Twenty Canadian wines that rocked in 2020

(c) @tiny.wide.world and @winealign

Year-end lists and greatest hits have always elicited a personal introspective fascination, not any lists mind you but mostly those involving music. Always curious to find out if someone else thought the same songs or albums aligned with your own. Such lists are met with growing skepticism and so the words “top” or “best” should be taken with a grain of salt, scrutinized with impunity, viewed with subjective prejudice. Music and wine need not be considered as ranked, top or best but instead contemplated with dead reckoning, as if throwing a buoyant opinion overboard to determine the speed of the mind’s emotion relative to thought, which was assumed to be dead in the waters of judgement. The feeling of being moved, stirred up in sentiment, excited and reaching deeper into understanding, these are the reasons to tally a culminating register. Neither for enumeration nor for classification, but for the indexing, of harbingers and that which makes us feel.

(c) @tiny.wild.world and @WineAlign

What transpired over the previous 12 months has not left the arena of the unfathomable and the absurd, but with respect to Canadian wine there can be no doubt that a next level of greatness was reached. Holiday time will be somewhat solitary as 2020 winds down and while the sharing of bottles will surely mean more repeated sips for the few involved, they will be sweet ones and are not to be taken for granted. As for the exercise of creating a rocking roster of Canadian made wine, well here on Godello this so happens to be the eighth annual for an instalment that first appeared in 2013. Now adding up to seven more entries than the first and acting as natural segue, a transition and salvo towards crossing over the threshold where 2021 awaits.

Related – Nineteen Canadian wines that rocked in 2019

Twenty. Not an arbitrary number but rather an arbiter of perpetual and developmental prowess of a nation’s wine-producing ability and surely while knowing that no fewer than 20 others could of, would of, should of made the grade. The quote is a timeless one and will be employed once again. This curated list is “biased, exclusive and decisive but it is meant to celebrate a select few with a mandate to elevate and exult the rest. It’s also a proclamation read to many who remain ignorant to an ideal of great wine being made in Canada. The winemakers in this country are in full command of their acumen, craft and future. They own it.”

Related – Eighteen Canadian wines that rocked in 2018

In 2020 Canadian wine came to my tasting table in ways no other year made it happen. There were no excursions to British Columbia, Nova Scotia or Quebec, save for a 36-hour round-trip drive to Halifax in delivery of precious human cargo. No Cuvée or i4c. No VQA Oyster competition, Somewhereness or Terroir Symposium. No walk-around tastings. Despite going nowhere the opportunities to sample Canadian wines were of a number higher than ever before. Safely distanced tastings at WineAlign headquarters, at the welcome emptiness of Barque Smokehouse and in our homes brought Canada’s finest bottles to us. Though we were unable to convene in June at the WineAlign National Wine Awards of Canada, a prodigious alternative became surrogate in the guise of the Guide to Canada’s Best Wines, a.k.a WineAlign’s GCBW. Over the course of six weeks we tasted through 860 samples and not just any mind you but truly Canada’s best. We were sad to miss Tony Aspler’s Ontario Wine Awards and David Lawrason’s Great Canadian Kitchen Party, the artist formerly known as Gold Medal Plates. Here’s to hoping 2021 will usher in a return to assessing and celebrating together.

Related – 17 Canadian wines that rocked in 2017

Aldé Rosé, Interloper and As Is

Related – 16 Canadian wines that rocked in 2016

The numbers chosen to cant, recant and decant excellence in Canadian wine continue to march ahead, as promised by the annual billing. In 2018 the list counted 18. In 2017 there were 17 and in 2016, 16 noted. In 2015 that meant 15 and 14 for 2014, just as in 2013 the filtered list showed 13. Last year? You would be correct if you guessed 19. There is no red carpet for 2020, it just doesn’t feel appropriate or right but keeping on is essential. “Whence comes the sense of wonder we perceive when we encounter certain bottles of art?” Here are 20 most exciting Canadian wines of 2020. Twenty Canadian wines that rocked.


