Vertical Challenge: 3-year flight of Divine Llama's Chardonel
By Dathan Kazsuk
If you ask me what I like the best about Chardonel – well, I couldn’t tell you. I do know that its a hybrid grape made by crossing Seyval and Chardonnay. I know it originated up north at the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station. Other than that, there is not much more I can tell you, because it’s not a grape I’ve tasted a lot of here in North Carolina.
But several years back we were wine tasting at Divine Llama Vineyards in East Bend, and for some reason I like what I tasted. Not sure if it was a mixture of other wine flavors messing with my taste buds, but I thought I tasted something that felt barrel aged. Yes, I know wine is barrel aged, but this had more of a whiskey or bourbon taste to the wine. Because of that, we bought a bottle of the 2013 Chardonel.
A year passed and we were back at Divine Llama. We bought the 2014. I didn’t get the “bourbon” taste that year, but we still thought the wine was good. Another year went by, and yup, you guessed it, we picked up the 2015 bottle.
And what’s crazy about us continuing to buy this wine is that I really don’t care for the taste of Chardonnay – which essentially is 50 percent of this wine. And now we’re going to have some fun.
What do you do with three years of Divine Llama’s Chardonel sitting in the wine cellar. But of course, you conduct a 3-year vertical tasting with your next door neighbors! So I crafted up some wine-tasting notes, brought home some cheese and opened up all the bottles.
As we sat around the living room, I opened up the first of the wines – the 2013 Chardonel. This was not what I remembered. I actually think the wine might have turned. The four of us all got a smell of nail polish remover right from the first sniff, which made it kind of difficult for my neighbor, Claudia, to even finish. The rest of us finished our wine, but it was rather difficult to rate. To be honest, the polish remover smell mellowed later that night making it a little easier to drink – but still wasn’t what we were expecting.
Next, we opened the 2014, and with a slight relief, the wine was fine. We now finally got to taste the Chardonel the way it was suppose to be. The color of the wine was light in appearance, and we got several different opinions on the smell. From berry, to floral, to even hints of vegetal. Then we all agreed, upon tasting the 2014, that this was a tasty wine. The two Chardonnay drinkers liked the characteristics and the non-Chard fans also liked the tropical hints of melon and passion fruit on the taste buds.
We finally opened up the 2015 Chardonel – and just like the last one, we all enjoyed this wine. Looking over our tasting notes, this was our favorite wine of the evening. The dominance of citrus of floral on the nose, and the subtle taste of melon and honeysuckle finished rather nicely. This was the first bottle finished between the four of us.
Our takeaway from this tasting was that maybe we shouldn't have sat on the 2013 Chardonel for 4 years.
Other than that, we all seemed to enjoy the Chardonel from Divine Llama. And it left us wanting to explore other North Carolina or regional wines made using this hybrid grape.