Please reach out to California and a Mondavi retrospective at To Kalon

Give a view an arch and he’ll ask you to stay for dinner #tokalon2017

Update: As much as 900,000 further acres have been lost to fire since September 14th and because of the recent Glass Fire there have been many evacuation orders for parts of Sonoma and Napa counties. As of today nearly 66,000 acres have burned. Three fires had merged, resulting in one big fire initially threatening Napa Valley and Santa Rosa. Thank goodness the containment has now reached 30 per cent but there is still a long way to go. The road to recovery will be even longer so please consider donating to help all the families, businesses and first responders.

Related – California Update: Napa Valley

The Napa Valley Community Disaster Relief Fund and Sonoma County Resilience Fund

Provides gift cards to evacuees and emergency relief services to those affected by the fire, including temporary shelter, meals, counselling and assistance in navigating insurance claims.

Wine Country Fire Relief Fundraiser

A gofundme campaign, launched by five wine industry marketing professionals, focuses on direct relief for farmworkers (a vital part of the wine industry’s fabric) affected by the Glass Fire Incident in Napa and Sonoma Counties.

California Wildfire Relief

Supports firefighters, low income families and animals that are suffering due to wildfires. It helps provide emergency supplies including food, water and medicine.

Latino Community Foundation

Distributes contributions to Latino-led organizations that are helping families displaced by wildfires across the state.

Women’s Foundation California Relief and Resilience Fund

Funding goes to every domestic violence shelter in the state to help care for survivors who are unhoused or feel unsafe.

Thank you to Karen MacNeil for her update and for sharing these words from Linda Reiff, President of Napa Valley Vintners:

“We are deeply grateful for the tremendous care from around the world, and for the hard work and dedication of fire fighters, first responders and volunteers who are here from near and far to help us.  At our core, we are a strong, agricultural community where grapes have been grown and wines made for more than 150 years. The Napa Valley is still here, our community spirit is fierce, we will get through and beyond this.”

We’re worried about all of you in northern California. Please stay safe.

Recalling simpler times

My last visit to To Kalon Vineyard was three and a half years ago, Oakville site of that consequential plottage, koan of sorts, most excellent agglomerate of soil, vine and canopy. To Kalon functions as an enigmatic invitation to rethink the meaning of wine, so speaking of The Robert Mondavi Winery and Arterra Wines Canada, enlightened educator Mark de Vere MW will soon be moderating a virtual tasting with Constellation Brands winemakers Thomas Rivers Brown and Carol Shrader. In a couple of weeks time, on Friday, October 9 at 1:00 pm (EST). I will be participating and tasting 2017 and 2018 Double Diamond Cabernet Sauvignon. The plan will be to explore the vast diversity and fine quality of the Oakville terroir and To Kalon Vineyard. Which brings me back to May of 2017 and a week spent in Napa Valley completing the Robert Mondavi Winery To Kalon Vineyard certification program.

There were cellar tastings, Chef Jeff Mosher prepared dinners, hot air balloon flights, vineyard cycling tours, UC Davis research investigations and most enriching seminars led by Director of Wine Education De Vere and winemaker Geneviève Janssens. Inside The CIA (Culinary Institute of America) at Copia, Napa classrooms the sessions taught included west coast, global and To Kalon examples of cabernet sauvignon. The Napa Valley panelist apprised cabernet sauvignon flights were filled with archetypes, icons and Mondavi retrospectives. Rarely does one get to go at so many learning tools and experiential gifts of history through such an array of high quality varietal wines. De Vere made a request by asking everyone to dig deep, do some soul searching and get to the bottom of the new versus old world paradigm. “Let’s get an unbiased impression of what the differences are and what might make them different. California has reliably dry summers but much more day/night diurnal temperature fluctuations. Bordeaux stays warm at night and thus differing ripening patters. Napa significantly more sunshine hours but not necessarily more total heat.”

Related – En route to Mondavi

#tokalon

Then the vineyard’s prodigy spoke. Graeme MacDonald’s experience and published work have by now made him THE historian of Napa Valley’s famed To Kalon Vineyard area near Oakville. MacDonald is a To Kalon farmer who has written a history of the famed grape growing area for the Historic American Landscapes Survey. His work is part of the Library of Congress. The vineyard was started in 1868 by Hamilton W. Crabb, an innovator in wine marketing and vineyard techniques while today the Robert Mondavi Winery, University of California Davis and Andy Beckstoffer control most of its land. For McDonald To Kalon is simply a place entwined with his family’s history. 

Start raising a child 100 years before they are born because that’s when you begin to prepare the environment they will be born into. #tokalon #graememacdonald #tokalon2017 #tokalonvineyard

“It was really for me a great way to document the history for our children. I want to leave something that explains why I am so passionate about it,” MacDonald said. “Start raising a child 100 years before their birth because that’s when you begin to prepare the environment they will be born into.” The Wappo people called it “Tu-ia-halusi, or ”beautiful land” to describe the upper Napa Valley. The name To Kalon is Greek for “highest beauty,” or the “highest good,” as per H.W. Crabb in 1889.   “I try to make it mean the boss vineyard,” says McDonald. Also a pivotal part in Aristotle and the most important (and first) wine poured in the time of Jesus. This from the most important winemaker in the history of Napa. It took 100 years after it was predicted by Crabb but that is when Graeme’s grandfather committed to Cabernet Sauvignon (circa 1978). The family wines were labeled under the name Detert Vineyards.

Flight #1

Global Styles

Château D’Issan 2013, AC Margaux, Bordeaux, France (511469, $114.00, WineAlign)

Tasted blind in Napa, the first impression is Chile due to the capsicum bite and wood that expresses as savour and piquancy. Herbal with currants and tobacco. Impressive smoky wood integration overtop gamey, Bretty, animale character which talks a Bordeaux vernacular. Fruit is subtle, restrained and waits for the finish. It’s Bordeaux, or course. Drink 2019-2026.  Tasted May 2017

#metaphysicalmonday #cliffmay #thenostalgiaoftheinfinite #dichirico #campanile #missionstyle

Concha Y Toro Cabernet Sauvignon Terrunyo Las Terrazas Block, Andes Pirque Vineyard 2013, Maipo Valley, Chile (562918, $29.95, WineAlign, Escalade Wines)

Now a slight demure, dusty but cool, minty, creosote and graphite, like Coonawarra perhaps. Some granite soil funk so could also be South Africa and yet there is this very high acidity and eucalyptus. The aesthetic is more about fruit than tannic structure. Some carménère in here likely – the smoky edge would say so. It’s Chile because the herbs and black currants dominate so clearly from a warm part, i.e. Maipo. Last tasted blind in Napa Valley, May 2016

Big floral vintage for the single-vineyard Terrunyo cabernet, rich, lush and hedonism defined. The varietal stands out in the vintage with the heavy lean to fresh flowers, along with the waves of alternating blackberry and Cassis. The alcohol and the weight are certainly formidable but the aromatics and fruit heavy tonality keeps up with the heat. Big boned and barrel conscious, this CyT is a big wine for a modest price. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted August 2016

Mark de Vere MW

Mollydooker Cabernet Sauvignon Gigglepot 2013, McLaren Vale, South Australia, Australia (SAQ 12449825, $54.00, Breakthru Bev Canada)

Ripe, high acidity, elevated tones and dark fruit. More like Argentina here and the palate also suggests Bordeaux but it’s too ripe. The high acid, metafictional mochafication and extreme ripeness puts my guess in McLaren Vale but also because of the richness and ripeness. Some dark red fruit is exceptional, part dried, with liquorice, both red and black. Really lovely wine, juicy, with a high level of fruit from some great vineyards. A genuine product of Sarah and Sparky Marquis from which 16 per cent alcohol is pulled off with remarkable ease, with thanks to tannic structure and extract. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted blind in Napa Valley, May 2017

Me and Mondavi

Stark-Condé Cabernet Sauvignon Three Pines 2013, Jonkershoek Valley, WO Coastal Region, South Africa (288316, $28.85, Vonterra)

This seems the most Californian but Alexander Valley in its current of currant and savour. Tastes like Clos du Bois, but we’re now in South Africa. Quite anti-reductive, little to do with granite, funky soil and rubber tree plants, but it hints at all this from Stellenbosch. like juicing liquorice, bokser and umeboshi plum mixed into Ribena for a juicy cocktail. This may be closer to Cali than the rest because of the supple triumvirate of fruit-acid-tannin for structure. Terrific representation from the Jonkershoek Valley. Drink 2017-2022.  Tasted blind in Napa Valley, May 2017

Flight #2

West Coast California

Justin Vineyards Isosceles 2015, Paso Robles, California (684282, $136.95, The Vine Agency)

Quite the Cassis richness and genteel nature, ripe but of a humble extraction with a distinct garrigue note. Very Napa-ilke though there is a high love of acidity. Tasted blind you might think it could very well be a Mondavi but it’s too jammy and there is a plethora of red fruit purée,. That it turns out to be from Paso Robles is a perfect example to show that further south can translate to a warmer climate… but not always. Cool nights are adding their own extreme example of diurnal temperature swings so that 16.0 per cent alcohol, coulis and acidity can coexist. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted May 2017

Chef Jeff Mosher’s Fresh Spring Pea Risotto at Mondavi

Ridge Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Monte Bello Vineyard 2013, Santa Cruz Mountains (89284, $86.95, Rogers and Company)

Quite savoury with Mediterranean accents, black olive and brine, cool and minty, seemingly accented with American oak. A cloudy moments suggests Alexander Valley, but clarity wins so better still Santa Cruz Mountains. So is this a Ridge? Elegant cabernet sauvignon, 75 per cent with merlot and bits of petit verdot and cabernet franc. Positioned to an ocean proximity overhanging Monterey Bay and above most of the fog so the growing climate is its own. Keeps sugar and alcohol down for a cool and elegant expression. Last tasted blind in Napa Valley, May 2017

From the next arid vintage with more immunity always gifted by the Santa Cruz Mountains terroir so that Ridge can do what they want and what is needed. Three-quarters cabernet sauvignon, 20 per cent merlot and quick Pollockian slashes of petit verdot and cabernet franc meet in the studio to create and complete the piece. There is more acidity and tension on the nose than noted in 2012, with red currants and black fruit swirling in coulis centrifuge to distract from what wants to grip and tear you away. The purity and cool texture of a Ridge cabernet is unlike any other; it stretches this way and that, never breaking, tearing or shearing but not because is has been patched, quilted or restored. It was always this way and will stay so for 15 to 20 years. Tannins are fine and support what happens, in any way they are asked to do. Drink 2020-2033.  Tasted April 2017

Tacos at Morimoto

Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Alexander Valley, Sonoma County ($80.00)

A bit of demure, lots of black fruit and a note or orange rind. Again terrific acidity, and tart, crisp, chocolate edging. Sensing a combination of oaks in that chemistry effect when merging into the fruit of Alexander Valley. Drink 2017-2022.  Tasted May 2017

Robert Mondavi Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, (255513, $44.95)

The aridity of 2013 has now translated into some lovely development in bottle that trials and tribulates with its wealthy pool of rich, ripe and silky chocolate texture. Such a typically reasoned Napa Valley explanation with 47 years under its increscent belt. Serious tannins need five years to seek settlement and to carry structure for to build a home for the ripe fruit. At 14.8 per cent alcohol there is much to fuel and keep the abode bathed in warmth, along with American oak in pancetta ooze, augmented by smoke and spice. Chewy and huge. Drink 2018-2024. Tasted February and June 2016, May 2017

Bob Swanson of #napavalleyballoons is the man. Slice through butter flight over the Sacramento Valley to 1000 ft, #splashanddash in Putah Creek and a smooth, exacting landing on a dime on the back of a flatbed.

Seven Hills Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Walla Walla Valley, Washington

Drawn from Seven Hills’ founding blocks, planted by winemaker Casey McClellan and his father in the early 1980s. Very ripe, rich and unctuous aromatics, also floral, big tannic structure, candied complexion with mint chocolate candy cane and yet its aridity dominates the back side. Continental climate with maritime overtones in a Walla Walla cabernet under the influence of the rain shadow. Drink 2018-2025.  Tasted May 2017

Flight #3

Napa Rocks

Inherit The Sheep Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Coombsville AVA

Inherit The Sheep, a multi-play on words, launching point “the meek shall inherit the earth,” followed by “the farmers shall inherit the sheep” and prophesied as Clay and Tersilla Gregory may never inherit anything else in their lives. As for cabernet sauvignon, Coombsville just seems to be a natural extension from the concept of Napa Rocks. As Mondavi’s Mark de Vere made sure to point out, “the reputation of Napa comes form the quality of the wine made here, not the quantity.” About 150 million years ago a domino of events began to occur…ocean plate under the continental plate….volcanic influence and marine rock. A mish-mash, super geological group of alloy musicians. Coomsville gets it too, exemplified by this rich, highly perfumed aromatic cabernet, soil a major factor in the duality of tart meets tang, some dried herbs and dusty, chalky tannins. As a memory, Clay Gregory used to be a GM at Mondavi. Drink 2018-2024.  Tasted May 2017

The meek shall? Focused alternative #napavalley AVA expression #tokalon2017 #coombsville

Chimney Rock Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Stags Leap District, Napa Valley (731810, $76.75, Mondia Alliance)

Deeper, higher tonality and lifted though it’s from liqueur and not acidity necessarily. So much chocolate, perhaps dominant by American oak but also a comestible layering and pressing that comes by ripe and concentrated fruit out of Stags Leap District. East side of the valley, volcanic and alluvial, so perhaps the place and its victuals speak loudest, dark chocolate and red cherry, quite chewy and with middle palate tannin, focused and lined. Drink 2019-2026. Tasted May 2017

Robert Mondavi Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon (West To Kalon Vineyard) 2013, Napa Valley

Very juicy, acidity driven, extraction and high level tonality. A fineness discerned with immediate notice, layer upon layer of distinction and elegance. Tasting blind it could be the Mondavi Reserve, acidity is very present balanced by plush fruit ripeness, blacker than red, slightly savoury and so Oakville. Turns out it is west To Kalon Vineyard though not labeled as such. For Graeme McDonald “it tastes like home.” Drink 2019-2027.  Tasted May 2017

With Sara d’Amato

Tres Sabores Cabernet Sauvignon Perspective 2013, Rutherford

The jam is in, a bit to the right of ripeness and so a left leaning structure. Already noting some balsamic, soy and even a faint tick of truffle, not quite raisin but there is an indication it’s beginning is around the corner. Tthe palate brings more energy but this lacks balance because the fruit is overripe. Three flavours. Rutherford Bench fruit. Drink 2017-2019.  Tasted May 2017

Cade Estate Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Napa Valley (325027, $206.95, The Vine Agency)

Classic next level Napa Valley depth, structure and intendment. Full on welling sunken weight, oak very much apart of every moment but not overly spiced. Through that big oak bent there is something akin or at least draws memories to Atlas Mountain. Incredibly ripe with aggressive, thick, needing 10 years to devolve tannins. Could be Atlas but is in fact Howell Mountain, one of the eastern AVAs from which mountain fruit delivers more intensity of tannin. Drink 2020-2030.  Tasted May 2017

Flight #4

Oakville

Tierra Roja Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Oakville, Napa Valley
From Linda Neal, long-time vineyard manager who purchased the Oakville property in 1987. A distinctly perfumed-floral cabernet sauvignon, of violets, but also a dusty, silty-salty mineral aroma. Terrific acidity, just terrific, the type of tart intensity that causes anticipatory salivation. Reminds of cabs off of Terra Rossa soil, a.k.a. Coonawarra but also the Panzano terroir of Carobbio. Geologically it’s volcanic in origin, off of a hillside vineyard. Intense and offering a fully focused commitment straight through the finish. Drink 2019-2027.  Tasted May 2017

Groth Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 2013, Oakville, Napa Valley ($179.95, The Vine Agency)

Richness but reserved, demure, unhurried in a calm state. More of an exotic perfume, jasmine and bougainvillea, still some salty grit and certainly mineral but fuller, with an ooze of dark chocolate and body politic by firmness and tannin. Beneficial bitters on the finish. It’s way, way too young to fully appreciate. Special fruit is saved for this next level cabernet sauvignon from its very own patch of free-draining alluvial soil. Drink 2020-2028.  Tasted May 2017

Geneviève Janssens and Mark De Vere MW

Franciscan Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Oakville, Napa Valley (39388, $29.95, Arterra Wines Canada Inc.)

An annual parade of quality comes from Franciscan with this Napa Valley cabernet, a wine that is quietly commercial and respectfully true to its roots. It’s quite chalky and the tannic grain is truly in focus while the fruit speaks with premium ability, certainly sheathed by Americanized vanilla oak. Savoury to a point but still quite naked truthful about fruit in its ripe clothing. Always well made and at its best in 2014. Drink 2017-2021.  Last tasted October 2017

Even more reserve and also into reductive, with darkest fruit, Cassis, carob and graphite. So much chocolate, dark, bitter and high in cocoa. Coating tannin, present and demanding, a bit west. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted May 2017

Huh. A day after tasting these #tokalon wines #tokalon2017

Nickel & Nickel John C Sullenger Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Oakville, Napa Valley ($179.99, Noble Estates Wines & Spirits Inc.)