Le Vieux Pin Ava 2018, BC VQA Okanagan Valley ($29.99)

Calculated, figured and reasoned, a 51 per cent roussanne, (36) viognier and (13) marsanne organized, Rhône motivated blend that just fits right. A kiss of new wood and a 35 per cent wood campaign, slightly more in steel and then the other freshener, that being a fifth of this exceptional vintage fruit having seen time in concrete tank. Yes the aromas are wildly fresh, far away tropical and cumulatively enticing. A white blend of rhythm and soul, actionable in every part of its drift and coil, democratic, of no accident, come up to please and at the same time, foil. Offers this and that, high tempo acids opposite fully ripened fruit and all tolled, wrapped up with a tailored bow. Drink 2020-2024.  Tasted October 2020

Cave Spring CSV Riesling 2018, VQA Beamsville Bench, Ontario ($29.95)

Cave Spring’s is Ontario riesling and along with three or four others the CSV has been the benchmark for decades. CSV is one of the reasons to believe in riesling, versatile, brutally honest, speaker of the mind, telling us like it is. As for 2018, frosts in late ’17 reduced the upcoming vintage’s yield potential. Long, hot and dry was ’18’s summer and so doubling down occurred. Less yet highly concentred fruit was pretty much assured before September turned wet and humid. CSV embraces and stands firm in its dealings with nature so while there is more flesh and flavour intensity there too is the tried and true structural backbone. Surely a highly phenolic riesling but every aspect is elevated in this game. A hyperbole of itself, gangster riesling, the jumbo package, age-worthy and stone-faced beyond compare. Best ever, perhaps no but perchance something new, riveting, magnified, extravagant and well, fine. Drink 2022-2032.  Tasted October 2020

Charles Baker Picone Vineyard Riesling 2017, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario ($37.20, Stratus Wines)

The concept behind Baker’s single-vineyard riesling is for the top tier one to be possessive in the matters of majestic and dignified, which quite honestly it is. Funny vintage that ’17 was and yet in riesling there can be this slow melt, tide and release of intricacy and intimacy, which this Picone does. Like taking a picture with the slowest shutter speed, allowing the sensor a full allotment of time in its exposure to light. This is the dramatic and hyper-effect and how Baker captured the highest riesling resolution imaginable. The succulence in the acids over top juicy, juicy fruit and this great entanglement is majestic and dignified. My goodness Charles, I think you’ve done it. Drink 2021-2032.  Tasted April and October 2020

Martin’s Lane winemaker Shane Munn

Martin’s Lane Riesling Simes Vineyard 2016, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia ($45.00)

First tasted at the winery in 2018 after only one year in bottle. A cooler vintage and less residual sugar (4 g/L vs. 6 in 2015) and also one reaching for its phenolics. The Alsace Clone (49) planted in 2008 is coming into the zone with this textured ’16 from one of three single vineyards on granite in East Kelowna. There is that minor number of sugar but there are acidities and reminiscences to the motherland that supersede and infiltrate the nooks and crannies of the fruit. Who in the Okanagan neighbourhood would not be envious of the clean clarity that this riesling achieves. Very focused, tightly wound and surely able to unravel ever so slowly, developing beeswax, honey and gasses as it will, over a ten year period. Drink 2020-2026.  Tasted April 2020

Tawse Chardonnay Quarry Road Vineyard 2016, VQA Twenty Mile Bench ($37.15)

Wound tight like a coil around a winch with precise threading and pinpoint spacing for chardonnay that wins the vintage. Reductive style to be sure but only truly noted because of the freshest vibes this side of Motown. Got rhythm and blues, not to mention funk and soul. Clean beats, in step, three-part backing vocals and a purity of sound. Taste relays all these things and more, of succulence and in satiation guaranteed. In other words timeless and the willingness to pour on repeat will be a continuous thing of perpetual satisfaction. Last tasted October 2020. There is no secret that 2016 can align itself with the best of them in Niagara and chardonnay is clearly right in the middle of the discussion. Knowing that, how could the iconic triad of varietal, producer and vineyard not rise like fresh summer fruit cream to the top of the discourse? The years of Pender and Bourgogne barrel studies have come to this; spot on in blending Quarry fruit from wood and associated forests, staves and toasts, here the crux of sonic, sonar, and olfactory waves are met in optimum phenolic crash. The crush of chardonnay, the cryogenic liquid wait and the ultimate goal is achieved. Balance is struck at 12.5 degrees alcohol and all the perfectly seasoned grape tannin you could want. Drink 2020-2027.  Tasted May 2020

