‘I4C’ a future filled with Chardonnay

Golden globes, Trius Winery at Hillebrand
PHOTO: ESTHER VAN GEEST OF STEVEN ELPHICK & ASSOCIATES

as seen on canada.com

In July of 2011, the International Cool Climate Chardonnay Association held their inaugural event, the celebration, the fourth “C.” On the weekend of July 19-21, 2013 the third Cool Climate Chardonnay conference occupied the greater good of the Niagara Peninsula, cementing a legacy begun two years previous.

Backtrack a few years, when in 2009 Ontario’s Le Clos Jordanne’s ‘Claystone Terrace’ Chardonnay 2005 made by winemaker Thomas Bachelder trumped international competitors in a Montreal grand tasting. A light bulb went on. Fast forward to April 2010 and a group of romantics from 28 Ontario wineries get together to defend a grape. Were they singing “that’s what I like about Chardonnay?” No, but the grape had been down on the rock for so long and the panel felt compelled to come to its defense. To suffer an indignity like “Anything But Chardonnay” was an aggression that could no longer be tolerated. Thus an idea was born, a manifesto drafted and i4C was soon to become a reality.

For such a gathering to succeed there necessitates grand effort, partnership, passion, star power and serious thematic examples. Germination began with those first cool thoughts back in 2010 and the journey has since laid song lines by way of a barmy march of vignerons with rootstock firmly dug in Niagara (Harald ThielAngelo Pavan) and those with a second foot tracking terroirsbeyond and abroad (Thomas BachelderFrancois Morissette). Mix in some of this generation’s best wine-producing and marketing minds; Ron Giesbrecht formerly of Henry of Pelham, now Niagara College, Stephen Gash (Malivoire), Peter Bodnar Rod (13th Street), Del Rollo (Inniskilin, Jackson Triggs, Le Clos Jordanne), Suzanne Janke (Stratus) and Jeff Aubry (Coyote’s Run). The yeoman’s load has been in the multi-tasking hands of those who will work ’till their fingers bleed. Give it up for the cool concierge team; Dorian Andrewes, Trisha Molokach, Elena Galey-Pride, Britnie Bazylewski, Magdalena Kaiser-Smit and an army of volunteers.

Partnered in kind with Wine Country Ontario, the Grape Growers of Ontario and the LCBO, Cool Chardonnay has gone forth and prospered. Success can be directly attributed to community and a profound connection to the fruit of the land. Famous wine folk have come; Matt Kramer of Wine Spectator, Stephen Brook of Decanter, winemakers and vintners wherever cool Chardonnay is grown. Pours have been the best of the best.

For three straight days in 2013 they walked, talked, sung praises in favour of and flat-out got dizzy with Chardonnay. White Oaks Conference Resort and Spa became vinifera central for the visiting cognoscenti, including 1976 Judgment in Paris and Decanter Magazine’s Steven Spurrier,U.K. wine writer Jamie Goode (The Wine Anorak), Master of Wine Christy Canterbury and traveling winemakers from all over; Louis Jadot’s Jacques Lardière, South Africa’s Anthony Hamilton Russell, New Zealand’s Ruud Maasdam and Spain/California’s Marimar Torres.

The Cool Chardonnay weekend-long event is the stuff of dreams. The level of local and global wine excellence on display is sweeping and staggering. The congress acts both as social function and unprecedented academic experience. Most of all, i4c fosters and develops relationships for people within the wine industry and with its fans.

PHOTO: Michael Godel
Brock University CCOVI

 Dizzying was the operative word of the weekend. Each time I had only just digested, assimilated, internalized and committed a group of wines to memory, another gala event and tasting was upon me. Friday morning began with “Global Perspectives on Chardonnay,” a winemaker’s panel discussion at Brock University’s Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute, moderated in minimalist, less is more fashion by Mr. Spurrier. The colloquium was augmented by a tasting of seven wines attributed to panel members. “The base for all wines should be harmony,” began Spurrier, followed by ”simplicity and clarity are the key points in wine.” Four matter-of-course questions were put to the panel and the dissertations ambled in many directions. Could the room of several hundred not question, “why is this symposium different from all other symposiums?” There was plenty of talk on barrels, clones, rootstock, soil and climate but what about the heart of the matter. How and where does Ontario Chardonnay go forth and prosper? How will exceptional quality translate to financial success? The answer lay buried in the polite, respectful and viniculture responses of the panelists, all of whom chose not to ruffle any wine making philosophy feathers nor to breach the moderator’s benign agenda. There were highlights:

Grape grower Albrecht Seeger:

Thomas Bachelder on behalf of and in support of the eloquent and verbose Jacques Lardière:

The outspoken and candid Francois Morissette:

PHOTO: Michael Godel
Chardonnay at Brock University CCOVI

Friday night at Trius (Hillebrand) in Niagara-on-the-Lake set off under blazing sun only to be swept away in tempest. What began with the promise of seemingly limitless and linear structured wine and food stations turned into weather induced, scrambled chaos. I may never see a group of cooks, servers, winemakers and volunteers work harder to save an event and satiate a crowd as I saw at Trius that night. Their efforts were nothing short of brilliant. It was difficult to focus on tasting but the scene afforded some priceless time spent with Niagara winemakers and Brit Jamie Goode as the event wound down and on the shuttle back to the hotel. Wine tastings rarely afford such personal moments, to talk about something other than phenolics and malolactic fermentation.

PHOTO: Steven Elphick & Associates
Marlize Beyers at of Hidden Bench, Mikael Falkman of Champagne Taittinger and Michael Godel at Trius Wines

Lunch events and tastings on Saturday were held at StratusPillitteriHidden Bench and at Southbrook, which I attended. While the first three conducted more formal, seated, panel discussion style luncheons, the scene at Southbrook was more of a walk about, casual nature. Once again this allowed for one-on-one time with some of Niagara’s wine minds. Great time was spent with Shiraz Mottiar of Mailvoire (Moira’s Chardonnay 2010) and Sébastien Jacquey of Le Clos Jordanne (LCJ Chardonnay Claystone Terrace 2010). Special thanks to Bill and Marilyn Redelmeier for their hospitality.

PHOTO: Steven Elphick & Associates
Mother Nature announces a change of plans – at Trius Wines

Vineland Research and Innovation Centre was host to the Saturday gala event. The gamut of Chardonnay flowed freely, including fizz by Cave Spring, Angel’s Gate and Taittinger alongside Tide and Vine oysters. Food stations adorned the lawn and the army of volunteers poured all available Chardonnay well into the night. My ABC moment came early Sunday thanks to Mike Di Caro and a very much alive bottle of ’98 Henry of Pelham Riesling. Sunday concluded with more, you guessed it, Chardonnay at Ravine Vineyard and some terrific eats. Pizza from the outdoor oven, prosciutto by Mario Pingue and great rib-eye hamburgers hot off the grill.

PHOTO: Michael Godel
Chef Vikram Vij at Vineland Research Centre

In excess of 100 unique expressions of Chardonnay were available to taste throughout the weekend. More than half were presented in an experiential way, with a present winemaker or a carefully crafted food pairing. I sampled 72 to be exact. Much as I have thus far avoided the questions, and they have been asked more than once, I am willing to address the demand for ”what were the highlights and what were your favourites?” Apologies in advance to those I either missed or could not properly assess due to the sheer enormity of the weekend. Also to the little ones, the hard-plodding, day-to-day pleasing value Chardonnay. With so many top-tier, global examples from Burgundy, California, Chile, New Zealand, South Africa, British Columbia and Ontario on offer, the under $25 set may not have felt the love. Here are notes on 13, guilt-free, bring ‘em on Chardonnay poured at #i4c2013.

Wines were tasted at the following venues:

Brock University Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute (CCOVI)

Trius Winery at Hillebrand (TWH)

Southbrook Vineyards (SV)

Vineland Research and Innovation Centre (VRIC)

Vineland Research and Innovation Centre Rittenhouse Media Room  (RMR)

Ravine Vineyard (RV)

Southbrook Chardonnay Whimsy! ‘Sirgue’ 2011 (344531, $34.95) may come from the ‘masculine barrels’ but the integration is already seamless, in soft French cream spooned over a grove of ripe lemon dessert. Sister ‘Damy’ (sampled at 5-Star Casa Loma) is certainly ultra-feminine but together they speak of the symbiotic relationship between winemaker (Ann Sperling) and cooperage. Stone-free Chardonnay, “free to ride the breeze.”  90  (TH, SV) @SouthbrookWine