Dark cherry and Cassis oscillate in waves, punishing the shores of first prefacing perfume and then recursing acidity. A distinct profile that speaks so similarly to a Mondavi To Kalon but in Oakville…it’s hard to know, distinguish and be certain but so tempting to hedge guessing bets on origins. Such fineness, dramatic acidity and persistence, so not surprising it’s just across the road (Hwy 29). A very special tract of terroir in its own right this John C. Sullenger Vineyard. Drink 2020-2028.  Tasted May 2017

Robert Mondavi Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Napa Valley (29207, $59.95, Arterra Wines Canada Inc.)

Oakville’s rich Cassis and mocha swirl welcomes wood and baking spice, then floral meets herbaceous Freesia. As a Mondavi cabernet, Oakville sits high up on the sapid meets tart scale and is expressly long. The palate really suggests older world Bordeaux but it’s almost too ripe, chalky, chocolate ganache rich, especially at the finish. A touch of Brett brings me back to structure and old world but there is an equal and opposing fruit-tannin seamlessness and smoothness. Its fineness of acidity means that it ends up balanced. Markedly correct, intense and proprietary for 2013. Drink 2018-2023.  Tasted May 2017 and February 2018

Flight #5

To Kalon

Narrowing it down to the vineyard, De Vere is insistent on what matters. “Elements of style and quality, not just, but a stylistic, a feel, difference, less broad in expression like Oakville or classic like the direct Napa Valley tier.” Rutherford’s alluvial fan vs. To Kalon’s alluvial fan complex vs the same, but different, from Oakville. The east side of the Oakville AVA receives more of the warm afternoon sun as compared to the sedimentary-gravelly alluvial loam on the west, with more volcanic but heavier soils on the east. There they are low to moderate fertility and fairly deep. All this adds up to more than 100 soil variations in Napa Valley, one half of what exists on earth. To Kalon receives shade a full hour earlier than the east side of the valley. It’s reserve fruit is more likely to be found where the large pebble, gravelly, well draining soils are found, further west, abutted up against the mountain range.

As an aside, talk about Napa Valley wines often leads to the fruit-jam complex. “Fruit bombs (you will know),” says De Vere, “are not just a factor of sun, ripeness, and brix. They are a result of less tannin and acidity, from vines stressed after veraison to develop ripeness but without the balancing factors. To kalon’s soils develop acidity earlier and maintain it. Acid-tannin-pyrazine, that’s the order of development.

Cliff Lede Cabernet Sauvignon Beckstoffer To Kalon Vineyard 2014, Oakville, Napa Valley ($250.00 estimate, Halpern Enterprises)

Presented by Eduardo Dingler, Napa Sommelier. High toned, deep, deep dark fruit, gets right up the olfactory. Young, chalky, tart and with the dark fruit sitting serious and looming, like a cross-legged Buddha on the ledge of a 10-foot To Kalon wall. Sees 62 per cent new French oak after six to eight weeks cold soak pre-fermentation. In an environment without alcohol you get this layered juiciness and tart aromatics without astringency. That’s the crux and the key. Balance, density, true to the To Kalon spirit. Drink 2018-2026.  Tasted May 2017

Alpha Omega Beckstoffer To Kalon Vineyard 2013, Oakville, Napa Valley ($188.00 estimate)

Presented by Alpha Omega’s founding winemaker Jean Hoefliger. “Napa has a consistency of climate that is unmatched, anywhere.” On Andy Beckstoffer, “Andy was very receptive to my very expensive lap dances,” and about the vineyard, “in an era of globalization, To Kalon’s DNA is the most important in Napa Valley. The site in Napa easiest to find in a blind tasting because of acidity and tannin, backbone and skeleton.” Hoefliger’s ’13 cabernet sauvignon is a construct of granularly dense tannic structure and non-readjusted acidity. Darkness ascends or descends as the glass goes, brooding, seemingly from deeper clay soils within the alluvial variegation, a wine in which the tannins have been joined, linked, layered, polymerized. Having used a long maceration makes this dense, intense and ageable. To be exact, 45 days on skin, then in the end unfined and unfiltered. Wow does this remind me of modern Piedmontese nebbiolo but with so much more intense red fruit, notes of incense, wild fennel, cinnamon and candy hearts. Just tremendous structure. Drink 2020-2034.  Tasted May 2017

Provenance Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Beckstoffer To Kalon Vineyard 2013, Oakville, Napa Valley ($220.00 estimate)

Bright but at the same time with a hint of dried fruit so good balance between the two, meaning the acidity is in control. John Hazak: “What To Kalon has that separates itself from our iconic Hewitt Vineyard is age ability and a dense core that opens up with age. It sets it apart from our top Rutherford sites.” A chewy To Kalon by tempered ganache, a child reared on plenty of barrel fermentations to capture individual parcels of beautiful fruit. Carries a cool minty savour at the finish and lingers across the top of the gums above the teeth, leaving that anaesthetizing feeling. Brilliant in that respect, not quite ready though will come into its own not too far from now. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted May 2017

Cornerstone Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon Oakville Station 2013, Oakville, Napa Valley ($150.00 estimate)

Certainly more dusty notes, garrigue, savour and a hint of black olive, but all red fruit. From Oakville Station (labeled as such, from the UC Davis grown plots of vines). “The best way to understand To Kalon on the surface is to take a bike ride,” says Charles Thomas. “to understand why a gradation across a kilometre is so crucial. There is ample tannin in To Kalon but also a fineness of tannin. It is forgiving of many aspects of viticulture and especially winemaking. You always see the vineyard.” A transitional wine, ripeness but not super so, perfumed and the subtleties of the vineyard. Cherry blossom big time. An island surrounded by Mondavi on all sides, more fertility here in this block, a soft, delicious chocolate finish. A transitional era styled wine. Aromatic and not with the same density (with 10 merlot and 5 cabernet franc)but beautiful all the same. Drink 2018-2023.  Tasted May 2017

Robert Mondavi Winery Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, To Kalon Vineyard, Oakville, Napa Valley (670463, $149.00, Arterra Wines Canada Inc.)

Mondavi’s 2013 Reserve from the iconic To Kalon Vineyard plays a different role when nosed side by five each with other similar terroir cabernets, in this case by Cliff Lede, Alpha Omega, Provenance and Cornerstone. The Mondavi would show as a muscular cabernet in a solo tasting irrespective of the flight but with relative reference points the Mediterranean savour stands apart, especially in this high-toned aromatic vintage. The wine is embossed and eschews syrup for chew and density, the chalky tannins already beginning to show some development and integration. After going through the basket press, the haute cultured barrels bring out this insieme-collective of sophisticated To Kalon sweet acidity and tannin, leaving extracted bitterness behind. This works in elevating the texture of silk and softness, insisting upon and stamping a guarantee of longevity. The excellence is rounded out with some fragrance from petit verdot and further finessed, grainy tannin by cabernet franc. Drink 2019-2028.  Tasted May 2017

Robert Mondavi Winery Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, To Kalon Vineyard, Oakville, Napa Valley (670463, $300.00, Arterra Wines Canada Inc.)

Tasted during a To Kalon Vineyard retrospective in Napa. Though sinfully young the 2014 seems bright and focused, accessible, closer to ready than the 2013. The secret, special, double secret bottle, only 150 cases made, not really available for trade, pure To Kalon. Refined, here and only here as 100 per cent cabernet sauvignon, spice but melted and oozing into that liqueur, there is a seamlessly woven fabric of vineyard that just seems soft, supple and elastic. Drink 2018-2028. Tasted May 2017

And a few more Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon tasted that May

Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 2010, Napa Valley

The 2010 Reserve is a sensory wine in the most attention grabbing way, as experiential and inspirational as can be when such an inhalant gets hold of the senses. Deepest dark fruit of impossibly zero evolution and everything in line with the classic Mondavi-To Kalon relationship. Blackberry, Cassis, black olive and silkened in texture as the Reserve can ever be. Pure weave, ethereal liquidity, fresh, finessed, focused and exacting. Tough on a winemaker? That’s why this is so good. A grand cru Oakville classic, great wine from a challenging vintage. Drink 2017-2029.  Tasted May 2017

Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 2006, Napa Valley

Actually some development here, straight into secondary time framing from which balsam and spice are front and centre. The masala comes from cassia stick, bokser pod and liquifies in plum liqueur. Lots of chocolate ganache and in some ways the least indicative Mondavi Reserve vintage for a To Kalon cabernet sauvignon. Acidity is quiet and perhaps this is just a moment in time. Maybe in a year or two the acids will step out of the shadows and rear up once again but I wouldn’t wait nor hold my breath. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted May 2017

Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 2005, Napa Valley

Tasted in an auspicious group that included a Gros Clos Vougeot ’13, Grange ’11, Haut-Brion ’11 and Sassicaia ’11, all led by Mark de Vere MW and culminating at this Mondavi Napa Valley Reserve ’05. Or as what De Vere quips, “just another night in Napa Valley.” A cool vintage now showing some secondary notes though still presenting balsam, tempered chocolate ganache, pencil lead and graphite. Floral vintage of ethereal whispers and the trilogy promise of the EPF. Elegance, power and finesse. Dark To Kalon fruit and mouth-watering acidity with a vanishing point of mystery still on the horizon, like walking with someone we don’t fully know but feel comfortable in their presence. Still elicits more questions than answers so for a vintage like 2005, 12 years seems to be peak performance. The tannic finish supports Cassis, dried herbs and a briny Mediterranean black olive bite. Tannin begets fine bitters. “Using oak is the virtuoso way to express To Kalon fruit,” says Geneviève Janssens, “after fermentation, to preserve the personality of To Kalon.” Drink 2017-2024.  Tasted May 2017

Robert Mondavi Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon To Kalon Vineyard 1999, Napa Valley

This from a time when Mondavi labeled the reserve cabernet sauvignon as “To Kalon Vineyard,” a moniker of essential meaning that would return 14 years later on the 2013 bottle. If this were what Mark de Vere referred to as “a confusing moment in history” I could not say but “this strange bottling” provided an unequivocal and seminal turning point in this wine’s storied past, present and future. It was in fact a small, special cuvée, a little bit different than the ’99 Reserve. “The coolest vintage on record, until it wasn’t,” because of a warm period at the end of summer and early fall that ushered forth a certain, singular sort of ripeness. Regardless of memories, characterizations and twists of fate, this single-vineyard cabernet is as finessed, focused and precise as any Mondavi Reserve. It persists chalky, fine and gritty in tannin running amok, dragging the acidity forward and around. The workout is something to behold, a dispatch of late Napa fashion and never more successful than right here. The dépêche mode of To Kalon is by now famous but culminated with this ’99 for everything to follow, with consistency and a guarantee of modern quality. Listen to it croon “try walking in my shoes.” Many have and many continue to pay homage to this Napa Valley originator and pioneer. It’s a cabernet sauvignon of faith and devotion. Drink 2017-2029.  Tasted May 2017

Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 1988, Napa Valley

A vintage of reducing and concentrating liqueur, high-toned, distillate, California IGT. A bottling style of the time and the vintage must have procured such fruit meets tannic intensity that it has taken a long time to relent. Higher in acidity than savour, pulsating, energetic. Still a bit frenetic in its wildly animated state of perpetual suspension. A bit Bretty but 1988 carries such an old world sentimentality and the many ties that bind. Despite the great and gritty acidity it remains a balanced cabernet sauvignon, earthy and old school but I’d wager it will continue to drink this way for seven to 10 more years. Drink 2017-2024.  Tasted May 2017

Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 1976, Napa Valley

“What order to do pour a vertical tasting,” asks Mark de Vere MW. “When you have 1988, 1999 and 2000 in the mix? You have to think about how the wines were made, how the grapes were grown, without sophisticated equipment, with vineyard managers and winemakers who didn’t know then what they know now.” But, this house named Mondavi has seemingly always known, respected and responded collectively over these things. The terroir – To Kalon. Since tasting 1975 one year ago I can say this: 1976 is remarkably alive, sound and vital. From a very dry year. Ten days of “prolonged” skin-contact. Dill present along with preserved plum, of course mushroom, truffle and what separates this from ’75 is acidity, equal to over even performing above that of 1980. Spice! Tart and still intense. Amazing. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted May 2017

Robert Mondavi Winery Oakville BDX Red Wine 2015, Oakville, Napa Valley (SAQ, $75.75)

As always the high quality To Kalon fruit as a base source puts the odd in high favour but the idea here is to use parcels that produce lushness and lower tannin so that the wine gifts quite a bit more instant gratification. Mostly cabernet sauvignon with cabernet franc and originally only sold on premise. Extension through barrel is 24 months in mixed (55/45) Allier French for a liquid chalky result, preserved top notch acidity and a sharpness that demands protein attention. Can’t miss the graphite/pencil lead and in this specific case, tongue tripping vowels which talk the talk of this specific red blend. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted May 2017

Robert Mondavi Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Oakville District, Napa Valley

When tasted side by side the genetic lineage and connection to 1999 at ten years apart is uncanny and so it is To Kalon that ties the two, threads the similarity and is the reason. Black olive as always, dusty garrigue and this medi-pedi (Mediterranean pedigree) that unites all cabernet sauvignon from Oakville sites. Same wisdom and freedom, same feeling felt. Drink 2017-2025.  Tasted May 2017

Robert Mondavi Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon 1999, Oakville District, Napa Valley

Has aged with To Kalon grace and while texture is seemingly everything, still you are reminded to engage with the fully seasoned, exigent exhale from the spice box. Aromatically present in balsam and fig, the vineyard’s black olive and then acidity off the proverbial charts. We see how To Kalon mellows in Oakville form, integrates and acts out the marshmallow of time. Hinting now at the tertiary which comes quicker in this range and that is perfectly, allegedly understandably fine. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted May 2017

Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon Stags Leap District 2013, Napa Valley

As with the sauvignon blanc the fruit source is Schweitzer Vineyard, here for the cabernet from three blocks all leading to a bigger, fleshier style. Treated similarly to the Oakville cabernet, long maceration in oak fermenters and 24 months barrel time, six more than the Oakville Reserve because these tannins need further taming. Deep red fruit in tones of strawberry, raspberry and plum with moments that are not unlike European reds in hot climate/seasons. Turns to spicy white toffee, vanilla and before too long the screeching breaks down the scree of tannin. Wait five years. Trust that idea. Drink 2021-2029.  Tasted May 2017

A few basic bottles were on hand to greet us @RobertMondavi before the finest wines and cake were offered.

And the opening wines in Mondavi’s cellars

Château Haut Brion Premier Grand Cru Classé 2011, Ac Pessac Léognan (263251, $1,599.85)

A cabernet sauvignon dominant Pessac Léognan off of gravel soils in contrast to some other First Growths Haut Brion is keenly about Château, of reputation, history and acumen. A Bordeaux to cause revelry and from 2011 fresh like you could never expect or imagine. Lithe and mineral, dusty stone and focused. Of continental temper and elegance, black olive and quality chocolate, toasty espresso and late arriving spice. Taste, gather, repeat. Will surely develop next level time-honoured notes of forest floor, mushroom and delicately rendered baking spice. In 20 years and further long-lived expectations. My kind of longevity though the fineness says it will ready itself quite soon. Drink 2019-2035.  Tasted May 2017

Domaine Gros Frère Et Soeur Clos De Vougeot Grand Cru “Musigni” 2013, AOC Bourgogne ($300.00)

From the top of the slope at Musigny in a distinct and compelling Clos de Vougeot of intensity and finesse. Deep rooted earth and black cherry fruit, so much fragrance and delicate. A just sharpened pencil, a brush with fennel and lavender, a gaze through a looking glass. At its most calm, a palate silky and accented by a complex mix of spice. A wine to ask “what makes a great wine.” So much more than the length and the finish, always circling back to the start and about the quality of the bitters in their refinement. Where in the process does this occur? When is the magic performed? All the way through and as a by-product of the paradigm of site. Drink 2019-2035.  Tasted May 2017

Sassicaia 2011, Doc Bolgheri, Tuscany, Italy (480533, $229.95)

Showing maximum warmth and spirit, high savour by liquorice, mint, fennel and so much spice. Marchese Niccolò Incisa della Rocchetta fixing Bolgheri just as his father did while Robert Mondavi was doing so in Oakville at To Kalon. Revolutions is different places and for Sassicaia, a clear varietal vernacular. Apposite Bordeaux like power and a supple wrist in using extra hands with cabernet franc. Still those chalky tannins. Drink 2020-2029.  Last tasted May 2017

Certainly a Sassicaia borne of the earth and the vintage. Cooler, with increased sapidity and elevated aromatics. While not volatile there is certainly an intimation at acetic behaviour. Though supportive in only 15 per cent of the two Cabs blend, cabernet franc stands firm in its concentration of tobacco, peppercorns a-popping in the pan and a smouldering of currants over an open fire. This will age for decades and return to its beautiful natural state with time-weathered, rugged facial lines. A leathery Sassicaia this, with tight, drying tannins and in need of two decades to show off its birthright. The 2011 Sassicaia is a loyal, aristocratic example to the Marchese Mario Incisa della Rocchetta’s dream of creating a ‘thoroughbred’ wine where the ideal was Bordeaux.  Tasted November 2014

Good to go!

godello

Give a view an arch and he’ll ask you to stay for dinner #tokalon2017

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

WineAlign

A Chardonnay toast to Cool and the gang

Happy 10th Chardonnay anniversary i4C. Virtually or live, you’re still cool after all these years

Cool is the star attraction, 10 years running. Cool, what everyone continues to talk about, gathers to discuss, debate and celebrate. Cool is not one thing, one person or in one place but everything, in all of us, everywhere. Cool is what unites, brings meaning and really ties the varietal room together. Cool is chardonnay.

