I began writing this article from a window seat somewhere above New Mexico, on a plane headed for Dallas. Naturally, it seems everywhere I go since I launched the site turns into a wine tasting destination, and this trip will undoubtedly continue to be no different. So as I was planning what stops I’m going to make, and what wineries I hope to visit, it occured to me that it was only just a couple weeks ago that I had made a similar trip to Illinois.
I had written one article on a few of the wines that I tried while I was there, but that wasn’t enough. The state of Illinois has many more wine discoveries than the three Frontenacs that I wrote about a few weeks ago. So before I start talking about wines from the Lone Star state, I’ve got some unfinished business to take care of in the Mid West.
When I got back from Illinois I put together a list of all the posts that I could write based on the wines I tried there. I’m sitting here looking at all the options,and honestly, I’ve got some great stuff to write about, but since I featured an Illinois specific red in my first article, I feel like I should do the same for one of their white wines today.
Today we’re going to be talking Chardonel. A hybrid varietal related to Chardonnay and the French-American cross, Seyval Blanc, Chardonel combines the aroma and flavor profile of Chardonnay and the heartiness of Seyval Blanc. Very much like Chardonnay, there are a number of ways for a winemaker to craft a Chardonel. I thought it would be fun to explore the possibilities of this grape, so this article is going to feature three different styles of Chardonel, each by a different producer. The first is sparkling, the second is a clean, fruit forward take, and the last is an oaky butterball of barrel reserve goodness.
Wine #1: August Hill NV Illinois Brut Reserve Chardonel
To bridge our adventures in Illinois wine country, our first wine comes from the same producer that my Frontenac post featured. This wine is an extreme rarity, not only because of its unusual varietal, but also because of its very small production. Nearly a private reserve, when I visited the winery our server told me that fewer than 100 bottles were left for sale. It really is a unique find, made in the traditional Champagne method. It’s priced fairly high, but its small production size, varietal, and method make it a tough wine to find anywhere else.
The aroma is quite pleasant with an almost Old World Blanc de Blancs quality to it. There are really nice sliced golden apple tones, some white floral notes, and a subtle bread dough quality. A good spin in the glass opens up some jasmine, rose petal, and red peppercorn aromas that add a very inviting complexity.
The palate opens with a crisp bite of golden apple and a rich, creamy quality. Illinois wasn’t exactly the first place where I thought I would find a tropical flavored wine, but this is almost like taking a trip to the islands. There are lots of pineapple notes and marshmallows rolled in toasted coconut. There is a faint floral note and a bit of citrus on the finish, combined with a limestone minerality. This is a well made wine, very similar to a traditional Blanc de Blanc. It’s fresh and interesting with a good balance and a lasting finish. The $50 price tag is by no means cheap, and there have got to be hundreds of wines from California and France at the price point that can deliver this same level of quality, however, if you’re like me, and your obsessed with trying everything from everywhere, this is a solid buy.
Worth Trying. 87 points.
Wine #2: Illinois River Winery NV Illinois IVAR Chardonel
This small family owned and operated winery released this wine to benefit the Illinois Valley Animal Rescue (IVAR). They specialize in both grape and fruit based wines, as well as infused, flavored creations, so wines based on a theme are nothing out of the ordinary for this lighthearted producer.
There are strong notes of peach and apple on the aroma, with a light white flower component. There is a good amount of stony notes that hint at mineral water, as well as a fresh sliced melon component that opens up with a spin in the glass.
This wine opens feeling creamy, with a very light, buttery presence. This immediately moves to cleaner tones of wet stone, white peach and very light honey. There is a water lily component, and a very soft bitterness toward the end that almost reminds me of a Northern Italian Pinot Grigio. This is a solid wine, and I was actually surprised by how well done it was for a white that was clearly designed for casual sipping. It’s light and pure, with a nice transition of flavors and a pleasant balance. Well done, and…
Worth Buying. 86 points.
Wine #3: Fox Valley NV Illinois Reserve Chardonel
First off, take a look at the information chart for this wine. It’s nearly identical to both of the others featured in this article, excepting one important thing, the price. Second, no, that is not a typo. And third, no, this is not your typical $4.00 wine. Fox Valley Winery is a highly respected boutique winery, specializing in small production and estate bottled wines. This wine received the same attention to detail, and is made to the same standards as the rest of their products, but its priced to move.
The aroma is full of buttery brioche notes, a touch of smoke, and a wonderful nuttiness. It’s almost reminiscent of baklava, strudel, cinnamon, and banana bread.
The same banana bread presence from the aroma shows up on the first sip. It’s followed by a faint nuttiness, a bit of custard and cream, and an apple pie finish.
This wine’s got a very nice, refined body with an almost oily presence on the palate. There is a faint minerality, a slightly flinty edge, and a really nice structure. This would be a solid buy at four times the price, a $4.00 it’s a bargain not to be missed.
Worth Buying. 88 points.
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