanc.
  • Sauvignon Blanc has more texture and body than Pinot Grigio.
  • Sauvignon Blanc pairs great with strong flavors and robust dishes, while Pinot Grigio only works with lighter dishes and simple seasonings. 

Which wine is best for you? Give both a go and see what you think! Both have a place on your wine rack if you enjoy bold and subtle wines. 

However, if we had to pick one, it would be Sauvignon Blanc for its refreshing acidity, bolder flavors, and ability to pair with more foods. 


About the Author Tim Edison


Tim started Wine Turtle way back in 2015.
These days he contributes to Wine Turtle (and other renowned wine publications) while continuing his wine education.
Tim's wine of the month is the Coates & Seely Reserve Brut NV (from Hampshire, England).

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