Leaning Post Senchuk Vineyard Chardonnay 2018, VQA Lincoln Lakeshore, Ontario ($45.20, Nicholas Pearce Wines)

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 trés 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

Lightfoot And Wolfville Ancienne Chardonnay 2017, Annapolis Valley, Nova Scotia (462093, $56.95)

Exceptionalities worthy of hyperboles are befitting this chardonnay of concentration, textural satisfaction and immediate gratification. Apple distillate to nose, a walk through a perennial garden on Fundy shores in late summer bloom and then citrus in so many ways, incarnate and teeming with briny, zesty flavour. If your are counting at home, this Lightfoot family wine by way of Peter Gamble and in the hands of winemaker Josh Horton is now six years into its tenure. As the crow flies, qualitatively and quantitatively speaking refinement has never ceased to improve. Has arrived at its new Minas Basin tidal heights, crisp and salivating, finishing on the highest of notes. Chardonnay god of ocean tides, “all night long, writing poems to” Nova Scotia. Drink 2020-2024.  Tasted October 2020

(c) @tiny.wide.world and @winealign

Mission Hill Perpetua 2018, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia ($60.00)

Dichotomy in chardonnay, grand and graceful, powerful and elegant. Reductive and not acting this way but rather in what is now descried as the post modern style of chardonnay, from Australia to New Zealand, Bourgogne to B.C. Huge fruit concentration, wood equalizing yet in check, acids controlling yet relenting, structured assured though not overly complicating. Orchards combed and fruit brought in to make the composition sing with flavour while the work put in shaves down the rough edges and pieces fit snugly together. Top vintage for this label. Drink 2021-2026.  Tasted October 2020

Blomidon Cuvée l’Acadie, Annapolis Valley, Nova Scotia ($35.00)

The entirety of a sparkling wine oeuvre is modified and transmogrified, designed and decreed of a new morphology where l’Acadie is concerned. It must be conceded that the Nova Scotia varietal speciality is destined to create cracker, lightning rod, back beats and bites in Nova Scotia sparkling wine. This from Blomidon adds spice, apple skin, orange zest and stony moments throughout. It’s amazing. Drink 2020-2025.  Tasted October 2020

Henry Of Pelham Cuvée Catharine Carte Blanche Estate Blanc De Blanc 2015, Traditional Method, VQA Short Hills Bench, Niagara Escarpment, Ontario (315200, $49.95)

As always 100 per cent chardonnay and 2015 is perhaps the vintage of the most golden toast, as if made by agemono, with the most lemon and lees ever assembled in a Cuvée Catharine, vintage-dated Sparkling wine. An intensity of aromas swirl around in citrus centrifuge into which the gross cells don’t seem to want to go. On the palate is where they rest, layered and leesy, textured with a sense of weightlessness and wonder. Henry of Pelham channelling an inner Japanese cooking technique. Feels like some time is warranted to pull all this together. Drink 2021-2025.  Tasted October 2020

Stratus Blanc De Blancs 2013, VQA Niagara-On-The-Lake, Ontario ($75.00)

The first (commercial) J-L Groux foray into traditional method Sparkling wine has been six plus years in the making, or in this case, senescence as the lees fly and his Blanc de Blanc has finally arrived. A notable moment in the Stratus continuum as they too now own a program of development, time, investment, research and acumen. The nose on this bubble tells a pensive story, or as fantasy goes like dipping your face into a tale-spun pensieve as it takes you back in time. In 2013 chardonnay excelled on the Niagara Peninsula and still today in 2020 we are drinking vintage examples persistent in their freshness and durability of construct. That this reeks of varietal lore is a hallmark moment, that and a conscientious adherence to reverence for solids and the focus on rotational detail. Speaks a Blanc de Blanc vernacular as a chardonnay should, with a bite out of a sharp fall apple, a pesto of verdant aromatics and a crunch of texture before drifting saline, briny and fine. Pretty good work J-L. Kudos for getting from there to here with intelligence and humility. Drink 2020-2026.  Tasted November 2020

