Five is a big number. Any annual convention that survives and thrives into a fifth caucus must be divined by some unseen force, a guiding hand perhaps, by avatar or prosopopoeia. And something other. The International Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration has priceless equity on its side. Three aces in the hole. Canadian climate and geology, adroit farmers and winemakers, simpatico of communities.
West coast writer Alder Yarrow spent three days in Ontario and referred to The Brilliance of Canadian Chardonnay. Wine Spectator contributing editor Matt Kramer said that Ontario is possessive of a “luminosity of flavour” and that its Chardonnay offers up “the element of surprise.” In Modern Wine Myths he tells the world about the measure of Canadian wine.
What is it that draws foreign winemakers and journalists to Canada? If people will come, their work meets vacation migration must want for a cause and effect to be a part of something special. South Africa’s Anthony Hamilton Russell said that “a layered, complex wine has to have completed its phenolic journey.” Despite what the world might think and think they know, peregrination by wine grapes, from bud break, through fruit set, véraison and into ripening, is a beautiful reality in Canada.
Who among us had not believed that the pinnacle of hype had been compassed? Had four years of gatherings not fully realized a conspiracy to inject more than enough cool Chardonnay into thousands of minds and veins? Had anyone not wholly submitted to a seemingly seized reality in apogee of conversions, of maximum, critical mass?
Yes, we thought these things and then year number five blew our minds. We had been wrong. We found out that the bar had yet been breached. Further was still out there, not yet claimed, hovering in the realm of the possible and still, going forward, yet remains plausible. Looking back on the weekend of July 17-19, 2015, at locations blanketed across the Niagara Peninsula, Chardonnay got even cooler.
Eleven days in advance of the fifth International Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration, known in hashtag locution as #i4c15, I tasted and wrote notes on eleven examples of Chardonnay and it was good. On a weekend built for beauty in Wine Country Ontario, at Jackson Triggs, White Oaks Conference Resort and Spa, 13th Street Winery, Westcott Vineyards, Ridley College and at Ravine Vineyard Estate Winery, I tasted upwards of 50 more. I will admit that previous Cool Chardonnay weekends laid a beating on my palate. Not in 2015. On July 20th I wished for more Chardonnay.
With a cavalry in cavalcade of Chardonnay volunteers making it real and sealing the deal, the surfeited excellence of events crossed with happenings rolled on, from the School of Cool – Viticultural and Winemaking Sessions, through Barrels & Bonfires, past Cool Chardonnay World Tour Tasting & Dinner and into The Moveable Feast. There were maestri to applaud – Master Sommelier Bruce Wallner, Angie Jewell and MJ Macdonald – trumpeters of Chardonnay. Did you seek out and thank Dorian Anderson, Trisha Molokach, Magdalena Kaiser and Joanna Muratori? – concierge and purveyors of cool climate heaven. Had you a word or two with Del Rollo, Suzanne Janke and the vintners of the i4C? – gatekeepers of the plans and secrets, where Ontario schemes, greets, welcomes and celebrates frore, global brilliance.
The School of Cool presented by Wine Country Ontario and the Grape Growers of Ontario moved to White Oaks Conference Resort & Spa for the first time in 2015. Panel partners included the passer of the torch Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute at Brock University, VineTech Canada, Kerry Canada and Riedel Canada. Master Sommelier John Szabo once again moderated three sessions focused on international perspectives to viticulture and winemaking in cool climate regions, with a special feature on Sparkling Chardonnay. In 2011 Wine Spectator‘s Matt Kramer was the keynote speaker and he reprised that contribution in 2015.
The School of Cool 2015 sessions were controversial, heated and extremely effective. On them I will need to expand upon at another time, in another post. For now, the crux of the conversation concerned two intense Chardonnay algorithms. First, consequence versus cosmetics. Said Kramer, “Niagara has the ability and the opportunity to create Chardonnays of consequence.” Marlize Beyers of Hidden Bench allowed this. “I do believe Chardonnay needs a little bit of cosmetics. Mouthfeel is important.” Discuss.
The second and most managed thread of discussion concerned the idea of minerality. Is it real? Dr. Gary Pickering: “Who cares?” Dr Alex Maltman: “It’s a lovely idea, journalists love it, has marketing capability, but it doesn’t hold up.” Paul Pender: “It’s a great story. I’m not 100 per cent sure its true. It’s more complex than that.” Albrecht Seeger: “Minerality is part of the terroir.” Matt Kramer: “The scientists don’t know a goddamn thing about wine.” Discuss.