Related – Can chardonnay get any cooler?

On Saturday, July 18th at 6:00pm in “A Toast to VQA Cool Chardonnay” John Szabo and I welcomed everyone to for a virtual, interactive Zoom tasting of top Ontario wines, our virtual tailgate party. From near and far, everyone was encouraged to chat. “Get your socially distanced BBQ lit, pour yourself a glass of Cool chardonnay and let John and I have a chinwag, blow smoke, chew the fat, talk a lot without pausing,” John and I discussed the meaning of Cool and how it pertains to making wines in a climate that is anything by warm. We traded messaging, tasted eight wines between us and welcomed two special guests, Niagara’s winemaking monk Thomas Bachelder and Sicily’s Patricia Tóth of Planeta Winery. Here is the full video:

Related – I4C’ a future filled with Chardonnay

It began last Friday with events playing on Zoom screens across Ontario, throughout Canada and in fact, around the globe. There were wine tastings, educational seminars and breezy cocktail hours all virtually orchestrated to include winemakers, producers, sommeliers and wine critics, all talking about one grape variety at the core and the crux of cool-climate viticulture. The weekend long fest, affectionately known as “i4c”, has for 10 years now been bringing the wine community close together, perennially cementing the varietal bonds. Though the 2020 edition of the International Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration gatherings was indeed virtual in 2020, they lost no lustre, significance or their chardonnay shine.

Related – The meaning of Chardonnay: You’ve gotta be cool to be kind

Chardonnay doesn’t suck and if you have doubts, a reluctant spirit to join in or just plain need to insist that you hate the stuff, consider this. Chardonnay is cool. It’s true, the good folks at i4C have shown this to me, more than once. Ontario winemakers have proved it to me. The South Africans really get it, as do the fine makers from New Zealand, Chile, Argentina and the not necessarily ready for prime time cool climate players from Australia and California too. Don’t even get me started on that Bourgogne stuff. Have we not all been contemplating the axiom of chardonnay continuing to make its own new set of rules, putting its best foot forward? Yes chardonnay is always on our minds, especially here in Ontario and so we feel the progression continuously dovetailing towards the cool and the ethereal.

In a way i4c feels like the prodigal child of the local wine industry and we wait for the homecoming every July. Change and adjustment has infiltrated all of our lives and so the concierge team and Wine Country Ontario decided to take i4C online from July 17-19. Nearly a thousand registrants got into the cool spirit by joining in three online zoom sessions, the first at 11:00am on Friday July 17, 2020 virtually for the #i4CAtHome School of Cool Homeschool Edition, presented by VQA Wines of Ontario, the Wine Marketing Association of Ontario and the Grape Growers of Ontario. The online presentation featured Andrew Jefford, Columnist at Decanter and World of Fine Wine Magazine and Academic Advisor to the Wine Scholar Guild. Andrew was joined by several of the i4C’s past keynote speakers in celebration of 10 Cool years of Chardonnay. This dynamic session involved interviews with past keynotes, all acclaimed authors and wine writers from across the globe, including Matt Kramer (2011 and 2015 keynote), Ian D’Agata (2016 keynote) and Karen MacNeil (2017 keynote). Here is that video:

Andrew Jefford begins. “Cool climate on its own is not enough. It’s what you go and do with it. The climate is just a single strand of that very complex equation that includes soil, topography and human catalysts. We don’t drink soils, we drink wine. Vineyard owners want drinkers to be greedy, to have an irreverent feeling for the vineyard. Cool-climate wine is possessive of a pattern of heat just adequate enough to produce ripe wines and to do so consistently enough. Chardonnay when grown in the right sites can shoot loveliness about, the litmus varietal, along with riesling and cabernet franc – the holy trinity. It’s not an austere holy grail, it shouldn’t mean punishing, painful, taut, tight, dry, short, bitter, lean, mean and caustic. No one in Chablis is trying to make “cool climate chardonnay,” they are trying to make the most balanced and ripe Chablis available in the vintage. The quest is always for deliciousness. Janet Dorozynski, Trade Commissioner at Global Affairs Canada writes “listening to Andrew (Jefford) is like drinking up the finest Chassagne. Arterra Wine’s Eugene Mlynczyk MW adds “new days but we’ll remember Andrew’s advice to be deliciously cool.” Jefford concludes his opening statement by saying “winegrowers have been blissfully unaware for centuries that they have been raising grapes in cool climates. They simply want to make wines that induce covetousness.”

Matt Kramer of Wine Spectator Magazine talks about The Aesthetics of Cool. “It’s a new phrase. A new world phrase. The measure is that it’s not a sure thing, to ripen and make great wine. If it does all the time then it’s not cool climate. We’re very impatient but the truth of the matter is the Burgundians set the standard for centuries and while the ultimate reign is over, everyone else is so new to it all. It’s a very modern locution, not a sure thing and how do we slowly make it become a sure thing.”

Ian d’Agata, multi-award winning wine writer and author of internationally renowned books is considered one of the leading experts in Italian wine Chardonnay and Climate Change. He asks and answers the million dollar question. “What climate change is really about is not just warmer weather but long and extreme droughts, warmer winters, flash floods and tsunamis. The melting of the polar ice caps might actually cool down Atlantic waters. Bordeaux could actually enter a cooler phase. Then a shift to biology. “Gene editing is potentially a very good thing, adding or subtracting from what is already there, it’s not like genetically modifying which introduces other organism into a host genome. The ethical issue is if people cross the line. the technology is not the issue, people are the problem.”

Karen MacNeil is a winner of the James Beard award for Wine and Spirits Professional of the Year, the Louis Roederer award for Best Consumer Wine Writing, and the International Wine and Spirits award as the Global Wine Communicator of the Year. “Everybody drinks Kim Kardashian’s Chardonnay. We think in terms of Audrey Hepburn but truth be told, it is Kardashian that moves off the shelves. People have moved their vineyards and vocabulary to cool, but not their mindset. They are still making big fat chardonnays. There’s a big disconnect, between talk and actuality, and that’s a dangerous thing. Most people are talking the cool talk, but not walking the walk. I think it’s a problem to pick early and call it a cool climate wine. There’s also a poorly conceived idea of ripeness. It’s a not a singular thing. It’s a kaleidoscope that morphs into a thing of beauty.”

With Magdalena Kaiser’s famous red hat, i4c 2018

The chat moves forward with everyone chiming in.

Jefford: “Saying cool climate is a style on its own is a trap. Iwould be very weary of that. Better to say I work in a cool climate and i am trying to listen to my vineyard, to be a vineyard whisperer.”

MacNeil: “When I think about ripeness I think about scrambled eggs. You have to take the pan off the heat one minute before its done. It’s the idea of being one step ahead of what you need the result to be. iI’s all about what happens before the big moment.”

Kramer: “What is identifiable as as being Ontario chardonnay? A lean but not mean and a distinct minerality and I believe it does come from the soil. I love Prince Edward County chardonnay, no other wine, certainly not from California or Oregon tastes like Ontario chardonnay. In a blind tasting Ontario would always stand out as being chardonnay, for whatever reason that may be.”

MacNeil: “I love maximum flavour with minimum weight. distinct obliqueness, vibrational, like watching ballet, you lift in the air with energy and without so much gravity. tension and flavour.”

d’Agata: “I really do believe Canada makes world class chardonnays, certainly better than chardonnay made in Italy. They speak of Somewhereness, to borrow Matt Kramer’s phrase, weightless, laser-like acidities and are able to communicate the sense of the land. Refreshing, mineral-driven site specific wine. Ontario can be very proud of it.”

Jefford: “Stealthy wines, wines you need to spend time with, cozy up to, sit beside and get to know. Have a meal with. Have a meal with your partner, have a second and third glass, drain the bottle and that you can do with Ontario chardonnay.”

Click here to see the list of participating Ontario wineries

Click here to see the list of participating International wineries

The afternoon session was one of academics meeting market experience in a lively debate! Featuring a dynamic panel of multi-hat wearing Canadian industry professionals: John Szabo MS (Ontario), Treve Ring (BC), Brad Royale (Alberta) and Véronique Rivest (Québec) held a virtual debate about the various scientific and interpretive parameters of what it means to be cool. Featuring, and leveraging, the sensational Chardonnays of Chablis, New Zealand and Ontario, each panelist was asked to defend, or condemn, one of the classic parameters of cool climates. Including, but not limited to, latitude, altitude, length of growing season, average temperatures, soil colour and temperature, and sunlight hours. Which is most important, and how should cool climate really be defined? Here is the video:

What are the characteristics of cool chardonnay?

Cool in this sense is trying to find the sweet spot as if at midnight where sugar ripeness, acid structure, phenolic ripeness and fruit character meet for optimum wine results. The latter is what John Szabo considers the critical aspect of making great cool-climate wine. Treve Ring talks about growing degree days and the original benchmark measuring stick, The Winkler Scale. Mean temperature of the month, minus 10, times the number of days in the month – multiplied by seven for the number of the season. On the positive side is for comparisons, i.e. Prince Edward County versus Chablis, 1250 vs. 1350 GGDs in 2019. Still a basic application but hardly complex enough to tell a full story. Ultimately the relationship between vine growth and temperature is not linear. This is the argument against GGDs being the be all, end all way to define growing ability in a climate. Grape varieties are all different and also different clones of a varietal will react different to sunlight hours. A good tool, a useful tool, but does not take climate into account. So, in the end “a limiting factor,” says Szabo. “It worked well in the 1940s and 50s “says Brad Royale, “in the time of emerging viticultural areas and where growers needed a simple, base reality.”

Royale goes on to talk about soil temperature and colour, heat retention and magnification, from white limestone, red, blue, black or grey clays, all effect grape growing in different ways. It is a chat note from Eugene Mlynczyk MW that stands out as important. “Science shows that things matter (or not) … with the added complexity of subjective factors in the case of wines (or any other “artform”) …” Karl Kliparchuk is a professor of Geology at British Columbia’s Institute of Technology. He adds “interior vs coastal vs near large interior water bodies also affects cool climate.” True that.

Raj Parr at i4c, 2018

The next question “are latitude and altitude the single most important determining factors for cool climate wines?” is answered by Soif Wine Bar in Gatineau’s Sommelier-owner Véronique Rivest, one of the most respected sommeliers in Canada and abroad. “No latitude is not the only factor, continentality (also with thanks to Chablis’ Athénaïs de Béru) is a much bigger factor, especially with respect to danger of frosts.” Latitude, latitude, latitude “will determine heartretention, solar radiation and seasonality. Latitude defines the original consideration of where to plant.”

Brad Royale adds that “a cool climate region is surely one that is susceptible to spring frosts, especially in the midst of warm temperatures.” Diurnal temperature shifts are key. “Most cool climate viticultural areas have relatively boring (10 degrees) diurnal temperature fluctuations. Hot climates, especially deserts have the widest range.” The group goes on to wonder if is sunshine the new rain and can we use length of growing season to define cool chardonnay? Both are answered with more yes than no responses so the times they are ‘a changin’.

Director of Sales and Education at Rex Hill’s Carrie Kalscheuer at i4c, 2018

Can Chardonnay get any cooler?

Is there a comparable white grape that speaks of its origins in more varied tones? We have unoaked, barrel fermented, 50-50, unfiltered, reductive, must oxygenated and many more methods and styles of Ontario chardonnay. Which one is done best? Sometimes we mimic Mâconnais, other times Chablis and often a Bourgogne Villages approach. What’s the best way to go about it? Is chardonnay a victim of its own ubiquity and adaptability.” What makes it so special then? “Chardonnay expresses place, as well as production, terroir as well as technique.” Chardonnay should taste like it has come from a place, but also from a time. It’s a hell of a lot easier to plant in the right spot.

As I mentioned, John and I tasted four wines each during our seminar. Here are my notes on the four that I opened.

Organized Crime Chardonnay Limestone Block 2018, VQA Beamsville Bench, Ontario (11951, $24)

From Jan Tarasewicz, his daughter Ania de Deluba and winemaker Greg Yemen, on Mountainview Road in the shadow of the Escarpments’s steep cliff faces. Whole bunch pressed, juice settled for 12 hours and put very turbid to puncheon (none new), no bâtonnage and full malolactic conversion. Classic Beamsville chardonnay of cool, snappy and piqued tendencies with the added warmth of a vintage bringing some lemon curd and just turning to golden ecru caramel glaze for rich measure. Lots of ripeness, definite somewhereness and what’s desired, as in deliciousness. Drink 2020-2023.  Tasted July 2020

I-Cellars Chardonnay Icel Vineyard 2017, VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake ($40)

From Niagara-on-the-Lake and 2010 founder Adnan Icel, a rich throttled chardonnay barrel fermented in 500L French oak puncheons, lees stirred for six months, then aged 12 months more. Tells us to expect rich, opulent, creamy and highly flavourful chardonnay. That it is. Flint-struck if only momentarily, correctly reductive in the sense of fresh encouragement combined with the Niagrified creamed corn, again, if only during this persistently youthful state. Maybe causes a note of bewilderment for some but stay with this wine, give it a year’s time and all will be worth it. Will drink in optimum and designed fashion eight months from now and for two-plus years thereafter. Drink 2021-2024.  Tasted July 2020

Trail Estate Chardonnay Vintage Three Unfiltered 2018, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario ($40.00)

A bit more than a hectare of chardonnay and 312 cases in 2018, harvested September 19th to 24th (3-4 weeks ahead of 2017, which was October 8th). Set to natural ferment and put to 85 per cent 500 L French oak puncheons and 15 per cent 225 litre barriques, 33 per cent second fill, (17) third fill and (50) neutral, for 10 months. Lots of lees contact though I doubt Mackenzie Brisbois did much or even any stirring. Bottled unfined and unfiltered. When I reviewed number two I noted more flesh and complexity than the first vintage and said in many ways it was Mackenzie Brisbois’ first truly personal chardonnay. So 2018 is the next one and oh, baby. More flesh, more caramel, more body. If at first there seems to be a turbid or demure sense of aromatics, they come out like wildflowers with just a moment’s agitation. Sorry to say but the vintage is just a bit too easy, not hard to get, open to a relationship without needing too much coercing. But deliciousness and agreeability are positives and so we’ll just have to chalk it up to epistemic Trail Estate chardonnay success. Drink 2020-2025.  Tasted July 2020

Leaning Post Chardonnay Senchuk Vineyard 2018, VQA Lincoln Lakeshore, Ontario ($45)

Set apart from the Bench wineries and while still beneath the Niagara Escarpment Senchuk Vineyard sits on more of a plain that gently slides down the Lincoln Lakeshore and into Lake Ontario. Perhaps it will become Ontario’s next sub-appellation. Sandy soil is maculated by largish stones three to four feet down. This atop a bed of grey clay so the low vigour of the sandy soil will be offer up a flip-side, a foil to the heavy clay of nearby locales like the Beamsville Bench. This third chardonnay from the home vineyard comes off of vines planted in 2011 so now this seven-year old fruit is starting to really mean something. And Ilya Senchuk is a winemaker who studies, concentrates and plans his work around clones. It’s not just about where to plant which varietals but which clone will work best and where within the greater where. Vineyard, vintage and variance. Senchuk truly believes that greatness is determined by varietal variegation, from vineyard to vineyard and from year to year. From 2018: 64 per cent Clone 548 and (36) Clone 96. Listen further. Warm season so picked on September 18. The grapes were gently whole cluster pressed (separated by Clone), allowed to settle in chilled tanks over night. The juice was then racked into barrels; Clone 548 – one puncheon and three barriques, Clone 96 – three barriques, where they underwent spontaneous alcoholic and malolactic fermentation. The lees were not stirred and it was allowed to age for 16 months. Power, body, tons of fruit, definite barrel influence, a southern Bourgogne kind of vintage, so maybe Pouilly-Fuisée or Maconnais Village with a specific Climat. For the time being we call the Village Lincoln Lakeshore and Senchuk Vineyard the geographical designation. The lemon curd and the acidity are there in a great tangle so yes, this is très cool chardonnay. I think we can safely say already that the Pinot Noir and the Chardonnay grown in Ilya and Nadia’s home vineyard is on its own, one of a kind and makes wines that don’t taste like anywhere else. This 2018 cements the notion and opens the next stage of the discussion. Drink 2021-2027.   Tasted July 2020

Good to go!

godello

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

WineAlign

How can i4c the future through cool chardonnay?