Poplar Grove Reserve Chardonnay 2011 (335760, $34.00) is not so much a more concentrated version of the estate’s normale as a hotter sister. Like her sibling, the reserve does not rely on any one feature but she is classically styled, quaffed, a marble bust made up as maenad. Sappy white and savoury, meloniuos winter fruit, spiced apple butter and cool, steely goodness alights. “Felonious my old friend, So glad that you’re here again.”  90  (TWH, VRIC) @poplargrovewine

Staete Land Chardonnay ‘Josephine’ 2010 (332494, $57.00) is built upon a Marlborough hendiadys, a complex conjunction of rocks and earth. Sharp, focused and broad across the palate. Ruddy specimen this Josephine and simply gorgeous.  90  (VRIC)  @liffordwine

Miguel Torres Chardonnay ‘Cordillera De Los Andes’ 2011 (296624, $18.95) out of the cooler Limari Valley impresses in structure from mountain top to valley floor. Candied lemon peel, spicy bite and a crisp, cool centre make a case for value Chilean Chardonnay of the year. I might go so far as to say the highest quality ever from Chile.  91  (RMR)  @MarimarTorres

Tawse Chardonnay ‘Lenko Vineyard’ 2011 (344796, $44.95) ”from wiser men who’ve been through it all” is the kind of one-off we should all wish to re-visit in 10 years time. The study: Daniel Lenko’s fruit in the hands of winemaker Paul Pender out of a most confounding vintage. That 2011 in terms of Ontario Chardonnay strikes and speaks to me in tongues is no secret, so the Tawse treatment fascinates in ways to make me giddy. Tension and elasticity are present here in super-hyper Beamsville Bench concentration. Apples pile upon apples, in magnetic purée and layered maceration. A full-on body attack and phenolic structure will see this Lenko to a future (five to seven years) in grace and gorgeous line. A Chardonnay to “scheme the schemes, face the face.” Tasted three times.  91  (TH, VRIR, SV)  @Tawse_Winery  @Paul_Pender

Hamilton Russell Chardonnay 2011 (931006, $32.95) may just be the most fascinating wine of the weekend. Aromatically it’s so understated and semi-breve spoken the oak-driven note is of the quasihemidemisemiquaver kind. Taste and find it ”is bathed every veyne in swich licour.” Chaucer-esque form, texture and meaning.  91  (VRIC, RV)  @WOSACanada

Pearl Morissette Chardonnay ‘Dix-Neuvième’ 2009 (303644, $40), tragically singular in expression, regardless and in spite of the terroir, mixes metaphors and pulls it off. “Takes arms against a sea of troubles,” by convincing ADHD fruit of an uncertain vintage to settle, play nice and “by opposing, end them.” Now entering the load out zone, this Hamlet cuvée is “the first to come and the last to leave, working for that minimum wage.” A sentimental ballad here to stay, be remembered and to set the stage for all dix-neuvième to come.  92  (TH)  @Pearl Morissette

Domaine Genot-Boulanger Meursault Clos du Cromin 2010 (331660, $59.00) intimates a sunshine daydream future carrying on wistfully in lustful fruit. Longevity will be supported by tight citrus and the wine, long on life, is long on deliverance.  92  (VRIC, VRI)

Bachelder Chardonnay ’Saunders Vineyard’ 2011 (324103, $44.95) takes the baton from Wismer ’10 in a transfer of power, tension and excitement. Clarity of textural fruit is driven by Beamsville Bench clay-silt soil. Highly dependent on yeast chains, sticking, spreading and expanding. Sapid, savoury, buttered stones show negligible encumbrance due to vines that will not carry an excess of new oak.  92  (CCOVI)  @Bachelder_wines

Norman Hardie County Chardonnay Unfiltered 2011 (346049, $35.00) toasted low and slow enervates and implodes to its very core. Then it sparks, revs the engine and climbs to 140 fearlessly and without peer. For those who can withstand the atomic launch, what follows is a reward of the highest quality Berkshire porcine whip, melting in the mouth like adult cotton candy.  Slow simmered apple paste, spiced and cooling reaps moisture and vacuums in the cheeks. Madness in Prince Edward County Chardonnay.  92  (RMR)  @normhardie