On Friday night at 13th Street the theme was “boots & blue jeans,” to compliment Chardonnay, with a smoke-inspired feast, live music and cozy bonfires set amongst the vines.
On Saturday Chardonistas blanketed the Niagara region.
I spent the afternoon with winemaker Arthur Harder, Grant, Carolyn and Victoria Westcott at their Vinemount Ridge Westcott Vineyards property.
George Restaurant Chef Lorenzo Loseto and Sommelier Christopher Sealy came to cook and pour. They went to town. Appetites were whetted, palates amused, bellies satiated, hearts skewered, minds hooked and time was lost to well spent.
The main event’s setting was St. Catharines’ Ridley College, at which Chef Paul Harber (Ravine Vineyard Restaurant) and Chef Craig Youdale (Canadian Food & Wine Institute) assembled a dream team of the region’s top Vineyard Chefs to present an Ontario-centric family-style feast. Beer and red wine, “oh my,” “gasp,” “what sacrilege,” followed dinner.
On Sunday morning the final convene took place, as it always does, at Ravine Vineyard. More stellar bites, oysters from Tide and Vine, Niagara cured gold Pingue prosciutto from Niagara Food Specialties and ping-pong in the vineyard. In the end, the love was felt, for the community that celebrates Ontario wine, for all the cool climate folks who came thousands of miles to participate and for Chardonnay.
The events provided opportunities to taste the Chardonnays on hand and with thanks to Wine Country Ontario, a media room was set up at White Oaks with full representation. Many of my tasting notes were formulated in that space. Here are twenty-five new Chardonnay reviews from the weekend at i4C15.
Quite simple and surprisingly lush with more than ample acidity to keep vitality in the air. A balanced effort in a pretty plush Chardonnay. Drink 2015-2017. Tasted July 2015
If you reside in Ontario or happen to be passing through before September 13, 2015, the perfect value storm of Chardonnay swirls in your corner. It may be the most excellent 2012 you will find on shelves but looking forward to this (2013) vintage you will encounter a varietal tempest, a house crafted dictionary entry and in retrospect, memories regarding that two dollar limited time offer price reduction that doled out 10 per cent more satisfaction. The essentia of fresh glade aroma, cream in your corn texture and a gaol of circulating acidity add up to one seriously fleshy ($20 and/or $18), cool-climate, hovering in and around the Beamsville Bench Chardonnay. The Malivoire base wine is one of no beginning and no end so in that sense it will always get inside you. Drink 2015-2018. Tasted July 2015 @ @
Rich, toasty and nutty Maule Chardonnay, full on, out and in favour of ambitious, lofty heights. Has massive creamy meets chalky mouthfeel and tropical fruit with spice by wood in spikes, not to mention high toned acidity and alcohol. It’s an aggressive if clumsy expression. Drink 2015-2018. Tasted twice, June and July 2015 @ @
Hillebrand Trius Barrel Fermented Chardonnay 2013, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (46595, $19.95, WineAlign)
Sur-lie barrel fermented Chardonnay all in for texture and fabric with a taste of soft French cream. Very ripe, especially in consideration of the vintage. The late flavours recall lemon curd and a touch of rind. In the end an elemental tonic push carries this skyward, as opposed to downward in earthy dredge, so imagine forward to a petrolish driven future, the engine leaving a trail of disposed energy. Quite complex and certainly fixed with boards to add nuts to the melting, oozing bolts. I would recommend leaving this for two years for the tension to subside. Then the creamy centre will spill out from beneath the pastry crust. Drink 2017-2020. Tasted July 2015 @
The vineyard speaks louder and clearer with every passing vintage. In 2013 the level of atomic and aerified atmospheric pressure is unparalleled, from June and for any Chardonnay produced in the Creek Shores sub-appellation. At this early stage the ’13’s awkward, backward and racy character is uncomfortable but impossible to taste away from. This is Chardonnay on gym candy to be sure, rocking like a hurricane, dancing up a storm. The terpenes are titillating, the enzymes discharging. There is a bronze/patina/inside of a pipe metallic feel that adds to the texture improvisation. Nothing about this says drink now nor does it let you settle into a comfort zone. It’s just that all over the place. Will revisit in three years. Tasted December 2014 and July 2015 @ @
Matawhero Chardonnay 2014, Gisborne, North Island, New Zealand (Agent, $21.95)