Every stop is neatly planned for a poet and a one man band, but #i4c Sunday @ravinevineyard is always #homewardbound

It’s #i4c, the coolest of chardonnay celebrations. It’s a pilgrimage to a local mecca attracting thousands, arriving to praise chardonnay in all its glory. It’s chanted with incantatory connotation by patrons cantilevered like alluvial fans across the Niagara Peninsula. It teaches us about more than chardonnay because the rapidity of climate change is real and the desire for fresh is yet unquenched. This transcends chardonnay. It’s about growing grapes and making wines in places we all previously discounted. Recently scoffed at. It concerns farming higher, further and edgier. This conference and this grape together let us know that we must change.

Few ideals or notions are hotter these days than those relating to cool climate viticulture and the selvage regions from where such wines are produced. That is why each summer for the past seven Niagara has attracted a world-class global presence for its most important annual congress. The seventh installation of the International Cool Chardonnay Celebration made an ironic and apropos choice in California’s Karen MacNeil to act as keynote speaker at The School of Cool. Ironic for obvious reasons because MacNeil spends most of her time talking about and educating on matters pertaining to growing areas generously gifting maximum sunshine to its grapes. Apropos because like any top quality orator she chose to speak about a rapidly changing world and a paradigm shift for wine growing, producing and ultimately consuming being led down an extreme, on the fringe and ultra cool path.

@KMacwine on @coolchardonnay Refrigerated sunlight, conscious marginality, sophisticated choreography. #i4c17

Cool, as in temperature and slowly developed phenolic ripeness. Cool, as in places like Champagne, Nova Scotia, Austria, Uruguay, northern Chile and Ontario. But MacNeil was quick to point out that the greatest terroirs may yet to be known, despite the proverbial Canadian wine cognoscenti already in the possession of harnessed and usable power through information, knowledge that tells us that five of the 15 (also known as one-third) coldest wine regions growing quality grapes, are found in Canada. “Elegance is directly connected to coolness, the slow dance, refrigerated sunlight,” waxes the poetic and rhapsodic MacNeil, “from couch potato chardonnay to lift, spirit and class.” She admits to pitting the world versus “us,” as a challenge against “them,” the overwrought, overblown and over-produced. She asks the question, “why are they not over it already, these cream puff of chardonnays?” and then “oak is like a tattoo, it doesn’t always look good with age.”

If all these warmed by the hot, hotter and hottest sun and fashioned to express this in hyperbole wines all taste so similar, is this really something reassuring and knowable? Apparently it still is, this persistent overloaded ice cream sundae style of chardonnay that will just not go away. But wake up and smell the altitude and the stone-based, craggy outlooks of  “marginal” vineyard locations. “All of the world’s greatest grapes are only great if they exist on the edge,” said the great Willamette Valley Oregonian David Lett. “Complexity is only achieved, paramount to success, by a slow dance or heartbeat. A great wine revels itself sequentially, over time,” insists KMac, as opposed to mindless and soulless. With acidity at the crux of cool climate wines she talks of “conscious marginality” and “sophisticated choreography.” This is how we should see the future, not only in chardonnay, but in all wines subjected and connected to global climate change.

Says @johnszabo apparently winemakers matter too. #i4c17 @coolchardonnay I do it my way #schoolofcool

Related – A link to the School of Cool presentation download

In the first of three Friday School of Cool sessions at White Oaks Conference Resort and Spa it is MC Master Sommelier and WineAlign Partner/Critic John Szabo who introduces the “soil smackdown.” The question “is there a best soil type for chardonnay” is meant to instigate a healthy discourse but like every #i4c that came before it quickly turns to a dissing of the “m” word. Paul Anamosa of Vineyard Soil Technologies, the main man down in California, is the first to speak. He rambles on about trace minerals, nematicides, oils and clay minerals – kaolinite is the smallest and yet still a very big molecule. “I don’t know too many winemakers with deflated ego problems,” is interjected. “Minerality is a metaphor, not a simile (like what it shown on the aroma wheel). It does not get up and impart flavour into the wine. It’s a romantic notion. Limestone doesn’t give up its water readily or easily.” Here we go again.

Anamosa will give up the idea that poor soil structure allows for a low and slow hydration transfer, with no spikes up or down and this uptake certainly affects vine growth, nutrient transfer and ultimately flavour, but its the elements found in the water that effect these impressions. Not “minerality.” Must be hard to go through life with such a scientifically nihilist approach. It sounds exhausting.

I don’t know too many winemakers with deflated ego problems. Paul Anamosa @coolchardonnay #soilsmackdown #i4c17

Three winemakers go pro on the mineral ideal. Paul Berger of Berger-Rive has been making his wine since he was four-years old and unsulphured Rosé no less. He talks of clay over limestone, places where “the ground is in love.”  Thomas Bachelder monkifies the soil plant matrix made to transmit minerality. “It’s as much about photosynthesis in the new world but minerality is still apart of it. Jory soils in Oregon bring a salty tang, a savour. It’s true.” Shiraz Mottiar notes that calcareous soils that start wet and sticky eventually turn to concrete. “They don’t crumble, there is no soil tilt, they are angular, evolving and difficult, self-compacting and that hard-pan deals with high mineral content. So we use cover crops for developing soil tilt and friable structure.” There points for the mineral team. Szabo concludes with “anyone getting the sense that this is pure crap? We’re going to continue with the program anyway. Monkeys in a parallel universe are doing this and doing it better.”

In the second session, “Chardonnay, I do it my way,” Szabo told several hundred #i4c junkies “apparently winemakers matter too.” I thought Invivo Wines’ Mark Boardman said it best. “Rob (winemaker “Crusher” Cameron) is not trying to make a $100 Burgundy here folks,” but rather chardonnay can be so happy in so many places, in so many ways. Here it’s from one of the warmest parts of New Zealand, with high rainfall, on Pacific coast of the South Island. It’s about pleasing the customers, being approachable and “nice” on the palate. “Respect, not patronize the consumer.”

François Morissette, vigneron of Pearl Morissette talked technique. “Whatever we press, we oxidize. We do not oxidize wine, we oxidize must.” There’s a big difference. The stabilization of these wines are attributed to this idea of getting rid of all oxidizable compounds before they enter into the next stages of the winemaking process. Pleasing aromas, flavours, textures and ultimately the sum of the above elevates the cool chardonnay game and speaks to the future. Ravine Vineyard’s Marty Werner remarked on the high degree of heat units but also the cool nights in 2014 so his chardonnay received no cooling, some sulphur for a night, straight to barrel and left a bit empty. Why? “Because it’s different in Niagara, you need to get some oxygen in there, so that we develop some more fruit characteristic.”

Dr. Jamie Goode

Heidi Noble, Owner & Winemaker of B.C.’s Joie Farm coined the term “juiceidity.” She told the crowd, “when (cellarmaster) Karl speaks it’s incredibly important and poignant,” he knows the truth about location, from the most northerly tip of the Sonoran desert but in a zone of what Karen MacNeil called “conscious marginality,” a micro climate of cool within a hot zone.

And finally, le grand ami himself Norman Hardie. “Solids matter to me,” he explains. “We pump out the separated clear juice until the point where I feel like we are getting to the danger zone.” They make use of horizontal tanks, “so the ratio of solids to juice is much higher.” Solids are critical to expressing terroir but too many solids and it’s too reductive. “I’ve gotten braver and braver as time’s gone on.” Mackenzie Brisbois talked about the 2015 vintage, her first full one at Trail Estate. Her methods include hyper-oxidized, cold-settled, natural ferments in stainless steel, put to barrel towards the end, 4o per cent new, 60 neutral, full malo, 10 more months, sulphured, racked out of barrel and a coarse filtration so it’s called unfiltered. “Hopefully my lack of filtration helps you to hear the music in my wine.”

The third School of Cool session looked at dosage in bubbles. “The Sugar Trials,” or as moderator John Szabo M.S. told us “sparkling wines are wines of process and one of the most important events happens right at the end of the trail and that’s called dosage.” Essentially, the crux of what it is, the sugar trials define how much, if any, should be added.

A Sunday #i4c @coolchardonnay morning at the P & P and Josh Ritter covering Modest Mouse. Johnny Cash next.

Dr. Belinda Kemp led the panel discussion and her research at Brock University’s CCOVI lies at the heart of the Ontario wine industry’s investigations. Tawse winemaker Paul Pender had this to say. “Balance is something I strive for but rarely achieve.” He noted that it’s about pleasure, hedonism sometimes, ultimately something that makes you smile, and tastes good. It’s always a moving target, so many things effect how it tastes and more so your perception of sugar and acidity, even what you had for breakfast this morning. “Sugar kind of takes away terroir.” Dr. Jamie Goode added, “it turns out we all live in different taste worlds. Because we model touch, taste, smell and all the sensory perceptions into an unconscionable, alt-reality which bears no real resemblance to how a wine actually tastes. It’s highly personal.”

The i4c weekend takes winemakers, journalists and consumers from White Oaks’ School of Cool and over to Niagara Airport’s hangar for a grand, cool affair. It shuttles past lunch tastings scattered across and throughout the Niagara Peninsula and Escarpment locations and lands at Ridley College for the worlds most grand chardonnay event. It culminates on Sunday at Ravine and Redstone wineries for brunch and if you’ve not had your fill, more chardonnay. Most of all it brings people together but not without an army of volunteers to make it happen. It functions seamlessly because of people like the Cellar Sisters, Angie Jewell and MJ Macdonald, Paul Dearborn and Kari-and Macknight Dearborn. The Cool Chardonnay weekend delivers year after year with thanks to VQA Wines of Ontario, Dorian Anderson and Trisha Molokach and the chefs of Niagara. The media are treated (better than we deserve) because of Wine Country Ontario’s Magdalena Kaiser, Joanna Muratori and Ryan Zanette.

I was not able to taste and review every chardonnay on hand at #i4c17 but I did get to a better percentage than I actually thought I had at the time. Many of these wines are available in small quantities through the VINTAGES Online platform through August 3rd so you have exactly three more days to act. Here are 69 reviews. If you are thinking about injecting some cool chardonnay into the rest of your summer plans then read on and make your picks. I hope I’ve been of some assistance.

Are you ready for an #i4c17 @coolchardonnay Saturday night?

Invivo Chardonnay 2016, Gisborne, North Island, New Zealand (499855, Agent, $16.95, WineAlign)

A nicely green and cool Gisborne composed chardonnay is just the ticket for warm nights, frâche-inflected appetizers and a good chill. This is quite fleshy, creamy and tangy, just stopping short of citrus-sour piercing and intense. It’s that creamy sherbet and tangy gelato character that balances it out. Drink 2017-2019.  Tasted June and July 2017  invivowines  nicholaspearcewines  @InvivoWines   @Nicholaspearce_  @InvivoWines  Nicholas Pearce

Maycas del Limarí Reserva Especial Chardonnay 2015, Limarí Valley, Chile (143768, $18.95, WineAlign)

Lovely vintage and cool-climate conditioning with A-plus exemplary effort from the Limarí specialist. The ripe and bright fruit is buoyed by classically rendered acidity that never relents. I really like the elegance and the way the wood is just a spice accent, not a cream churning machine. Not to be missed. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted May and July 2017  maycasdellimari  #thevineagency  wines_of_chile_canada  @Maycasdellimari  @TheVine_RobGroh  @WinesofChile  @maycasdellimari  The Vine – Robert Groh Agency  @WinesOfChile

Cheesecake Bar by Chef Frand Dodd, Trius Winery and Restaurant

Trius Barrel Fermented Chardonnay 2015, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (346064, Winery, $19.95, WineAlign)

Quite flinty and mineral smoky, even for Trius and Niagara chardonnay so it would seem that winemaker Craig McDonald prepared this larger batch with a friendly reductive environment. The aim, goal and result adds up to locked in freshness and a decoding of oak to relegate the label as secondary to the post-modern future of this bottling. It’s crisp, crunchy, spoken of and for place with edging cut with spice. The creamy centre is present and delivers texture, not weight. Really fine effort. Drink 2017-2019.  Tasted July 2017  triuswines  @TriusWines  @triuswines

Esterházy Chardonnay Leithaberg DAC 2015, Burgenland, Austria (511386, Agent, $19.95, WineAlign)

Tangibly full and rich style of chardonnay with a flinty, smoky limestone foundation edge, a pierce running through the barrel spiced mid-palate and quite generous length. Really fleshy, lemon-citrus sparked, clean, precise and stony good. Of markedly fine compression, layers woven of tart and stone. A highly composed and forged composition, in action and temperament, so kudos to the great work out of a warm vintage. It’s a complete wine all the way through, perhaps restrained at first but structure is the key to its success. An Austro-pure, appellative finessed chardonnay if ever there was from a place where the grape thrives unencumbered and blessedly expressive. Drink 2017-2020. Tasted twice, with Stefan Tscheppe, July 2017  #esterhazy @esterhazywein  austrianwine  Esterhazy Wein  @NaturalVines  @oesterreichwein  @AustrianWine  @BirgittaSamavar  Marzia Gallo  @austrianwine

Pierre Sparr Le Clos Sainte Odile Brut Crémant D’alsace, Traditional Method, Ac, Alsace, France (457788, Agent, $19.95, WineAlign)

Sparr’s site specific Crémant would seem counterintuitive to the free and easy-going genre which prides itself on the purpose of wide-ranging food matching but the divergence here in minimal. Le Clos Sainte Odile is equally proportioned though it carries a marked increase in lees and texture. Smells more like Champagne and acts this way too, so in that sense the quality improves and food will benefit several fold. The length is exceptional. Still creamy Crémant but with more layers and fine complex stills. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted June and July 2017  #pierresparr  profilewinegroup  vinsalsace  drinkalsace  #PierreSparr  @ProfileWineGrp  @AlsaceWines @VinsAlsace  Pierre Sparr  Bernard Sparr  Maison Pierre Sparr Successeurs  Profile Wine Group  @AlsaceWinesOfficial  @vinsalsace

Pierre Sparr Crémant D’alsace Chardonnay Brut Méthode Traditionnelle, Ac Alsace, France (416040, Agent, $20.00, WineAlign)

In Sparr’s eponymous Crémant bottling the dosage is evident in every facet of fizz being to balance out the sour acidity and formidable tension. The most Champagne like of the flight is contextual, textural, elevated and serious. It is a bit on the sweet side (at 8 g/L of RS) as compared to (3.7 TA and pH of 3.29) with 18 months minimum on the lees and aging in oak casks. There is no shortage of fruit and that acidity is surprisingly lively. Tasted with Bernard Sparr who says quite simply, it’s “easy to drink.” Drink 2017-2019.  Tasted July 2017  #pierresparr  profilewinegroup  vinsalsace  drinkalsace  #PierreSparr  @ProfileWineGrp  @AlsaceWines @VinsAlsace  Pierre Sparr  Bernard Sparr  Maison Pierre Sparr Successeurs  Profile Wine Group  @AlsaceWinesOfficial  @vinsalsace

Marcel Cabelier Crémant De Jura Organic 2014, Jura, France (738641, Agent, $19.95, WineAlign)

A most engrossing and provocative Crémant, at first aromatically onion skin sweaty and sweetly caramelized. No citrus to really speak of and then lemon sweetness to taste. Sapid to be sure, leaner, crisp, on the path to a searing style. Fascinating when you consider the dosage number is upwards to 12.3 RS while the actual acidity is 5.26 TA. An elevated 3.37 pH and a ripeness from the warm vintage really helps to hide its sugar, incredibly so. Texture never hurts as well as this spent 24 months on the lees. Will age nicely into secondary waxy territory. Drink 2017-2022.  Tasted with winemaker Nicolas Haeffelin at i4c, July 2017  #marcelcabelier  #andrewpellerimportagency  #jurawine  #marcelcabelier  @APImportAgency  @JuraWine   #marcelcabelier  @APImportAgency  @JuraWine

Cremaschi Furlotti Chardonnay Single Vineyard 2015, Do Loncomillo, Maule Valley, Chile (511097, Agent, $22.00, WineAlign)