Kistler Vine Hill Vineyard 2010 (120311, $90) is a study in Russian River Valley emotional depth, structured belief, reserved compassion and stoic understanding. Yes John Milton, there is intensity of the California sun present yet expertly judged in ripeness, concentration and restraint. Smooth, glabrous, luxuriant and prurient Chardonnay. Sip it, “look homeward, Angel, now, and melt with ruth.”  93  (RMR)

Pearl Morissette Chardonnay ‘Dix-Neuvième’ 2011 ($40) is a child of a hot and dry summer, a stress-free winter slumber and a non-invasive spring awakening.  Sets out lean, tight and mean, but the dry extract invites spicy, stone fruit and an emergence of tropical lushness. Can there be another specimen that so rightfully defines Pearl Morissette, the top of the Bench or NOL in 2011?  93  (CCOVI)

Joseph Drouhin Chassagne-Montrachet Morgeot Marquis de Laguiche 2010 (332270, $129.00) is sinfully young to assess, enjoy and evaluate. Stinging nettle, metal and silken, concentrated wildflower honey think mellifluous thoughts. “Him that yon soars on golden wings” sings in gold ingot yellow, in sweet harmony. Milton meets Costello, not quite in its Utopian place but will one day achieve peace, love and understanding.  94  (RMR)

Good to go!

The Wine Diaries: new world reds

Photo: REX

http://blogs.canada.com/2012/06/27/the-wine-diaries-new-world-reds/

The term “new world wine” refers to wine produced in countries that have transplanted European vinifera to establish an industry where one did not originally exist. The United States, led by California comes to mind as the leader in this category. Australia sits alone within a second tier while New Zealand, South Africa, Washington and Oregon are the major players close behind. Ever-improving Canada is on the move.

Many wines that are currently unavailable in Canada will one day knock at the door. Voices of discontent are out there and I hear them. Change is inevitable, and optimistically speaking, will come sooner rather than later. In the meantime, like the dutiful children and newcomers we are, we submit to and embrace what is on offer. An imperturbable level of varietal diversity and quality will unearth something out there for everyone.

U.S.A. – California

J. Lohr South Ridge Syrah 2010 (948240, $19.95) from Paso Robles along California’s Central Coast is shiny, happy Syrah. Attenuated body accented by citrus and trace pepper.  “Gold and silver shine.”  87

Laird Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 (50096, $57.95) out of Napa Valley pours like syrup of supersized black and boysenberry concentrate. Massive fruit here, making for a big wine in search of red flesh on closing night.  89

Mahle Wind Gap Syrah 2007 (242776, $59.00) defines the grape for Russian River Valley. The tar, roses and smoked meat from this coulée in Sonoma County tutor California in Northern Rhône speak. Darker than a power outage with a gamey and sanguine finish.  90

Outpost Howell Mountain Zinfandel 2009 (253377, $69.00) is top-tier Napa Valley Zinfandel. The dark flesh of fowl comes to mind, especially Duck with a chocolate mint Nahuatl mōlli. A foxy, violet voice is to be expected out of  the likes of Barolo or Barbaresco, but here Zinfandel tramples me flat.  92

Redemption Zin Zinfandel 2007 (224147, $22.95) might seem magnetic but a plum, raisin, sweet and sour profile is not what Dry Creek Valley normally produces. Fruit too long on the vines?  85

Rutherford Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 (73817, $19.95) offers grateful Napa Valley pleasures so power to its large scale fruit gathering and consumer friendly production. “Walking in the tall trees, going where the wind goes, blooming like a red rose.” Grandiflora not dead. A sunshine daydream.  87

Simi Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 (25221, $24.95) does Alexander Valley like it should. A spiced, caramel coffee cake with a soft, oozing core. Nothing offensive here, just solid Sonoma juice.  87

Sonoma-Cutrer Grower-Vintner Pinot Noir 2008 (140723, $29.95) crawls Russian River Valley Pinot to a varietal P but smoke masks the fruit “like a forest fighting for sunlight.” Can’t blame it on the carpet fires of 2007.  86

Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars Artemis Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 (708982, $46.95) has Napa Valley pedigree but high steps the oak steeplechase brimming with nearly burnt coffee and 76% orange, dark chocolate. Over the top and unrelenting but history will offer some assistance for future enjoyment.  88

U.S.A. – Oregon

Maysara Estate Cuvée Pinot Noir 2008 (65680, $39.95) from McMinnville (who, what, where?) claims biodynamic status and “s’got such a supple wrist.” A quiet wizard, void of scents and smell, save for a pinball of earth bouncing off leather.  May speak up in time.  87