Unoaked but full malo crisp up this true blue, north island Chardonnay. A bob of fruit from the oldest (40 years) winery in the region and under current ownership for the past eight. You can tell after tasting with Kirsten Searle that the project has been a labour of love. Her words seem to say “heading out for the East Coast Lord knows I’ve paid some dues gettin’ through. Tangled up in blue.” Round and properly bitter, the world should not be demanded. East coast will do. Drink 2015-2018. Tasted July 2015
A strength in aromatic temper initializes the confrontation and the relationship. Once hooked, lemon and a waxy texture usher the palate through the middle reaches, then a swirl, tongue on a swivel, off to glide with sweetness into a gin and tonic backside ride. Goes fat and caressing for a spell, through a toasty phase and yet the wood is hidden or at least negligible. Could very well pass for unoaked in a way, especially considering the tang and the persistence. A very solid wine at a very workable price. Drink 2015-2018. Tasted twice, June and July 2015 @ @
Josef Chromy Chardonnay ‘Pepik’ 2014, Tasmania, Australia (Agent, $22.95)
Combines beauty and bitters for a streak of natural selection through a field of texture. Heads for the cream risen to the top of rich, pulls over and steps aside to allow for a crunch of green apple. The bite is real, lit by match and cut with spice. Great length. Drink 2015-2020. Tasted July 2015 @ @
Climbs more than a rung or two up the reverent Chablis ladder to mingle with the Cru boys. Something about 2013 strikes as more serious, punctilious and free. This is benchmark Saint Martin, chalky and textured from soup to nuts, of spirits high and sky-scraping tang. The acidity is frank, the structure unwavering and the fruit to mineral dichotomy of a pure, mature and essential hookup. From verve to intensity and back again. Up and down, primary and natural. Drink 2015-2019. Tasted July 2015 @ @ @
Quite classically cooled and unplugged yet intensely sunshine tangy. Fun yet on a seesaw of play and a boat on a rough sea up and down in balance. That is not to say that acidity does not exist but the tang is like heavy salad dressing, emulsified and sultry. No malolactic equates to green apples and blanched nuts, or those hulled direct from the tree. Texture is the thing, a child of crisp, cool fermentation. Freshness could use just a bit more ventilation. Drink 2015-2017. Tasted twice, June and July 2015 @ @
Chamisal Estate Chardonnay 2013, Edna Valley, California (Agent, $24.95)
French oak (45 per cent) and (25 per cent) of it new mixed with (50 per cent) malo has created an herbal cream piqued by spice. It’s kind of a chewy Chardonnay, well-judged, blended and crafted with both stainless steel and wood ramifications in meld together mind. A true dichotomy of pleasures, green and red, old and new, yes and no. Drink 2015-2021. Tasted July 2015 @ @
Domaine Queylus Chardonnay ‘Tradition’ 2013, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Agent, $24.95)
From vines planted by soil guru Alain Sutre, two km’s from the lake, close to Green Lane. If you make a comparison to Bench sites, this is an understated, hyper elegant version of a Chardonnay. It’s an underdog, plain and simple. Sixteen months of élevage has raised a beautiful, bitter green dignity, pith nicety and polite terpenes. A child in many ways who’s offspring will only serve to honour the family name. Drink 2015-2018. Tasted June and July 2015 @ @
Vasse Felix Filius Chardonnay 2013, Margaret River, Western Australia (Agent, $25)
At a third of the cost of the Heytsbury, expectations for the Filius need not exceed prediction. Screw cap has sealed in reduction, sulphur and acidity so that upon liberation the wave of anxiety is nearly overwhelming. The Filius transmits waves of complexity, layers of predilection and outright Margaret River coolness but decanting that character is not unthinkable. Smoulder, struck match and green apple fruit are massively intertwined. Bold Chardonnay. Drink 2016-2020. Tasted July 2015 @ @
Jean Bourdy Côtes De Jura White 2008, Ac Jura, France (Agent, $28.00, WineAlign)
Tasting his Jura whites with Jean Bourdy can’t help but funnel the exercise into a tunnel, a vacuum and a bilateral directive inward and centripetal. Tradition is everything and this ’09 is neither the exception nor the anti-establishment rebel to the rule. Herbal balm and oxidized character persist but nowhere in the world can so much implosive energy exist in wine such as a Bourdy Jura. This vintage does not reinvent the oueille but the four fermenting years in oak, as per the centuries-old Côtes du Jura method seems to improve with the cleanliness of the process. Another white to follow well into the third decade of this century. Drink 2015-2035. Tasted July 2015 @ @
