ARIEL Vineyards Chardonnay

ARIEL-Vineyards-Chardonnay 3_5

ARIEL Vineyards Chardonnay

Chardonnay / Ariel Vineyards NA / <0.5%

ARIEL Chardonnay, with its tropical fruit character and subtle oak from barrel aging, has a distinctive combination of buttery apple and butterscotch flavors, combined with a toasty French oak bouquet. This is a dealcoholized wine that will continue to develop complexity as it ages.

While interest in non-alcoholic beer and wine has been increasing tremendously in recent years, that doesn’t mean all of these products are new. One company that has been treading in this territory for decades is ARIEL Vineyards, bottling their product in San Jose, California and sourcing their grapes from down the central coast. ARIEL’s claim to fame is that, starting in 1986, their dealcoholized wines have won multiple gold medals while going up against high-end traditional wines containing alcohol. These days ARIEL only offers up two varietals, a Cabernet Sauvignon and the one I will be sampling today, a Chardonnay.

One of the main reasons that dealcoholized beverages are receiving more attention is that an increasing number of people are trying to turn to healthier alternatives. In this respect, wine even has a leg up on beer because of the beneficial polyphenols that are present. If you want to enjoy a glass of wine without the ill effects on your health, or you just hate hangovers, you might find yourself turning to ARIEL.

I will be perfectly honest and upfront here, I was rather disappointed when I tried the ARIEL Cabernet. It did not live up to the reputation that I had seen. Additionally, Chardonnay is not one of my favorite varietals of wine. So heading into this ARIEL Vineyards Chardonnay review, my expectations have been tempered, but I will, of course, give it a fair shake, and maybe I’ll even be pleasantly surprised.

Is ARIEL Vineyards Chardonnay Good?

On appearance alone, this Chardonnay absolutely stands up to its alcoholic counterparts. The bottle is fronted by a simple green label with a single brushstroke of gold underlining the name of the vineyard. This is also matched by an elegant silver brushstroke across the neck.

On the back of the label is a short blurb detailing how successful this wine has been in tasting competitions and explaining that the alcohol is removed through a cold filtration process. This has become the preferred method of dealcoholization for many winemakers. Vacuum distillation, where the wine is heated until the alcohol evaporates, was the other predominant method because it is quicker and cheaper, but it often doesn’t result in the best finished product. So I am glad to see that ARIEL does uses the method they do.

In the bottle, as well as upon pouring, this Chardonnay is a crisp, golden color, a beautiful shade that is reminiscent of many quality alcoholic Chardonnays that I have had in the past. While I am typically a red over white guy, seeing this wine chilled an sitting in glass brings on memories of summer garden weddings and enjoying a casual serving or two before moving onto the hard stuff. Perhaps that’s a good place for this dealcoholized version to land.

While appearances definitely count for something in the world of wine, they aren’t the end-all-be-all. Flavor is still priority number one, and we have to answer the question, “Is ARIEL Vineyards Chardonnay good?”

ARIEL Vineyards Chardonnay Review

The first big whiff that I took of this Chardonnay legitimately knocked me back a little, and not in a great way. There is an overpowering almost musty smell that is a bit difficult to get past. When you do, there is definitely some honeycrisp apple underneath but that unique smokiness keeps coming back. It’s hard to relate to anything exactly because it’s an aroma I’ve never experience before in a white wine. Perhaps it comes from the toasted oak barrels the wine is aged in, but it isn’t typical.

On sipping, it is nice to find that robust aroma goes away for the most part. Not that it’s terribly off-putting, but it would be hard to find any subtleties if that punch persisted. Unfortunately, I found that through normal sipping, the flavor profile starts to disappear entirely.

I should have known this going in, but I had to switch to wine taster mode and let the liquid melt over my tongue, where I then found an array of notes. The apple is there. Some butterscotch. And I got a lot of melon. None of these are easy to discern, but they are there. You just have to taste a little deeper.

The mouthfeel is satisfying, and the finish is an acceptable crispness that you want from a chilled Chardonnay. These might be the biggest strengths that this wine has going for it. I hesitate to label it “watered down” because that’s not exactly the feeling, but I think when removing the alcohol much of the flavor must have gone with it. I will have to take all these thoughts into account when formulating my ARIEL Vineyards Chardonnay rating.

ARIEL Vineyards Chardonnay Rating

I find there to be a few significant similarities between the red and white offerings that ARIEL has on the table. Both the Cabernet Sauvignon and this Chardonnay are far from offensive. I can’t imagine anyone would call them undrinkable. But they both seem too diluted to truly be savoured. If you are trying to fit in with a room full of wine drinkers, I’m sure you could do worse. This is a fine enough beverage to sip on. It just simply doesn’t taste that much like wine.

The one big difference between their two varietals for me is where the best characteristics find you. While I found that the Cabernet had a nice initial burst of flavor that disappeared as quickly as it arrived, the Chardonnay is something of the opposite, with the positive hints that it does have lingering underneath the surface. The big problem is that even to a discerning palette those bits of flavor are hard to find and not all that brilliant when you do. At the very least, they were reassuring to me that I was actually drinking wine.

I think with its significantly less pure grape juice flavor and an overall decent mouthfeel, I would say that this Chardonnay stands slightly above their Cabernet, which is a surprising conclusion to come to for someone with my personal tase. And it means that I am compelled to end this ARIEL Vineyards Chardonnay review by giving this wine a rating of 3 out of 5 stars. You surely won’t be insulted by sipping a glass or two on a warm summer day, but there are better options available.