Pennsylvania Wine School: What is a Chardonel?

Chambour-huh? Vidal who? Need some help demystifying some of Pennsylvania’s most essential grape varieties? The PA Wine Land Post is at your service, schooling you on the grapes you need to know.

Varietal: Chardonel (pronounced shar-dun-el)

Grown: Across Pennsylvania

Similar to: Chardonnay, Seyval Blanc

Chardonel is the child of famous parents, namely Chardonnay and Seyval Blanc. The resulting varietal borrows characteristics from both of those varietals, leading to a late-ripening white wine grape that is cold-hardy but still brimming with charm.

Chardonel was the fourth novel wine grape branded and released by the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station (those previous cultivars were Cayuga White, Horizon, and Melody). The cross, which marries an existing hybrid with a vinifera varietal, was first grown in 1953. Test wines followed in the mid-60s, but availability to grape growers didn’t happen until 1990.

Wines made from Chardonel, which ripes to a beautiful amber color, are dry, fruity, and full-bodied. Some winemakers have even experimented with sparkling wine production due to the grape’s bright, balanced acidity and notes of green apple.

Like its beloved parents, Chardonel provides a fertile playground for winemakers. They can age these wines in oak, accentuating notes of butter, spice, and earth, and developing a rounder mouthfeel via malolactic fermentation. Or they can use steel, pushing citrus notes and that vibrant acidity to the forefront.

If you’re pairing Chardonel, looking to its close relatives is a good guide. When you’d usually reach for a Chardonnay — let’s say with grilled chicken or a light, lemony pasta — try one of these intriguing wines instead. Chardonel is also delicious paired with creamy cheeses, mushrooms, and dishes featuring apples. And like Seyval, more acidic iterations taste marvelous alongside fresh seafood such as oysters, clams, and mussels.