DO Loncomilla lies at the heart of the Maule Valley, a place of serious Chilean history. The Battle of Loncomilla was the decisive campaign of the 1851 Chilean Revolution between conservative government and liberal rebel forces. It’s also apparently a terrific place to grow chardonnay. Winemaker Gonzalo Perez’ 2015 is a fuller expression, with green apple piquancy to nose, a wealth of fruit, tart done so right and a true barrel-blessed chardonnay bite. It reeks of stone, acts restrained enough to seem (at times) unsure but in its quietude there is a mineral sway to say this must be the way. It solicits a follow me down the stone road, up to a very orchard palate with gregarious flavours and compressed acidity. Serious, almost brooding chardonnay but very new world. Chewy and very long. The soils are volcanic and alluvial, aiding and assisting to gather into this highly complex, 100 per cent malolactic, reductive, tart and biting chardonnay. The most surprising and intriguing find at #14c17. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted July 2017  cremaschi_furlotti  @winecremaschi  @cremaschifurlotti

Coteau Rougemont Chardonnay La Côte 2015, Quebec, Canada (Winery, $24.00, WineAlign)

From La Famille Robert and the latest, newest, impressionable cool climate frontier in Rougemont Quebec, climate change delivers another stellar chardonnay attack, here with something quite supple, almost creamy, acid-driven but surprisingly far from scathing and eminently drinkable. These vines are planted on sun-drawing south facing slopes with more than ample pebble and schist in the soil, enough no less to streak a wire of balance through the softened, downy fruit. Well done. Drink 2017-2019.  Tasted July 2017  coteaurougemont  #CoteauRougement  @VinsduQuebec  Vignoble Coteau Rougemont

Creekside Chardonnay Queenston Road Vineyard 2015, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $24.95, WineAlign)

Comes barreling out replete with the highest of chard tones mixed with plenty of richness lifting and layering oak. Quite ambitious, full malo felt, of waves more than dollops of vanilla. The acidity comes later because nothing can get in the way of the creamy texture and voluptuousness. Cool but secondary to these flavours and mouthfeel are incendiary savoury tendencies. Adding things up all being equal the Queenston Road, St. David’s Bench vineyard, with its clay-loam and the eventuality of full-malo effect well, it’s really a thing of richesse. “I wouldn’t say this wine is a whole lot about minerality,” says winemaker Yvonne Irvine, “but it’s there in the bite on the finish.” Fair enough. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted July 2017  creeksidewine  @CreeksideWine  @CreeksideWine

Inniskillin Montague Vineyard Chardonnay 2014, VQA Four Mile Creek, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (586347Agent, $24.95, WineAlign)

If you have had the opportunity to taste the Montague Vineyard chardonnay from Niagara’s Four-Mile Creek sub-appellation in at least four consecutive vintages you will know that its style is only exceeded by its consistency. Little has changed; the same warm, barrel-kissed style comforts generously pressed and extracted fruit. It’s not that I don’t deduce soft, downy and buttery fruit from Montague. I do, but this vineyard always offers a counter-point with some firmness and compression, as it does with pinot noir. This 2014 is smoky and faintly smouldering, even a touch flinty. Even if it is a bit baked, spiced or toasted it is also a more mineral vintage for chardonnay. On one hand it offers or gives up too much of itself (and too early), with creamy vanilla, ripe melon and sappy, stone-fruit. On the other it finds balance amongst the dense layering of bigger, harder and more productive moving parts. You are going to want to match this with some protein and a good reduction sauce. I’d look to pulled pork, zesty kohlrabi slaw and a tangy BBQ sauce, duck confit with a savoury-spiked demi-glacé or coq au vin, just to name a few. Drink 2017-2019.  Tasted January 2017  inniskillinwines  cbrandscareers  @InniskillinWine  @CBrandsCareers  Inniskillin Vineyards  

Vasse Felix Filius Chardonnay 2016, Margaret River, Western Australia (416511, $24.95,  WineAlign)

Same price and highly credible follow-up is what we can all hope to taste and make comment to the great winemakers of this world so kudos to Virginia Willcocks of Vasse Felix for doling out another eminently drinkable Filius. Still holds the Australian cool-climate chardonnay candle from the Margaret River though it’s a touch fleshier, riper and creamier in 2016. The combination of salt and stony-mineral adds up to grip and the tightness means some air is needed. A mess of grilled langoustines would also work. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted June and July 2017  vassefelixwines  margaretriver  @vassefelix  @MargaretRiver  @MargaretRiverWi  @vassefelixwines  @MargaretRiverWineRegion  @margaretriverwines1

Château Des Charmes Paul Bosc Estate Chardonnay 2014, VQA St. David’s Bench, Ontario (511345, Winery, $24.95, WineAlign)

Here is fine example of a winery showing off their rockstar barrel program in a starman of a chardonnay. The dreaminess on the nose and the early 1970’s ambient and textured guitar unction on the palate just get you stoned. “Didn’t know what time it was and the lights were low…Some cat was layin’ down some rock ‘n’ roll, ‘lotta soul.” Tart, lots of wood, bite, so much structure. Is it too much? Not when it’s the kind of chardonnay and music that can stand the test of time. Drink 2018-2022. Tasted blind at NWAC17, June 2017 and at #14c, July 2017  chateaudescharmes  @MBosc  Château des Charmes

Domaine Laroche Chablis Saint Martin 2015, Ac Burgundy, France (289124, $25.25, WineAlign)

The vintage is a ripe, accessible and easy to love one so this marks a 90 degree turn for the Saint Martin. This is Laroche’s most important cuvée, sold in 80 countries and collected from select plots across 60 hectares of vines. Structure will always direct this cuvée and so long as Gregory Viennois is winemaker you can be sure that a taut entry will be joined by some subtle oak richness (in 2015, eight per cent in large, 25 year-old, 55 hL foudres). It’s just an aromatic hint but look forward with eyes closed and inculcate the texture addendum. Acids are soft and caressing. Drink 2017-2021. Tasted July 2016 and 2017  laroche_wines  selectwinemoments  @DomaineLaroche  @SelectWinePros  @Select_Wines  @SelectWinesCanada

Southbrook Chardonnay Triomphe 2015, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (172338, Agent, $24.95, WineAlign)

The fruit for Ann Sperling’s chardonnay Triomphe ’15 is sourced primarily from Saunders (Beamsville Bench) with auxiliary support out of Heather Laundry’s old vine Lincoln Lakeshore vineyard. There are older, non-clonal blocks with perhaps some Musqué mixed in so the aromatics fly, with no restraint applied by the wild ferment and (mostly 300L) neutral oak. This Triomphe is anything but reductive, a no stress chardonnay from such a far from sluggish, clean ferment. The simplicity and complicity explain how beauty is curated, from a vintage where reduction did not happen or beg to happen so why try to force it. The copacetic re-quiescence bears witness to classic Ann Sperling in such a vintage. Chardonnay of mellow smoulder, of old barrel spice and one to define a certain kind on a line of disparate and unique, cool climate, i4c selections. There are 800 cases made. Drink 2017-2020. Tasted January and July 2017  southbrookvineyards  thelivingvine  @TheLivingVine  @SouthbrookWine   @SouthbrookWine  The Living Vine inc.

Bachelder Chardonnay Niagara 2014, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (302083, Agent, $24.95, WineAlign)

Thomas Bachelder’s ’15 chardonnay is a story of what happens ’round here, a chardonnay counting the years of peninsula life. It’s so representative, a comfortable stroll through the echelons and stages of a man’s history, in and out of Niagara eponymy and how it relates to a monk’s personal journey. It also traces the stages of vineyard life and for the winemaker, of fruit “slipping through my hands.” Out of 2015 chardonnay can be forgotten, with weather nothing to remember and on the heels of two most excellent seasons. It could easily pass “into the fog where no one notices the contrast of white on white.” Here is the time, place and harvest for Thomas Bachelder to interject and explain, to send a grape into a recognizable future, as far as the crow flies. He uses the barrel to pique the fruit into life, to inject French cream with the very intent in demand of its intention. Flavours are therefore sapid, piquant and variegated. In the end, you can drink this in August and into complexity, everything after. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted July 2017  bachelder_wines  liffordgram  @Bachelder_wines  @LiffordON  @BachelderWines  @liffordwineandspirits

Joie Farm Unoaked Chardonnay 2016, VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (511261Agent, $25.00, WineAlign)

Terpenes up front, orchard fruit and high acidity in ways that mimic riesling but the broad apple juice swirl and bite on the palate is all chardonnay. Shows sugar tempered by acidity in what is ostensibly fresh and simple, unoaked Okanagan juice. This is made in the vineyard, picked three times, from straightforward winemaking, making use of lots of solids,”lots of liquid aromatics,” as Heidi Noble notes. Champagne yeasts are employed to celebrate place. Drink 2017-2018.  Tasted July 2017  joie farm  liffordgram  #JoieFarm  @LiffordON  @joiefarm  @liffordwineandspirits

Willamette dammit! @bachelder_wines @coolchardonnay #i4c17

Bachelder Chardonnay Willamette 2014, Oregon (273334, Agent, $25.00, WineAlign)

The richest Bachelder Oregon to date for reasons explained by the indubitable and unwavering Thomas is no doubt in leading part a result of one of the earliest vintages on record for Oregon Pinot Noir. His Willamette is a veritable intertwine of mineral, fruit and energy like there is no tomorrow. Also welcome to the lengthy one. The barrel is a caramel pillow, a downy wooden bench, a soft French cream dream. Drinkable is the understatement, pleasure the song. Willamette Dammit. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted July 2017  bachelder_wines  liffordgram  @Bachelder_wines  @LiffordON  @BachelderWines  @liffordwineandspirits

Westcott Vineyards Estate Chardonnay 2016, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Ontario (427484, Winery, $25.95, WineAlign)

This is one of the first near-premium chardonnays to hit the market from 2016 and so a decision needs to be quickly made if the style is more vintage or house in origin. There really isn’t any estate precedence for this superabundance of fruit on the “normale,” like Christmas coming early or Niagara peaches appearing in June. The ripeness goes beyond freestone fruit and into the tropical realms occupied by mango and pineapple. There is no denying the nectarous and appetizing nature so I’d like to think it’s really a seasonal somewhereness that drives the druthers. Drink this young and with some poached seafood. It will satisfy the pairing. Drink 2017-2019.  Tasted July 2017  westcottvineyards  @WestcottWines  @westcottwines

Domaine Berger Rive Manoir De Mercey Bourgogne Hautes Côtes De Beaune Clos Des Dames 2015, Ac Burgundy, France (Agent, $26.95, WineAlign)

A restrained, faux-sugary, hautes Bourgogne, spirited near but so far from a Reuilly-like nose. You think it’s thin but know it’s not while the fruit struggles to steal the spotlight from the rocks. Very cool chardonnay with crazy natural sweetness and sneaky length. The warm vintage plus the limestone calcareous soil grows on you for sure and so that length shows off the best of its world and the talents of winemaker Paul Berger. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted July 2017  @FWMCan  #BergerRive  fwmcan  @FWMCan

Traversa Viña Salort Chardonnay Reserve 2016, Canelones, Uruguay (511550, Agent, $29.00, WineAlign)

Chardonnay from Canelones needs to discovered and Traversa’s Reserve is a fine high-end place top start. The name is derived from a species of cinnamon called “canelón, growing along the banks of the homonymous river. This new fringe frontier for chardonnay is found here 50 kms or so north of Uruguay’s capital Montevideo. A specific sort of freshness is locked in tight, reductive in a gassing up the truck sort of way, subduing fruit and inviting mineral meanderings. It’s on the palate where things get very interesting, upon which the spice, buttered toast and brûlee of pears lay. There is a few percentage points too much wood on this next South terroir-Americanific frontier chardonnay but the substantial mid-palate fruit can handle the accents. A fine example in many respects. Drink 2017-2018. Tasted July 2017  familiatraversa  @TraversaUSA

Malivoire Chardonnay Mottiar 2014, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $29.95, WineAlign)

This is classic Mottiar chardonnay, lean, sharp, quivering and yet somehow so knowable and comfortable. As time goes by this generates the confidence to represent the Beamsville Bench as its prodigal son, the handsome one, of pulchritude and with the promise of great memories ahead. If it’s a bit reductive, taut and aerified chardonnay, so be it, but it’s also so very Niagara, essential, the essence of what happens on dolomitic limestone. The low (3.15) pH factor at go time caused a force picked at high acidity to maintain the lean style and a partial (not much) malo assists in effecting this high-level bench factor. Shiraz Mottiar’s eponymous chardonnay is the shit, for Beamsville and for what he does best. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted July 2017  malivoire  shirazmottiar  @MalivoireWine  @ShirazMottiar  @MalivoireWine  

Rodney Strong Sonoma Coast Chardonnay 2014, Sonoma Coast, California (465724, $29.95, WineAlign)

The first appearance of the Rodney Strong Sonoma Coast bottling is an auspicious one, announced with ripe and delicious clarity. Though the nose is a bit reserved there is no reductive quality and the orchard is but a mere stone’s throw away from really standing out. The wood shows up on the vanilla, caramel tangy and further, deeper into the apple tree’s palate. The finish brings a pie from out of the warm oven. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted October 2016 and July 2017  rsvineyards  markanthonyon  california.wines  @rsvineyards  @ImportWineMAFWM  @CalifWines_CA  @Rodney.Strong.Vineyards  @MarkAnthonyWine  @CaliforniaWinesCanada

13th Street Sandstone Reserve Chardonnay 2013, VQA Four Mile Creek, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $29.95, WineAlign)

No surprise the vintage is a major plus for the Sandstone and the natural funk it owns. And I mean owns. Only Sandstone has such geological drive, not unlike chardonnay from South Africa’s Hemel-En-Aarde Valley. In 2013 there is a sweetness to the fruit mixed with a misty humidity and finally that falling over backwards with feet stuck in the clay and the calcaire. Wildness from J. P. Colas here and with attentiveness to place and time. Drink 2016-2021. Tasted at #i4c16, July 2016 and #14c17, July 2017  13thstreetwinery  @13thStreetWines  @13thStreetWines

Hidden Bench Estate Chardonnay 2014, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario, (68817, $29.95, WineAlign)

Exemplary follow up to a terrific 2013 with more emerald gemstone, green apple bite and fine textured lees running through. Tart and yet not at the same time, seemingly sweet but only in the way that flavourful salts with added umami can collect, pool and co-exist. Just great focus, precision, fineness and balance. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted June 2017 and #14c, July 2017  hidden bench  @HiddenBench  @Hidden.Bench

Thirty Bench Small Lot Chardonnay 2014, VQA Beamsville Bench, Ontario (Winery, $30.00, WineAlign)

The nose on this chardonnay is pretty, alive, vibrant and pure. The palate is exceptional, fleshy and full. There is intensity and precision, class and seamless integration of fruit, acidity and texture. Really longDrink 2018-2024. Tasted blind at #NWAC17, June 2017 and at #14c, July 2017  thirty bench  @ThirtyBench  @ThirtyBench

Ravine Vineyard Chardonnay 2015, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $30.00, WineAlign)

Ravine’s is one of those chardonnay blessed with uncanny ability to amalgamate the sumptuousness of fruit warmed by sun and kissed repeatedly by barrel. The equation renders delicacy and texture, so obviously and vehemently spoken in the 2015 Peninsula language. It really is all about texture with a plus-minus spice note codicil and cool unction drawn like butter in suspended animation, a pool into which all parts have melted. Needs a year to finalize the deal and sweeten the pot. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted July 2017  ravinevineyard  marty_werner  benminaker23  @RavineVineyard  @marty_werner  @BMinaker23  Ravine Vineyard Estate Winery  Martin Werner  Ben Minaker

Mer Soleil Silver Unoaked Chardonnay 2014, Monterey, California (220343, Agent, $31.00, WineAlign)

Chardonnay sans wood doesn’t get more premium than this (save for some Chablis) so the use of unlined concrete tanks (a third to a half) allows the sort of micro-oxegynation that elevates the complexity game. Despite the hard-goings of working this way, the delivery is a crisp, crunchy and slightly edgy (and eggy) ’14 with addendum by the confluence of fog, sun and sea. Mer Soleil. More pear than green apple, the character speaks a Monterey note. The packaging has left ceramic behind in favour of electrostatic painted (second-purposed) glass, made to look like (and celebrate) concrete. This is surprisingly creamy so the solids get their say and the conclusion is of a chardonnay made this way that rarely achieves such a level of texture and piquancy. Drink 2017-2019.  Tasted July 2017  mersoleilwine  #andrewpellerimportagency  @MerSoleilChard  @APImportAgency  @MerSoleilVineyard  Andrew Peller (Andrew Peller Import)

House of Chards #i4c Lunch at Trius

Artesa Chardonnay 2014, Carneros, Napa Valley, California (657585, Agent, $31.00, WineAlign)

The differing and contrastive style in Artesa’s ordinario is literally chardonnay night in comparison to the estate’s reserve day. Absent is the mineral alloy streak, the temper and the level of fruit quality and density so that here the buttery and creamy oak is felt on top and down below. Acidity, tension and posit tugs of intensity are relegated and softened to the mild mannered and middle palate personality. This is 70 per cent estate fruit, simple, rich, soft and mildly spicy chardonnay, antithetical for completion recognition of the basic to reserve paradigm. Drink 2017-2018.  Tasted July 2017  artesawinery  #andrewpellerimportagency  @Artesa  @APImportAgency  @Artesa

Adamo Oaked Chardonnay Willms’ Vineyard 2014, VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario (Winery, $32.00, WineAlign)

This is the second vintage of the Willms, a rich and viscous chardonnay with green apple bite. More barrel (15 months, 30 per cent new) on this than others in an #i4c School of Cool flight and also Beaune-styled, ambitious otherwise but certainly the structured and gregarious one. Chardonnay as many would recognize, could be nothing other, some terpenic moments but the cool, sharp and spirited are mixed into the clay. Last tasted July 2017.