At a Somewhereness gathering a few years back Thomas Bachelder poured me his first gamay and while I remember the light, I could not have known what complex cru notions the maniacal monk had up his sleeve. Who knew that Twenty Mile Bench gamay would gain standing in “Villages,” “Naturaliste,” and two Wismer-Foxcroft iterations. And so here we are with the more intense of the two whole cluster siblings and the one chosen to celebrate its 52 per cent wild bunch inclusion. The fermentation technique transposed seems almost “alla vinificazione Piedmontese a cappello sommerso,” though by way of sangiovese in Chianti Classico what with a glycerin feel and a formative fabric so tactile to the mouth’s touch. Stemmy? Not a chance. Herbal? Nope. More like a Côte de Brouilly to the Wismer-22’s Brouilly, not quite Morgon but savour and structure are serious, righteous and very much here. That I did not buy cases of this stuff is a real concern. Drink 2020-2027. Tasted November 2020

Malivoire Courtney Gamay 2018, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Escarpment, Ontario (524231, $29.95)

What Courtney brings to the table in gamay is what we’ve come to expect from Ontario, that is structurally contracted and age-worthy wine. Now understood to be a Cru designate, carved from a decade of research and well-defined. You could build an entire cellar by way of Malivoire’s multi-varietal work and the many tiers they fashion from drink now, through mid-term aging and up to here in a gamay that will go long. I’ve tasted a few older Malivoires lately and have been blown away by their longevity and also tasted this Courtney from barrel last winter. The whole bunch strategy has come to this, a knowable, beautifully swarthy, fruit protected and into the future protracted guarantee of fortitude and change. Reminds me of Michael Schmelzer’s Montebernardi Panzano sangiovese. Grande. Drink 2021-2028.  Tasted October 2020

Rosehall Run’s Dan Sullivan and Goode

Rosehall Run Pinot Noir JCR Rosehall Vineyard 2018, Prince Edward County, Ontario ($42.00)

Fortuitous time and place are the combined recipient of the primary assist for Rosehall’s JCR Vineyard pinot noir, a varietal stunner that seduces from the word go. A drinking vintage, early, ethereal, not lacking but easing in and out of structure, ready to please in the proverbial vein of immediate gratification. Then the County tones, reverb and static mosey on in like a Telecaster’s light jing-a-ling. Rises to an interlude crescendo and explodes into rock ‘n roll bands. In the County the poets make these things happen, then “sit back and let it all be. Tonight, in Jungleland.” Drink 2022-2026.  Tasted July and October 2020

CedarCreek Platinum Pinot Noir Block 2 2017, BC VQA Okanagan Valley ($54.90)

Block “2” is genuine and fine pinot noir, a pinpointed example multi-faceted in its origins. An exclusive block and also a dedicated clone to make this what it is; ripe stem earthy in phenolics ripe and ready plus a natural and wild fruit sweetness that can’t be replicated by anything but what happens on and from the vine. Anytime pinot noir is experienced as a wine at one with site, clone and vine you know it, feel it and intuit the connection. The forging is a bond unbreakable, as here with Block number two. Drink 2020-2025.  Tasted October 2020

Culmina Hypothesis 2014, Golden Mile Bench, BC VQA Okanagan Valley (414243, $49.95, Arterra Wines Canada Inc.)

The Triggs original, Hypothesis is an Okanagan Valley flagship red that celebrates the upper benches in what has become the great Golden Mile. This district is no longer a matter of new fashion, it is in fact a place to make serious Bordeaux-varietal red wine. Whether cabernet franc or merlot take the lead there is always cabernet sauvignon to tie the room of lit luminescence together. Culmina’s is bright-eyed on a face of dark fruit, chewy like liquorice and sweetly herbal, naturally sweetened by dessert warmth ripening. You smell, feel, sense and taste the land in this wine. That’s what makes it so special. Drink 2021-2028.  Tasted June 2020

Black Hills Nota Bene 2018, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia ($68.99)