Argentina

Alta Vista Premium Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 (129957, $14.95) ordinarily regards Mendoza by a male-dominated genome. Sausage fest as South American Cabernet, hidebound and specific to grilled meat.  85

Santa Julia Magna 2009 (93799, $14.95) is more ambitious Mendoza in its blend of half Cab and Malbec with a smattering of Syrah. A bit wild and uncorked, like a dog driving a car.  86

Chile

Concha Y Toro Marques De Casa Concha Carmenère 2010 (169862, $17.00) drinks chalky like green tea ice cream, not so unusual for Carmenère out of the Rapel Valley. A bit confused, murky as Lake Rapel, “light like a feather, heavy as lead.” Fruit of the marl.  87

Montes Alpha Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 (322586, $19.95) does Bordeaux and the world’s most popular red grape proud on a consistent basis. This one is the funky by-product of a chocolate chunk cookie baked by the sun. The argilaceous Colchagua Valley earth scorches the grapes and the wine is forever warm.  87

Santa Ema Reserve Merlot 2009 (642538, $16.95) is a bold effort out of Maipo. A Plug tobacco block effected by the humidity of a smoke shack, spicy clove heat and abrasive atmospheric pressure.  Massive Merlot but out of whack.  85

Australia

Chapel Hill Shiraz 2009 (743989, $25.95) takes South Australia’s McLaren Vale to an extreme wedding. Irrigous, cave aromas where melting minerals co-mingle with very ripe berries in your Dixie Cup. A tannic beast too. Walking through that cave while the eerie sound of “going to the chapel and we’re gonna get married” plays somewhere in the distance.   86

Hope The Ripper Shiraz 2008 (686865, $21.95) springs eternal with dreamboat berry and flower scents despite the ambiguous ‘Western Australia’ designation. Perhaps not the “best thing that I’ve ever found” but hope floats so I foresee the sweet smell of success for the Ripper.  87

Kaesler Stonehorse Shiraz/Grenache/Mourvèdre 2008 (6551, $20.95) out of Barossa comes down in price by $2 from the ’07. This SGM is always a Rhône on ‘roids but the minty kick and analgesic mouth clout win points.  88

Penfolds Bin 389 Cabernet/Shiraz 2008 (309625, $39.95) bears the omnipresent Penfolds perfume. Soupy syrup from South Australia, Refined but so concentrated. You will have to wait 10+ years for this to settle and be nice.  89

Tattiarra Culled Barrel Shiraz 2009 (271379, $39.95) shows off Heathcote within Victoria’s scant cooler take on the unchained, grievous grape down under. An otherwise repeat performance. “Change, ain’t nothin’ stays the same.”  87

Zonte’s Footsteps Baron Von Nemesis 2008 (212936, $17.95) is the Barossa vineyard’s inaugural vintage. Its nemesis is an instant bitter note from these vines, olive heavy footed, steps heard coming from a mile away. Will walk along with fatty meats.   86

New Zealand

Greystone Pinot Noir 2009 (271312, $37.95) owns the title of the South Island’s strongest smelling Pinot. Huge Waipara nose followed by a residual, Sherry sweetness, acidity and tannin to boot. “Oi, oi, oi!”  90

Trinity Hill The Gimblett 2009 (280263, $35.95) exudes the North Island’s youthful exuberance. Bordeaux blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Malbec. Snug and chunky with a juniper stringency melded into lime, sugar syrup. A red wine Gimlet out of Hawkes Bay.  87

South Africa

Ernie Els Big Easy 2010 (220038, $19.95) from the generic tagged Western Cape is round, charming and swings with an effortless grace. The kitchen sink of grapes seem to cancel each other out and the wine finishes flat, hooking one into the drink. I love Ernie but really?  85

More notes from the VINTAGES June 23, 2012 release:

Five red wines to buy now for the coming long weekend

The Wine Diaries: Around the world in 20 whites

The Wine Diaries: Chardonnay close to the edge

Euro wine Rihanna need remember by name

The Wine Diaries: MMVA’s sparkling wine showers

IVR* – Vintage Direct Intrigue-to-Value Ratio

CVR** – Vintage Direct Curiosity-to-Value Ratio

Good to go!