The 2012 early picked Reserve Chardonnay was the raw player, the talented yet unproven one, all about foreplay. Here in ’13, from fruit picked on October 7th is a different rock ‘n roll animal, wiser to vintage, mature in acumen, confident, a Ziggy Stardust. This charismatic leader of the Vinemount Ridge Chardonnay band, “could lick ’em by smiling, he could leave ’em to hang, came on so loaded man, well hung and snow white tan.” Works opulence with prejudice and here acts, sings, dances and displays equipped with nothing short of immediate distinction. There is nothing held back, no remedial work in progress and wisdom oozes beyond its years, in and of learning. The right time and the right place for the winemaker, the accomplice, the peer and the confidence of the partners. Drink 2015-2021. Tasted July 2015 @ @
What should small Vinemount Ridge yields, collected solar units and wise, thinking ahead of the curve decision making combine to procure? Grace under pressure. This is what winemaker Arthur Harder, proprietors Grant and Carolyn Westcott and Chardonnay have conspired to achieve out of the warm and challenging 2012 vintage. They picked in very early September. They laid the fruit down for 12 months in (four) 1st, 2nd and 3rd fill barrels. They sat back and waited for amalgamation. If 2012 shows this level of restraint, respect and reserve, well, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. This is deserving of meritorious accolades at a very reasonable price. Drink 2015-2019.
From my earlier note of February 2014:
From vineyards planted in 2005, this new kid on the Jordan block spent 12 months in oak, half of it new. To a taster, you would never know it. In clone cousin to Le Clos Jordanne’s Chardonnay, this special project is the nephew of a set aside, four-barrel selection. Winemaker Arthur Harder (Calamus) has fashioned a head-turning clean, pure and most mineral-driven Chardonnay from impossibly young Vinemount Ridge vines. A quartz chord runs through it and with just two or three more years of vine age the fruit and adjoining texture will catch up to the rock. That integrated, subtle oak impart is of a Granny Smith apple kind, crisp and taut. Such a memorable inauguration with so much promise that lays ahead.
Last tasted July 2015
The omnipresent Escarpment stone etched, nicked and saturated into ferment from out of the Cave Spring Vineyard may never have extolled virtue any more so than out of the 2012 vintage. A tropical CSV and its accompanying mild, understated toast combs the faces for balance and bobs its keel in well-structured, puff pastry layering. A bitter sachet of schist on the back end steps into a really fine linger. CSV of real presence even in the midst of a summer swelter. Drink 2016-2020. Tasted twice, June and July 2015 @ @
Lailey Brickyard Chardonnay 2013, VQA Niagara River, Ontario (2908, $30.20, WineAlign)
There are many variations on the Lailey Chardonnay theme but none speaks as clear a Brother Derek Barnett vernacular as the Brickyard, a wine composed in clarity of Niagara River fruit. The former cherry tree and yes, brickyard site is blessed with a red clay soil and Niagara micro-climate that just circulates with enunciated vowels, consonants and graceful intonations. That this seminal vintage will be Barnett’s Lailey swan song is not lost on gist or preponderancy. The full intention, weight and breadth of fruit circles the wagons, prepares the last supper and the silence that follows knows this. This winemaker and this Chardonnay work harder than a great bulk of the competition and in the end, they together are a seamless, relentless and unflappable study in cool climate success. This wine must hold a rightful place in every wine country Ontario inamorato cellar. Drink 2016-2023. Tasted July 2015 @
Jeremy Dineen’s 2014 takes over the conversation at the precise moment the previous vintage left off, grabs attention and travels further along. With baton firmly in grasp, the ’14’s acidity dances in a filly’s realm, jittery, agitated, ready to jump out ahead of the pack. The citrus flavours are implosive, concentrated, in demand, distinctly Tasmanian. Though our time was short, to this Texas Tazzy I say, “we were together, I was blown away, just like paper from a fan.” If the ’13 was a creeping crooner, this ’14 is more a smoky-voiced songstress, trotting a longer track. It would be hard not to imagine seeing this Chardonnay as nearly unchanging in its first decade of life. Drink 2016-2025. Tasted July 2015 @ @