Adamo sources from the same vineyard that provides fruit for 13th Street’s Sandstone Reserve in the Four Mile Creek sub-appellation of Niagara-on-the-Lake. Planted in 1983, it is owned and farmed by Erv, Esther and Eric Willms. In its early stages the fruit acted and reacted as a lean, taut and tension fuelled chardonnay with party a sign of letting up. Eight months later the juicy flesh of orchard fruit pushes past the vintage’s grip and lets tis wine breath a sigh of relief. Chalk one up to yet another cool-climate, calcareous clay stuck moment in time. Drink 2017-2019.  Tasted twice, at #i4c16, July 2016 and Taste Ontario, March 2017  adamoestatewinery  @AdamoEstateWine  @adamoestatewinery

Trail Estate Chardonnay Unfiltered 2015, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $32.00, WineAlign)

A blend of vineyards, from Ed Hughes and (Wismer) Foxcroft, perhaps with some influence under the lingering auspices of the Norman Hardie school, here in the playful and progressive hands of Mack Brisbois. Mackenzie employs no sulphur at processing, allowing for chardonnay efficacious and liberally oxidized, settled, cold stabilized, non bentonite-affected, chilled and racked. Not lost is the ever-commented process of going at it with wild ferment, but also caution thrown to the wind via no temperature control (but yes on the Hughes fruit), with the final end game in search of and wanting a fruity Chablis side. Done up in half stainless plus 50 old 500L and two 225L barrels. The sulphur was added in October, the full malo achieved and then bottled in November. All of this technical mumbo-jumbo to say there is still quite a creamy, leesy, oaky feeling but like some others in Niagara (Robyn’s Block, Oliveira and Aberdeen) it totes great palate texture and a “fruitiness,” but it’s not fruity. It may not recreate the Chablis fruit to mineral purity but it is a righteous, proper and Niagara purity fashioned in PEC. There are 266 Cases. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted December 2016 and July 2017  trailestatewine  mackbrisbois  @TrailEstateWine  @MackBrisbois  @TrailEstateWinery  Mackenzie Brisbois

Westcott Vineyards Chardonnay Lenko Old Vine 2014, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $32.95, WineAlign)

The iconic vineyard, the wise old vines, the chance to make some magic; these are all a part of the mystery and the mystique of Lenko placed in the hands of one winemaker at a time, fruit put to bottle in his or her own special way. It’s simple isn’t it? “Go far enough and you will reach, a place where the sea runs underneath,” take up the grapes and do what they need. In terms of chardonnay the vineyard is ground zero, the genesis, the oldest Chardonnay planting in Canada. In Arthur Harder’s hands the fruit reaches you with apposite if ambient sparks while its chords are strummed with 12 strings so that it never loses touch with its structure. A very expressive chardonnay from a benevolent vintage, Westcott’s breaks free from traditional Niagara with this tart and that tart. There is wind, wuthering and it has the uncanny ability “of turning the world so it’s facing the way that I’m going.” Drink 2017-2024.  Tasted July 2017  westcottvineyards  @WestcottWines  @westcottwines

Chateau Des Charmes Blanc De Blanc Sparkling Méthode Traditionelle 2014, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (511352, $32.95, WineAlign)

A different sort this one, with lots of barrel spice, liquid splinter creaminess, a heavier dosage to be sure, creamy lemon and almond skin, but also pith. Complex if commercially sweeter, rich and fatter, something School of Cool 2017 Sugar Trials panelist Rhys Pender MW agrees with. Making sparkling wine from the warmish Niagara-on-the-Lake regional-appellation (which includes the warm St. David’s Bench) has its pros and cons, the positives mostly tending to richness and the negatives the compromise to energy and verve. Winemaker Amélie Boury manages the dosage of 10 g/L RS with natural acidity (5.5 g/L TA), a forthcoming low pH of 3.16 and a late September pick. “For richer fruit” she notes and then a coupling texture by fermenting in barrels. Look for it on the ambit of tertiary personality after a few years of age. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted July 2017  chateaudescharmes  @MBosc  Château des Charmes

Domaine De Mauperthuis Chablis Vieilles Vignes Les Malantes 2014, Ac Burgundy, France (511063, $33.95, WineAlign)

From a new family (relatively speaking) to Chablis, the estate belongs to Marie-Noëlle & Laurent Ternynck. The old vines Chablis saw 12 months in foudres, on the lees, with fruit gathered from vineyards in Fleys. The cool spot comes with a higher altitude, on a windswept plateau and so harvest is generally five to six days later. And so their Chablis is cool, direct, taut and sapid stuff, as Chablis will go, from such a climat and handled so. Acidity runs rampant and travels quickly up and down and into parts of the mouth that stand up to take notice. Sharp and focused Chablis. Drink 2017-2022.  Tasted July 2017  #mauperthuis  vinsdechablis  vinsdebourgogne  nicholaspearcewines  #Mauperthuis  @vinsdechablis  @VinsdeBourgogne  @Nicholaspearce_  Vins de Bourgogne / Burgundy wines  Nicholas Pearce

Mer Soleil Chardonnay “SLH” 2015, Santa Lucia Highlands, California (958975, Agent, $34.95, WineAlign)

The sun always shines upon Mer Soleil’s “SLH,” a chardonnay equipped with exceptional fruit purity that welcomes but could go it so much more confidently alone without the mask-caking make-up. It needs a fraction of the wood it receives. A tour de force of ocean and sun (tied together by fog) delivers acidity, sapidity and the fruit is raised to keep things moving swimmingly along. So it’s got that going for it. Which is nice. Drink 2017-2019.  Tasted July 2017  mersoleilwine  #andrewpellerimportagency  @MerSoleilChard  @APImportAgency  @MerSoleilVineyard  Andrew Peller (Andrew Peller Import)

Good man this man. Great winemaker this winemaker #i4c @coolchardonnay

Tawse Quarry Road Vineyard Chardonnay 2013, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Ontario (111989, $35.80, WineAlign)

When I tasted Quarry Road 2013 out of four barrels three years ago the purpose was to take in the nuances and see only the trees. I for one could not help seeing the forest through the trees and imagining percentages of each combining for the final blend. Neutral Mercurey wood looked over infant three year-old vines spoken here with surprising density, tang and tropical melon in both aroma and flavour. This sits on the front palate right now. The mineral Ceres qualifies older fruit as the pretty and the gemstone, essential for Quarry Road, the most like (Meursault) in Burgundy. This fruit transferred to stainless on the lees from September to March before going into bottle now renders to make Quarry the purest expression from the best vineyard. The CLL toast delivers the taut, not yet reductive wood tightening, then and again now, mainly on the finish. Compressed citrus notes are late arriving and even if it is splitting hairs, the oak really impacts the finish. The larger CLL toast Mercurey barrel reveals a fresher, more reductive, less oaky feel. All together we now have one of Paul Pender’s most accomplished to date and all chardonnays considered, one of the finest higher end values around. I think he would agree. Drink 2017-2024.  Tasted May and July 2017  tawsewinery  @Tawse_Winery  @tawsewines

Maycas del Limarí Chardonnay Quebrada Seca 2013, Limarí Valley, Chile (331520, $36.00, WineAlign)

Maycas de Limarí’s Quebrada Seca or “dry-cracked” makes reference to the fragmented soils, a place of low-fertility and chardonnay loving terroir. This spent 14 months in (30 per cent new) but it’s not just the extended barrel time that separates it from the estate’s Reserva. Vintage plays a significant role in conjunction with the soil and it teaches so much about the virtues of patience and time. No malo but high sapidity, lots of bite and the verdant, healthy life are borne out of poor fertility. This is life affirming chardonnay from harsh climes. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted July 2017  maycasdellimari  #thevineagency  wines_of_chile_canada  @Maycasdellimari  @TheVine_RobGroh  @WinesofChile  @maycasdellimari  The Vine – Robert Groh Agency  @WinesOfChile

Joie Farm Chardonnay “En Famille” 2015, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (511113Agent, $36.00, WineAlign)

The developed layers of fruit are well integrated and interwoven into the mildness of both barrel and tannin. The sweetness of that sun-kissed fruit leaves a lasting impression from what has been brought into being by a warm and impressionable vintage. Exemplary three or four year Okanagan chardonnay that shows off its charming sucrosity. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted July 2017  joie farm  liffordgram  #JoieFarm  @LiffordON  @joiefarm  @liffordwineandspirits

Sneak peak in the @TriusWines Meunier with Craig McDonald and a true Niagara Grand Cru @coolchardonnay site #lincolnlakeshore #oliveiravineyards #vqa #wildferment

Trius Showcase Chardonnay Wild Ferment Oliveira Vineyard 2015, VQA Lincoln Lakeshore, Ontario (199273, $36.20, WineAlign)

When you consider the level of quality provided by the Wild Ferment 2014 it would be hard to imagine raising the bar any further but this is what winemaker Craig McDonald has managed with his exceptional 2015. The accomplishment is purely based on one year older, wiser and complexities developed Oliveira Farm vineyard fruit, the holy chardonnay grail, Lincoln Lakeshore playground. The site sits along the QEW below the escarpment’s Twenty Mile and Beamsville benches, a recipient of glacial till and rocks left behind by an ancient river running from a lake. It’s a chardonnay wonderland. Intensity of fruit purity, fleshy and real, remarkably juicy and notably crunchy has increased, upping the pleasure game and turning the impression knob up to 11. The windmill generates more power while always maintaining a classic Trius level of finesse. Then you think on the wood integration, equally impressionable because acidity is sweet and refined. Dry extract is also impressive, not to mention a fineness of grape tannin. The site’s unofficial designation as a Niagara Grand Cru should be upgraded with status. There is no better time than the present and the Wild Ferment’s 2015 ability is proof enough. Drink 2017-2023.  Tasted July 2017  triuswines  @TriusWines  @triuswines

Exquisite dish by Frank Dodd @TriusWines #houseofchards #i4c lunch . . . Lake Huron Whitefish, lobster and scallop sausage, crab croquettes, asparagus, sweet peas, celeriac slaw, seabuck

Trius Showcase Chardonnay Wild Ferment Oliveira Vineyard 2014, VQA Lincoln Lakeshore, Ontario (199273, $36.20, WineAlign)

With fruit from the Niagara chardonnay mecca Oliveira Vineyard and the addendum of yet another stellar varietal vintage it is this Craig McDonald speciality that helps to steal the show. Striking out with near-raging acidity (pushing and possibly exceeding the 8 g/L mark) the Wild Ferment is one of the most formidable expressions of 2014, if not ever. All the moving parts work fervently and impressively as if the motor is running and the machine careening around the speedway. To keep composure it is texture that brings about grounding, balance and cadence, from obvious lees perfection and 30 per cent new wood plus the rest forged by two to five year old barrels. This is creamy, energetic and tannic chardonnay, all conspiring to express itself with both weight and poise. From a maker who’s been around the block a few times, the ’14 WF will go the distance. And you can start now. Drink 2017-2024. Tasted at Cuvée, March 2017 an #i4c July 2017  triuswines  @TriusWines  @triuswines

Esterházy Il Magnifico Blanc de Blancs Brut 2013, Burgenland, Austria (511378, Agent, $37.95, WineAlign)

Esterházy was a Hungarian noble family with origins in the Middle Ages, generally bilingual, in Hungarian (as a result of their ethnicity) and German (as they were aristocrats of the Austrian Empire). The family was intrinsically tied to the Austrian composer Joseph Haydn (master to Beethoven) and the estate today shares the same desire; to epitomize the aims and achievements of the Classical era, Hadyn for music and today, Esterházy for contemporary Austrian wine. General Manager Stefan Tscheppe spins a tale of Nikolaus II, the wealthy late 18th and early 19th century prince who lived a charmed life, nicknamed by his sisters as “Il Magnifico.” The namesake sparkler is done in a Brut Nature style, 18 months on the lees and is possessive of a distinctive grapefruit liqueur. The vines grown on limestone-based soil and this is clearly picked on acidity, in the first to second week of September. Il Maginifico may not carry the weight or tone of Hadyn’s The Creation but it is a most excellent Blanc de Blancs composition. Drink 2017-2022.  Tasted July 2017  #esterhazy @esterhazywein  austrianwine  Esterhazy Wein  @NaturalVines  @oesterreichwein  @AustrianWine  @BirgittaSamavar  Marzia Gallo  @austrianwine

Pearl Morissette Chardonnay Cuvée Dix Neuvième 2014, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Escarpment, Ontario (303602Winery, $38.20, WineAlign)

It’s never easy to follow up greatness, even for this top quality Niagara chardonnay and yet I am almost ready to believe that this Dix-Neuvième delivers more richness of fruit than its predecessor. The stoicism lost from 2013 is woven texture gained, here in a tapestry of pure chardonnay fruit, beeswaxy, faint honey and an almost imperceptible reductive environment. Francois Morissette and Brent Rowland clearly had texture earmarked as the raison d’être for this ’14, almost to a fault but the result is bloody delicious. No Pearl Morissette wine ever gave of itself so young, so fast. Immediate gratification be darned there will be five blessed textured years ahead. And then the honey will set in. Drink 2017-2022.  Tasted June and July 2017  pearlmorissette  @PearlMorissette  @lassvet  Pearl Morissette

Domaine Laroche Les Vaudevey Chablis Premier Cru 2014, Ac Burgundy, France (416057, Agent, $38.95, WineAlign)

A compressed chardonnay that strikes as a passion play between herbs and limestone and no surprise that the spoils go to the latter. The citrus is gassy, rising, bathed in atmosphere. The structure is predicated on stone, rock and struck flint. Chablis of metal and essential minerality, discovered and defined. This slow-ripened chardonnay will evolve one year for every month contributed by its growing cycle. Drink 2016-2026.  Tasted June 2016 and July 2017  #domainelaroche  selectwinemoments  @DomaineLaroche  @SelectWinePros  @Select_Wines  Domaine Laroche, Chablis 

Mackenzie Brisbois, Trail Estate Winery

Trail Estate Chardonnay Unfiltered 2016, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $39.00, WineAlign)

Auspicious beginnings transcend the customary for Trail’s winemaker Mackenzie Brisbois, case in point exhibit A with her first fledged County chardonnay, a whole cluster pressed, native yeasts and full malolactic beauty. Only a single barrel was made of this really tight, taut and youthfully vituperative one but it will mature, self-reflect and turn into a respectful and generous wine. There is a toasty note that currently smoulders in the glass but that too will gently peel away. The terrific render of acidity couples at present and will melt with the rest of the intensities. This is the estate’s first kick at this County cru, “things are going great, and they’re only getting better.” The future’s so bright I gotta wear shades. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted July 2017  trailestatewine  mackbrisbois  @TrailEstateWine  @MackBrisbois  @TrailEstateWinery  Mackenzie Brisbois

Hidden Bench Chardonnay Felseck Vineyard 2014, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario, (276261, $39.20, WineAlign)

Unction and creaminess, lost in a chardonnay dream because to nose it’s a sweet, floral, demure thing. Lees apparent so you can smell the work in progress and feel the texture. But it’s wound loosely tight with just enough give to make it so readily available. Beautiful little wine though I can’t help but imagine there’s more single-focus structure than a blind taste wants to give. Hope to come across this hard to get beauty again someday soon. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted blind at NWAC17, June 2017 and #14c, July 2017  hidden bench  @HiddenBench  @Hidden.Bench

Norman Hardie Chardonnay Niagara Unfiltered 2015, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (184432, $39.20, WineAlign)

Norman Hardie’s 2015 Niagara is a reductive yellow goddess dressed chardonnay, connected to the fullest of its fruit, (slowly developed) creamy malolactic, touchstone acidity and grape tannic ability. There is this understated feeling in the throes of richness that the winemaker and the place always seem to agree upon. The display window celebrates and proudly promotes the somewhereness of this ’15 chardonnay. It is never a matter of Niagara versus County, there is little substance to be found, nor is it a necessary point of discussion worth investigating. It’s just highway that separates the two. Both are children of the Norm, both deserving of estate credibility and here, with this next excellent Niagara, taking the Hardie progression one step further. Drink 2017-2022.  Tasted June and July 2017  normanhardiewinery  normhardie  Norman Hardie  @NormanHardieWinery

Domaine De Mauperthuis Chablis Premier Cru Montmains 2015, Ac Burgundy, France (511071, $39.95, WineAlign)

Winemaker Stéphane Saillet’s is a highly compressed, pure and precise Montmains. No wood was used because of the vintage, a season from which the ripe and developed fruit could clearly defend and take care of itself. Carries the essential tenets of texture and chew. Stéphane notes that the challenged ’16 will have some barrel (foudres) because “in the beginning there was nothing,” an important omen with which to help reflect on the fantasy and fantastic effort found in his 2015. Drink 2018-2023.  Tasted July 2017  #mauperthuis  vinsdechablis  vinsdebourgogne  nicholaspearcewines  #Mauperthuis  @vinsdechablis  @VinsdeBourgogne  @Nicholaspearce_  Vins de Bourgogne / Burgundy wines  Nicholas Pearce

Malivoire Chardonnay Moira 2014, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $39.95, WineAlign)

Moira delves much further into the spice with a wood feel into texture, piquancy, savour, sapidity and on repeat in all of the above. The length stretches further as a deeper, more intense expression of Beamsville Bench terroir. It will need to settle and integrate with another year in bottle. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted July 2017  malivoire  shirazmottiar  @MalivoireWine  @ShirazMottiar  @MalivoireWine 

Lightfoot And Wolfville Chardonnay Ancienne 2014, Nova Scotia (Winery, $40.00, WineAlign)

The name Ancienne and the proximate irony appraised is not lost for its translation as endemic or indigenous for wines made from Burgundian grape varieties raised on Nova Scotia soil. The sophomore chardonnay speaks in a vernacular a year to the wiser but at the expense of excitement, which is actually a good thing. A step back taken will result in two going forward, as I shall explain. The same regime exercised mimics the ’13, of 20 per cent new, 18 months in barrel, but a slight course altered with some reductive play in ’14, as an experiment but also as a plan. There seems to be more lees richness and spice notes that flit like direct darts on the palate. Different clones are harvested at different times, so now the vinifications are staggered and layered, which really shows on the stratified and almost germinating palate. Another year older allows these vines to bring diversified variegation, more Nova Scotia and as a consequence, less winemaking. The growth here is fascinating and enlightening. In the interim it may compromise the flavour profile and the wow factor but in the long run it is structure, longevity and impressibility that will give the green light to estate grown, Minas Basin success. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted June 2017   lwwines  jhortonns  rachelhopelightfoot  winesofns  @lwwines  @rachel_hope  @WinesofNS  @lightfootandwolfvillewines  Rachel Lightfoot  @winesofns

Bachelder Wismer Vineyard #2 “Foxcroft Block” Chardonnay 2013, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (512178, Winery, $44.95, WineAlign)

Deeper and deeper into the micro terroir we go, with thanks to the monk himself so strike me down as a cool climate instigator if you must but Thomas Bachelder takes on the challenge, fresh and new as ever. This Wismer Block dubbed #2 is purely and expressly Foxcroft, a divided up for purchase and worked by many vineyard. Few do it justice like the unstressed symbiotic relationship between Bachelder and grower Craig Wismer. From the ideal session of 2013 we have creamy and cracked, fragmented mineral intensity in opposite attitude to Wismer-Parke but more on the fleshy and structured side. The wood is bigger and more integrated, the flesh ripping and of the sort of musculature that shows no aggression nor needs any explanation. It’s just big and beautiful, not to mention an ambassador for cool. Hello world. Drink 2018-2025.  Tasted June and July 2017  bachelder_wines  liffordgram  @Bachelder_wines  @LiffordON  @BachelderWines  @liffordwineandspirits

Henry Of Pelham Cuvée Catharine Blanc De Blanc ‘Carte Blanche’ 2012, Short Hills Bench, Ontario (Winery, $44.95, WineAlign)

Reserved for Ontario sparkling but indicative of a bench-steppe foothills style because it just has that spark. Very much a ball of tart and compressed energy and so intense. A middle of the norm dosage at 8 g/L RS is managed in perfect oscillate with equal and opposing acidity at 7.3 TA. Such precision, ease and high quality serviceability is the equanimity quotient delivered by the estimable work ethic of winemaker Sandrine Bourcier. It boils down to recognition. The benchmark for Niagara Peninsula year-dated sparkling wine juices ripeness out of this warm vintage to perpetuate Cuvée Catharine’s unparalleled fizz consistency. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted July 2017  henryofpelham  @HenryofPelham @SpeckBros  Henry Pelham

Lightfoot & Wolfville Blanc De Blanc Extra Brut 2013, Nova Scotia, Canada (Winery, $45.00, WineAlign)

Josh Horton and Rachel Lightfoot presented an early, less leesy glimpse of their 100 per cent estate chardonnay at i4c in July of 2016. It was a different animal than this recently disgorged (late February/early March) sparkling wine. The Extra Brut lives up to its designation, from fruit grown on the shores of the Minas Basin under the auspices of a markedly warm year with exceptional phenolic ripeness and 25 per cent malolactic gain. The time relative to texture lees accumulation is approximately 40 months and it’s an accurate representation of Nova Scotia low and slow. The flavours are wisely developed ripe and spicy, leaning into a moment or two of oxygenation, but seemingly richer than the amount of lees time that was given. Now emerging from the shell of not just a warm but a great chardonnay year (as previously proven by the Ancienne released two years ago). The notion here is of a sparkling wine that has been brought home, a B de B that you need to get to know. There are layers and layers of character that fold and unfold. The precision, focus and rendering is citrus tamed, mouthfeel in perpetual expansion and contraction, length linear and elastic. And it’s just the beginning. Drink 2017-2023.  Tasted June and July 2017  lwwines  jhortonns  rachelhopelightfoot  winesofns  @lwwines  @rachel_hope  @WinesofNS  @lightfootandwolfvillewines  Rachel Lightfoot  @winesofns

Bachelder Chardonnay Johnson Vineyard 2013, Yamhill Carlton District, Oregon (416644, Agent, $45.00, WineAlign)

The best of the barrels, always remember the soil, the soil Johnson Vineyard chardonnay will send you spiralling deep into thought, like it or not. It’s origins in Jory, sedimentary soils draw energy from a source unseen, dug down into where the ancients dwell. Thomas Bachelder monkifies the soil plant matrix made to transmit minerality. “It’s as much about photosynthesis in the new world but minerality is still apart of it. Jory soils in Oregon bring a salty tang, a savour. It’s true.” Bachelder speaks of a wisdom once revered, now questioned and he’s fine with needing to work for a living. The Johnson chardonnay is beautifully tart, rich and complex, biting, full of energy, so cool, taut, structured and even still a bit reductive. But it really is pressed, juiced and spirited with lime, for success and to linger, for a decade post harvest, perhaps for even longer a quality length of time. Drink 2018-2023.  Tasted July 2017  bachelder_wines  liffordgram  @Bachelder_wines  @LiffordON  @BachelderWines  @liffordwineandspirits

Norman Hardie Chardonnay Sans Soufre 2015, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $45.00, WineAlign)

Says Norm with matter of factness, as he always does, “it’s the regular Niagara chardonnay, but without sulphur.” So you ask the question up front? Is the unsulphured so different than the other? To the naked senses, no. The charm, power and generosity are all there. It took a full year to pass malolactic inspection. So why do it? Because it reminds of 2012, same slow malo, same deferential and determined kind of wine and the answer comes from something Norm says. “I didn’t have the guts in those days.” But he has them now and yet the decisions imparted this Sans Soufre will be different, with more guts and glory, say in 2022. Perhaps there is a softness about this naked one, something cotton candy about its aromatics and its texture. It’s fine-spun, ethereal and dissipating. It does not argue but you sense it’s possessive of an organized, controlled tension. But don’t be thinking this isn’t a planned piece of parenthood. Did I mention the tannic presence on the palate? How about the wind-up, into tart and the stiff breeze that blows through as if it’s already turning to fall. Drink 2017-2022.  Tasted Twice, June and July 2017  normanhardiewinery  @normhardie  Norman Hardie

Tawse Robyn’s Block Chardonnay 2013, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Ontario (Winery, $45.95, WineAlign)

The temptation and the desire to compare Robyn’s Block and the other Tawse chardonnays is unavoidable but in 2013 it’s a fruitless exercise. Neither warmth, tropical fruit, cold, rain, terpenes or high acidity are hallmark traits of Robyn’s Block 2013. So what is? When I tasted through Robyn’s barrels with winemaker Paul Pender back in April of 2014, the Mercurey (one year-old, CLL toast) from the oldest (32 years) vines off of the richest site worked wonders in tandem with new oak. Very primary, fermenting notes foretold of a reigned in, restrained Robyn. The Mercurey (new) barrel gifted tang and girth into which the barrel disappears, with sappy toast on the back end. It too was quite young in its evolution but was rich, thick and dense. The Céres (Mineral) barrel brought exclamatory fruit and was ready to drink. All together and three years later these barrels have conspired for all of the above but if I had to sum it up in five words or less I’d say Robyn is “full of energy, texture and beans.” She will turn out creamy notes as the decade turns but always maintain her sense of restraint, running sap and fleshy tone. The wine is nothing if not a fascinating introspection into the history and the future of this block.  Drink 2017-2023. Tasted April and July 2017  tawsewinery  @Tawse_Winery  @tawsewines

Sperling Vineyards Blanc De Blancs Brut Nature 2013, VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (511329, Agent, $47.00, WineAlign)

There is no dosage in this directly motivational Blanc de Blancs and plenty of potential palate weight with thanks to 30 months spent on the lees. There is something top single-vineyard cru Alsatian about the savoury and searing coolness in this style, as if it were more than just the sum of chardonnay parts, like some hypothetical pinot blanc and perhaps auxerrois. There is some reductiveness, a lovely washed rind cheese, lemon scrape melted into curd and fine bitters. The flavours are really quite lemony tart. Striking really. School of Cool moderator Karen MacNeil described this like “a nun in catholic school, severe and a bit starched. I’d like to try it a bit sweeter, to mollify the tension.” Though the consensus is one that sees it under-dosed, you have to admire Ann Sperling’s “decision based on lees contact time.” To make it longer. The sharp, angular edges are a by-product of its aggressive nature but like sémillon in its lean and gaunt youth this B de B will develop some faux honey and petrol with age. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted twice, July 2017  @SperlingVyds  @AnnSperling  @CRUOntario  sperlingvineyards  cruwine  Sperling Vineyards  Ann Sperling

Stratus Chardonnay 2014, VQA Niagara-On-The-Lake, Ontario (307645, Agent, $48.20, WineAlign)

The Stratus 2014 is more reductive than usual, in its case more of a vintage-related affair than others. The “Burgundy method” is employed, but in a “Niagara style” notes winemaker J-L Groux,  that is with native yeasts and a pick that can’t be too early. The wine saw nine months in (25-50 per cent new) oak. This ’14 is Groux’s last of the chardonnay mohicans because in 2015 it will be bottled with lees. This ’14 is nothing if not bloody delicious, ripe orchard fruit swelling, of mild acidity and seamless texture. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted May and July 2017  stratuswines  @StratusWines  @StratusWines

Southbrook Poetica Chardonnay 2013, VQA Four Mile Creek, Ontario (366500, Agent, $49.95, WineAlign)

Always Ontario’s outlier, eccentric and non-conformist chardonnay and I say this with complimentary, best of intention flattery. The 2013 vintage is simply chivalrous to chardonnay and in Poetica’s corner, a perfect calm case of preux meets elegante. Here is a chardonnay of inherent oxidative wisdom, from cloud cover, cool, long breaths of Niagara air well into the elongated autumn and the address for what I refer to as “the age apparent one.” The iconoclast Poetica ideal conforms because it is matched with equal breadth by richness of fruit and confirms the way Ann Sperling makes her signature wine. Tasted blind my first guess would put this at five years old because of the exuding warmth so 2010 might just be the order. A 2012 Bench chardonnay might have also been the answer. But with Poetica the promise is like Meursault with uptown fruit, honey, vanilla, caramel, a Niagara vapour and ethanol. Such a telling display that only Poetica can play. Drink 2016-2024.  Tasted October 2016 and July 2017  southbrookvineyards  thelivingvine  @TheLivingVine  @SouthbrookWine   @SouthbrookWine  The Living Vine inc.

Viñas Ventisquero Tara Chardonnay 2014, Atacamas, Casablanca Valley, Chile (511337, Agent, $53.00, WineAlign)

Chile’s Atacama Valley frontier is one of the world’s great terroir expansions, a limestone soil-based flat, even further north than the Limari valley. Ventisquero’s winemaker Felipe Tosso has said that Atacama “breaks all the paradigms of what has been produced in the central-southern valleys of Chile.” The salinity in the land translates to notes in chardonnay of almost no precedence, like salty cotton candy and a fineness of acidity singular in chemical design and how it feels in the mouth. It’s like sucking on a stone lozenge that never dissolves. It’s relentless in its pursuit of fruit. Flavours coagulate liquid almond joy and transparent bitters but there is also a sweetness without definition, a simple limestone syrup that melts into the saltiness of the wine. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted July 2017  vventisquero  univinscanada  wines_of_chile_canada  @vventisquero  @UNIVINS  @WinesofChile  @VentisqueroWines  @UnivinsCanada  @WinesOfChile

Charline Drappier

Champagne Drappier Blanc De Blancs NV, Champagne, France (599860, Agent, $54.95, WineAlign)

Made with five per cent pinot blanc this faintly oxidatively-styled Blanc de Blancs is gingery-leathery and felt as if by extended skin contact. It’s both tannic and orange pith spritzy, also mixed in with grapefruit and lemon. Twenty-four lees-affected months bring body that is fleshy, corporeal and with acidity in charge on the palate. Quite a full fizz with some preserved fruit attentiveness. The dosage is healthy but simply flavour gifting at 7.1 RS because the sugar is a combination of beet and cane aged in oak for 10-15 years. It’s a special Drappier liquor dosage developed at the winery. What it brings is not just sweetness but a complex sweetener that has evolved and developed over time while it has aged. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted twice with Charline Drappier at #14c, July 2017 #ChampagneDrappier  @FWMCan  champagne_drappier  champagnedrappier  fwmcan  Champagne Drappier  Charline Dppr  @FWMCan

Ravine Vineyard Reserve Chardonnay 2014, VQA St. David’s Bench, Ontario (Winery, $55.00, WineAlign)

The Reserve is 100 per cent estate fruit that spent 18 months in (50 per cent new) barrel. As it’s both barrel fermented and aged the variegation locks the fruit in so bloody tight so even now it’s reductive, smoky and flinty. A mineral chardonnay needs balance from over the top fruit and so track record, acumen and love will have it so. Marty Werner and Ben Minaker’s is a big, summery and gold platinum expression, very expressive, the two-lb steamed in seaweed lobster chardonnay, seemingly Meursault but just as likely from California. But as Ravine’s Reserve on the St. David’s Bench it is purely Niagara Peninsula. Fruit intensity, extract and controlled oxygenation shows off the best of what these men can do. It speaks to their efforts, knowledge accumulation, trials and finally to the culmination of their stamina. Drink 2018-2023.  Tasted July 2017  ravinevineyard  marty_werner  benminaker23  @RavineVineyard  @marty_werner  @BMinaker23  Ravine Vineyard Estate Winery  Martin Werner  Ben Minaker

Adam Mariani, Scribe Winery

Scribe Chardonnay 2014, Carneros, California (511139, Agent, $55.00, WineAlign)

Adam Mariani raised his 2014 in concrete and though we are distracted and of course fully willing to think about the fruit (especially in contrast to his Skin Contact chardonnay) it is the texture that grabs most attention. That this solicits older world comparisons is hard to avoid, but it’s not a Burgundian thematic. Like the garnatxa by Ramon Roqueta Segalés of Domaine Lafou, Scribe’s is a wine that has succeeded in mastering the oxidation process and the scents are of ripe peach, fresh, without overdeveloped sugars but instead a sprinkling of ocean salt. Finishes with a savoury mix of lime, tonic and the liquor of distilled flowers. Drink 2018-2023.  Tasted July 2017  scribe winery  nicholaspearcewines  @scribewinery  @Nicholaspearce_  Scribe Winery  Nicholas Pearce

Familia Torres Chardonnay Milmanda 2014, Catalunya, Spain (332171, Agent, $59.95, WineAlign)