A purposed effort from 2013 with even more direct precision, spice, freshness and linear strike flurry. A vital Limoux, of higher yield, lowered oak and acidity defined simply as the real deal. A tremendously exceptional and experiential vintage and one to help define the true identity of cool Chardonnay. Drink 2015-2022. Tasted July 2015 @ @ @
A co-composed 60 per cent Yakima Valley (planted in the 1970’s) and 40 per cent Evergreen (mineral slope) Chardonnay extensive and extended of orchard fruit with a penchant for texture. The house style reached for uniformity, employing mostly older barrels and laying out bed linens for a brief five-months slumber. Hear this though, the 41 is the sum of its parts and may sport a fat lip but it’s no “victim of your conformity.” Texture is the thing, a result of a warm vintage, cool Evergreen nights in the fall and rampant malolactic fermentation (despite attempts to block it). A Chardonnay “strollin’ to the party like (his) name is El ninio.” Arabesque weave and flavours that go punk and pop. Drink 2015-2020. Tasted July 2015 @ @ @
If the 2011 Wild Ferment spoke in treble clef, this ’12 pounds out a deeply resonating bass note, from instruments wooden and speaking on behalf of the vintage. Deeply smoky, layered and rich beyond yeasty belief, this is a massively structured wine for Niagara, specific to the Lincoln Lakeshore and its ability to ripen fruit of such density. The tang factor is set to 12, above and beyond what winemaker Craig McDonald has reached for before. This vintage, surmised with such yeast, takes ’10, layers it with ’11 and pops out the most plush to date. Missing is the exceptional acidity of 2011 though the overall anatomy and architecture can’t be denied. Drink 2016-2021. Tasted July 2015
The 2012 Felseck is a wine dramatically and diametrically opposed to many other vintages from out of this fundamental Hidden Bench vineyard. Here oozes Chardonnay so very lees layered, emulsified, misty-eyed and far from reductive, having left the 44 per cent new, 14 months in barrel behind. From fruit culled off of east-west Felseck rows in a hot year that saw fundamental leaf plucking/canopy management. The wondrous emotion is condensed in taste and texture, with the bitters turned up a notch, though in their finale they use spice to conjure up ardor, for to melt into length. Unwavering Chardonnay. Drink 2016-2020. Tasted July 2015 @ @
Domaine Queylus Chardonnay ‘Reserve’ 2013, VQA Niagara Escarpment, Ontario (Agent, $39.95)
Winemaker Thomas Bachelder combed the blocks of the lowland “villages” sites and in slow-forward cohorts with the most subtle barrels, came up with the cuvée for the Reserve ’13. The same percentage of new oak fed the fruit with love, time, juncture and encouragement. A creamy lustre careens into honey, giving retrospective cue to suckle and accumulating richness. What fortune to work with 2013 for the purpose of announcing a Queylus take on tiers of Chardonnay to the world. Drink 2016-2021. Tasted June and July 2015
Flowers Sonoma Coast Chardonnay 2013, Sonoma Coast, California (215210, $64.95, WineAlign)
If 2013 is turning out to be the first truly great Chardonnay vintage of the century out of Sonoma, the Flowers SC is categorically up front and centre in that discussion. The epic’s lead paragraph initializes here in a wine that is severely accurate, a blinding and gorgeous expression that brings the flowers in its game. A wield of pulchritude and balance by acidity spot on. Pure flavour extract expands and the components zing on the finish. Could there lurk a Meursault notion in its lace? You know what, forget that. Strike comparisons from the record. The Flowers is extraordinary of Chardonnay, by Chardonnay and for Chardonnay. Drink 2016-2025. Tasted July 2015 @ @ @
From a warm vintage out of the top Grand Cru terroir of the Comptes. Essential white flower essence, pure driven snow and liquid chalk. Even though at this 10 year mark this is essentially a gift to assess, the Comtes is entirely approachable in requiem for no further delay. Plenty of energy drives the flavours straight to the back of the buds and were they to linger longer than they prolong to do, the wine would be an utter stroke of genius. As it is, that bench is nearly marked. Drink 2015-2025. Tasted July 2015 @ @ @
Twenty-five previously reviewed Chardonnays poured at the 2015 Cool Chardonnay weekend:
Good to go!