Miguel Torres Jr. tells us his wine comes from a great white wine vintage; cool and rainy, though not great for reds. “I don’t believe in miracles from the vineyard. You have to do some things in the winery,” he adds, like the use of bigger (300L) barrels and a 50 per cent malolactic goal. His chardonnay is a juicy, terpenic, honorary cool climate Canadian. That’s not to say it isn’t barrel rich, but it too speaks a language of the lively, crisp, crunchy and bloody delicious. This is full, satisfying, spicy and buttery teasing chardonnay out of Catalunya and few gallop along with such equine gait and grace, at least not from Spain, without either softening like butter or hardening like stone. Here the twain is met. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted July 2017  torreswines  @FWMCan  @TorresWines  fwmcan  @bodegastorres  @FWMCan

Scribe Skin Fermented Chardonnay 2015, Carneros, California (511147, Agent, $63.00, WineAlign)

Scribe Winery’s Adam Mariani introduces his antithetical Californian from the Sonoma side of cooler Carneros up on Arrowhead Mountain in the northern part of the region, planted in 2007 abutting the Mayacamas range on volcanic soils. The grapes are skin-fermented cold (in the farenheit 50’s) with native yeasts for five to six weeks until mid-December but over the past several vintages they (the winemaking team) have slowly gained the confidence to get them above 100 days. One bottle (served too warm) is amiss and oxidative and this really accentuates the skin-settling tannins on the palate. A second is beautifully lively, tannins a bit tamed, acidity in tact and fruit concerned and even obsessed with all things lemon. The aging is done in concrete egg and with a correct bottle this is not oxidized, nor is it an orange wine but it most certainly is a Carneros expression of great interest. It should be dealt with young. Drink 2017-2019.  Tasted July 2017  scribe winery  nicholaspearcewines  @scribewinery  @Nicholaspearce_  Scribe Winery  Nicholas Pearce

Artesa Estate Reserve Chardonnay 2014, Carneros, Napa Valley, California (457143, Agent, $67.00, WineAlign)

Artesa or artisan, from the Catalan, an affirmation of style gifted in name from the Barcelona family Raventos. This chardonnay from the base of Mt. Veeder is 100 per cent estate fruit, adjacent Hyde Vineyards, all hillside sits of elevation, sun and under cover of omniscent fog blowing in from San Pablo Bay. The character is unmistakable French (50 per cent new) cream barrel warm and buttered, yet young and still a bit closed for business. The 16 months in wood requires double that to integrate but a fine mineral streak cuts through the caramel. Nothing shocking mind you, grace meets weight and toasted chestnut melds into sweet marzipan. The quality of fruit is unquestionably high and the seamlessness a given. The style can be yours. Drink 2018-2022. Tasted July 2017  artesawinery  #andrewpellerimportagency  @Artesa  @APImportAgency  @MerSoleilVineyard  @Artesa

Chamisal Vineyards Chardonnay Chamise 2014, Edna Valley, California (511212, Agent, $86.00, WineAlign)

The aromatics are slow to reveal but if at first they are mildly mired in solder there is this sweet basil-herbal and lemon-balmy calmness on the entry. Takes some moments and then opens to a creamy, barrel-sweetened, tart and layered chardonnay. Looked at blind I’d certainly peg this as warmer climate, New Zealand perhaps but more likely and gracefully California. Indeed the Chamisal-Chamise of Edna Valley origins completes the picture. The first vineyard planted in the Edna Valley in 1973 near the Pacific and a long temperate growing season adds up to low and slow phenolic developed chardonnay. The warm vintage plus calcareous, clay-rich soil develops further flavour. Shy no more, the namesake flowering plant Adenostoma fasciculatum (chamise or greasewood) native to California bounds away with complex flavours. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted July 2017  chamisalvyd  #andrewpellerimportagency  @ChamisalVyd  @APImportAgency  @Chamisal.Vineyards  @APImportAgency

Vasse Felix Chardonnay Heytesbury 2015, Margaret River, Western Australia (674648, $91.00,  WineAlign)

Heytesbury is Virginia Willcock’s top chardonnay and while it is one of Australia’s most iconic wines, it may never be made the same way twice. In 2015 the élèvage is in French oak for nine months (57 per cent new and 43, one to two years old) but no malolactic was encouraged. That’s a non-committal way of saying (and Virginia did in fact say) there was no malo in 2015 simply because it was not a vintage in which the acidity needed to be tamed. So with fruit so pure, strong and expressive, what else is there to say? Simply that you would be an idiot to tire of a fresh herb garden, blue slate shoes, ripe pomelo, a wedge of smoked cheddar, fresh scones and a crunch of mellifluous honeycomb. Heytesbury will gift all of this and more. Drink 2019-2027.  Tasted July 2017  vassefelixwines  margaretriver  @vassefelix  @MargaretRiver  @MargaretRiverWi  @vassefelixwines  @MargaretRiverWineRegion  @margaretriverwines1

Benjamin Bridge Méthode Classique Estate Blanc De Blancs 2013, Nova Scotia, (Winery$119.50, WineAlign)

Tasted from a bottle disgorged in May 2017, there alights a plugged-in, three-pronged, dazed, charged and enchanted energy about the Bridge’s ’13 Blanc de Blancs. The history of go it alone pure chardonnay is a relatively short one for the estate so this quickly makes up for lost time or rather with haste sets the timer and heads out at first light. “Like sittin’ on pins and needles, things fall apart, it’s scientific.” Wild, of talking heads temper and yeasts, done up in demi-muids, with a wilder secondary fermentative push riding on the coattails of the primary fermentation. Everything in this wine is a productive child of the vineyard, of no third party sugars or consultations. “How do you do that without making a Pétillant Naturel,” I wonder aloud. It’s a second ferment, non-contiguous is the reason, even if the former is both influencer and mentor to the latter. It certainly falls under the category of “micro-cuvée. Like its cousin and predecessor (Blanc de Noirs 2011), this ’13 BdeB is mired intensely inward within its own specificity and is not so much a sparkling wine with competitive soul. It is a pure representative of chardonnay grown in Nova Scotia for one purpose. So let’s talk about true stories and wild, wild life. “You get on board anytime you like.” Drink 2018-2024.  Tasted July 2017  benjaminbridge  caveman__jones   winesofn  @Benjamin_Bridge  @benjaminbridgevineyards  @WinesofNS  @benjaminbridgevineyards  @winesofns

Cuvée des Amis in grand format from le grand ami @normhardie at an #i4c @coolchardonnay grand tasting dances and trips the light fantastic with unconscionable concentration.

Norman Hardie Chardonnay Cuvée Des Amis 2014, Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $150.00, 1500ml, WineAlign)

As exceptional as chardonnay may have seemed from out of the 2013 Ontario vintage you haven’t lived or loved until you get a taste of (only in magnum format) Norm Hardie’s 2014 Cuvées des Amis. This chardonnay attacks and ascends, recalibrating the inner workings of the brain and how it develops conceptualization. It is a state of the art and all-knowing elixir to remind that ’13 was a vintage with profitable yields and a generously stretched canvas on which to practice on, for when things begin to get real. The CdeA spent 18 months in barrel, the first 12 (in 35 per cent new), the next six in neutral and the last six in stainless steel on the fine lees. The spin class in the mouth manages agility, dextrous, furtive movement and completes many pirouettes. The dance is pure joy but the intensity is equally to disturbingly intrusive, suggesting more settling time is necessary. The flavour pearls are delicate and come straight from the oyster so they carry salinity, power and brine. Pure lemon essence is received by intravenous injection. Sumptuous is translated from Hardie-speak as a four-letter, Prince Edward County word. It doesn’t get more real than right here, with the best fruit, the tripping of the light fantastic, previously unheard and unseen unconscionable concentration. Drink 2019-2025.  Tasted twice, June and July 2017  normanhardiewinery  @normhardie  Norman Hardie

Took all night but it was so worth it. Welcome to #i4c17 @coolchardonnay #ilivechardonnay

Good to go!

Godello

Twitter: @mgodello

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Napa Valley: Where ripeness happens

Godello in the Napa Valley mustard

Godello in the Napa Valley mustard

You need only spend a few days in Napa Valley to gain a basic understanding of what drives the machine. Immerse yourself into three or four structured tastings and hear the mantra repeated. Listen to the winemaker and the viticulturist talk about the growing seasons and intuit the very basic premise, the essential doctrine and the constitutive aspect on everyone’s mind. Ripeness.

The 2011 vintage was an unmitigated disaster. Cold, rain and low brix levels made for less than stellar Napa Valley reds and whites. At the time it wasn’t so much swept under the rug as much as shrugged off. Still some very good wines were made. Even today critical proponents of cool-climate and understated wines will champion the elegance and proportion of 2011 Napa reds, especially the Cabernets. Talk to or listen to a local winemaker speak and know they will (mostly) all agree to disagree with those ideas. There was little to no phenolic journey fully completed in 2011. Relativity is the general, special and principle quizlet to compare and contrast Napa Valley wines. The next vintage afforded the opportunity to put 2011 behind them. The proximate three relegated 2011 to the footnotes of history.

What followed 2011 was drought, extended drought, difficult times drought. Grapevines do quite will when they struggle, provided their keepers have equipped them with the organic and self-preserving tools to survive without water. While the rest of the state suffered, Napa Valley grapevines produced exceptional fruit. From 2012 to 2015 the pilgrimage to maturity happened with ease. Quality over quantity? Sometimes both. In 2012 there was a huge crop from an incredible growing vintage. Along with 2013 they are being heralded as two of the best vintages in the last 30 years.

If a tutored Napa Valley tasting is centred around Cabernet Sauvignon and parent grape variety Sauvignon Blanc then the mind may wander into comparative territories with Bordeaux clearly on the analogous radar. Cabernet defines Napa Valley, hook, line and sinker. Nearly everyone grows it, bottles it and employs it to define who and what they are. The numbers corroborate the abstraction. Cabernet is still the king. The interesting diversion is Sauvignon Blanc. In the context of Bordeaux it is not a diversion at all but Napa growers and producers are infatuated with it. It makes for good but rarely great wines. Chardonnay has proven its Napa Valley pedigree. So why Sauvignon Blanc?

If Bordeaux epitomizes a mono-worshipping culture then deconstructing Napa Valley reflects the effort of extricating monotheism out of a polytheistic context. But Napa is not Bordeaux and also avoids the affectation and mannerisms of monotheistic worship, something that is very specific to Bordeaux and even more so to other ancient wine-producing regions. In Napa there is great interest and time set aside for Chardonnay but also some love Pinot Noir and Zinfandel. Cabernet Sauvignon leads with authoritarianism on a chilling scale and Sauvignon Blanc exists in a polar opposite vacuum. Nothing is inexpensive to grow and most markets expect to pay a premium for quality. Demand will perpetually support Cabernet, Merlot, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Zinfandel. Sauvignon Blanc above $20 and not from Bordeaux is different. It is Napa’s greatest curiosity, made with great care and thrown caution to the marketplace wind. And it sells. Looked at from both sides clarity is noted in the adage that Napa Valley is not Bordeaux.

Berry to bottle

Berry to bottle

On February 9th, 2016 nine Canadians sat down to taste with the principals of three Napa wineries, Joseph Phelps, St. Supery and host Silverado Vineyards. Karen MacNeil is a wine author, journalist, educator and consultant. MacNeil moderated a two-varietal tasting with Bill Phelps (President of Joseph Phelps Vineyards), Emma Swain (CEO at St. Supery), Russ Weis and John Emmerich (GM and winemaker at Silverado). From berry to bottle was organized by the California Wine Institute and Napa Vintners.

“Dirt is once again the sexy part of the business,” began MacNeil’s presentation. “Place is the core construct and inescapable construct.” The hills, slopes, ridges and valleys of the Valley are indeed intricate and the soil sets as diverse as you are want to find anywhere. Napa Valley contains 33 soil series with more than 100 soil variations and half of the soil orders that exist within the world can be found in the Napa Valley. At the end of the day ripeness follows. At all other times it leads. We tasted six wines that day. Here are the notes.

Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc

Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc

Joseph Phelps Sauvignon Blanc 2014, St. Helena, Napa Valley, California (Agent, $59.95, WineAlign)

Graced by and driven for texture, with lees, out of second fill barrels and finished struck across a scraped mineral tang. Highly refreshing compression of density and weight. Long linger of stone fruit, primary peach and secondary apricot. Non-discernible citrus. Phelps has been producing this wine since 1975 from the home ranch vineyard, typically in increments of 2500 cases. If Sauvignon Blanc were made in Alsace, this is what it would be like. Unpronounced acidity and a floral note pay thanks to integrated Musque clones Bill Phelps says are integral to the mix. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted February 2016  @josephphelps  @LiffordON

Joseph Phelps Insignia 2012, Napa Valley, California (710400, Agent, $299.95, WineAlign)

The 2012 Insignia had me at first whiff. At first sip I could not be reached. Massive aromatics blast from this formidable Insignia, clearly noted with immediate clarity as a proprietary blend for the ages. The current torrent is so plugged in and highly climatic, like a visibly sparking conduit, storm and fire all wrapped into one electric happening. The peaks, valleys, waves and intonations are bred of perfectly ripe fruit sets traveling as one in perfect syncopation. The ripe, chain-link tannins will take this very, very far. This is as fine a California wine as I have ever tasted.  The first vintage was 1974. All five bordeaux varietals are represented which is not often the equation. In 2012 the blend is 75 per cent Cabernet Sauvignon, 10 Merlot, 10 Petit Verdot with bits of Malbec and Cabernet Franc. Drink 2018-2045. Tasted November 2015 and February 2016

St. Supery Estate Vineyards and Winery Sauvignon Blanc Dollarhide Estate 2014, Napa Valley, California (AgentWinery, $35 US)

An altitude effected, single-vineyard, warm days, cool nights Sauvignon Blanc so much more in residence of varietal hyperbole, from grass to gooseberry, apple terpenes and finishing spice. Highly emotional SB of San Pablo Bay cooling and antithetical drought thanks to Sierra Nevada snowpack, or lack thereof. Stainless on lees stirred weekly bolstered in texture by 18 per cent barrel fermentation. Aussie expat winemaker Michael Schultz controls this big, vivid and vital style. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted February 2016  @StSupery  @vonterrabev

St. Supery Estate Vineyards and Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Dollarhide Estate 2012, Napa Valley, California (AgentWinery, $100 US)

Dollarhide was a cattle farm, a 1530 acre enormity of a ranch, now one of the more impressive Napa vineyards of altitude, micro-climate and heterogeneous soil series. The 2012 is a 100 per cent Cabernet Sauvignon cornered from the finest (number eight) 30 year-old vines parcel, planted in 1982. It is youthful and even a bit reductive, with dark red fruit and cooler savoury curation. Possessive of some black olive and mint-like coolness. Sweet tannins and espresso, specified and agreed from all French oak, left to decide a hillside expression. A fine chocolate finish is far from bitter with paid homage to that parcel which is a combination of volcanic and ancient sea sediment. Large shells have been found in the vineyard at 1200 feet. Tres cool. Drink 2018-2027.  Tasted February 2016

Silverado Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc Miller Ranch 2014, Napa Valley, California (AgentWinery, $35 US, WineAlign)

Fruit from vines burrowed into seep soil on a Yountville site between Hopper Creek and the Napa River (though 5 per cent is from Soda Creek Vineyard). A small elbow (four per cent) of Sémillon injects a shot of vitality into the arm of Sauvignon Blanc. For winemaker Jon Emmerich Miller Ranch in a climate sweet spot, a go between in which cool evening and morning temperatures mitigate the sweat of warm sunshine. Its home soils are blessed with terrific water capacity. No de-stemming is performed and the wine sees a long, cold (up to two months) fermentation. All in the name of aromatics. And so the Silverado home ranch Sauvignon Blanc lies somewhere in between the excitable and the elegant. Quite Bordelais but also grapefruit refreshing, with a slight spritzy tingle. Drink 2016-2018.  Tasted February 2016  @SilveradoSOLO  @KylixWines

Silverado Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Solo 2012, Napa Valley, California (Agent $119.00, WineryWineAlign)

From heritage Cabernet Sauvignon vines recognized by the University of California, Davis, in other words, a clone unto itself. The home ranch estate vineyard was planted in 1968 and over two decades the vines adapted to Silverado’s steep, shale soils and mutated. Through meticulous field selections an entirely new clone of Cabernet Sauvignon emerged. Here is one of only three Cabernet Sauvignons to attain this status and the only one from Stags Leap District. Who knew such magic lurked in the Napa hills? The stuff of Roald Dahl imagination. This is a dusty and grounded red, of chaparral in arid, arenose, hillside forest floor character. Higher tones (there is a bit of VA) leaps with this SOLO’s Cabernet metamorphosed self, in a semblance of the clone it used to be. It honours a perfect growing season. From General Manager Russ Weis: “In Stag’s Leap we are not looking for something mouth-filling as much as mouth coating.” Drink 2019-2028.  Tasted February 2016

Good to go!

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