Methinks winemaker Ross Wise is giddy (and that’s a stretch for the stoic man of leisure) in what he must know will be the great eventuality of the Nota Bene 2018. By way of reminder this is one of Canada’s most accomplished and massive reds of great notoriety. The flagship of Black Hills in Bordeaux blend apparel, master of ceremonies and lead singer for B.C. Climat, Somewhereness and terroir. The maestro blend to speak of mystery, riddle and enigma. This ’18 is smooth and I mean smooth, ganache silky and focused. In youth you chew the mouthful, later on you’ll draw and imbibe. Further on down the road you will sip and savour. Quietly luxurious, rampantly delicious and pridefully profound. Top. Grande. Drink 2023-2031.  Tasted June 2020

(c) @tiny.wide.world and @winealign

Megalomaniac Reserve Cabernet Franc 2017, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario ($49.95)

Ah, finally! This is the aromatic profile of a reserve style Ontario cabernet franc, well, not “the” but “a” godly one. Concentrated and layered, like phyllo or puff pastry folded again and again upon itself. May seem dense and without air at this time but with time the folds will expand and stack with weightlessness. The variegated red fruit in betweens are juicy, sumptuous and so packed with flavour they will burst when bitten into, or in this case, explode in the mouth. Texture too is all pleasure, as will be the eventuality of exceptionality created by a triangle that includes complete and fine tannin. One of the finest and from a vintage that holds the cards for cabernet franc excellence. Drink 2022-2029.  Tasted October 2020

Thirty Bench Small Lot Cabernet Franc 2017, VQA Beamsville Bench, Ontario ($75.00)

Niagara’s most premium solo cabernet franc is turned upside in 2017 and does everything that needed doing to make what is quite possibly the best solo effort in that vintage. Of fruit so dark yet pure and allowed to act, move and speak as varietal in place. Walks that Beamsville Bench walk and talks that cabernet franc talk. World-beating, wholly and truly. Drink 2020-2023.  Tasted October 2020

(c) @tiny.wild.world and @WineAlign

Hidden Bench La Brunante 2016, VQA Beamsville Bench, Ontario ($85.20)

From a La Brunante year to speak of truths and there is no doubt the team was excited about the prospects of this formidable Beamsville Bench blend. The triad is merlot (43 per cent), malbec (35) and cabernet franc (22). I’d say it was the warm climate and long season that lead to then winemaker Marlize Beyer’s decisions of assemblage. You could pour this blind with red blends from Bordeaux and Australia with nary a taster being able to truly separate one from many others. And yet there is a singularity about these aromatics that are so hard to define, like spices in their simmering infancy ahead of what brand of togetherness they will assign. As for texture and length, balance is exemplary and longevity guaranteed. Drink 2022-2030.  Tasted May 2020

Good to go!

godello

(c) @tiny.wide.world and @winealign

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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!

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Next up for Leaning Post

Next level in tactile Chardonnay releases from @LeaningPostWine & @Witte_wine #niagarapeninsula #twentymilebench

Next level in tactile Chardonnay releases from @LeaningPostWine & @Witte_wine #niagarapeninsula #twentymilebench

It’s already been a very busy 2016 for Ilya and Nadia Senchuk. A whole lot of new has been accrued. New addition to the family, new machinery, new winemaking equipment, maturing (new-ish) vineyard fruit, new facade and interior additions to the 1850’s barn. Leaning Post Wines is no longer the new kid on the block.

Related – Angles of Leaning Post

Ilya and Nadia, along with the unconditional support of assistant winemaker Ryan de Witte may just be the poster children for the Ontario/Niagara dream. In twenty years they will look back, admire what they created and they will be very proud. We are already smiling. Last year I noted that hands-off winemaking and natural (sic) wines were not even on the Senchuk radar. It’s not that a flip-flop in technique has shaken the LP foundation but experimentation is part of the new process. Ilya and Ryan are geeking out. Big time.

I sat down with Butch and Sundance in early March to pass the time and try some new stuff. Here is what I found.

Ah, geek out, le geek, c'est chic @LeaningPostWine #pinotnoir & #riesling lees experiments #pushingboundaries

Ah, geek out, le geek, c’est chic @LeaningPostWine #pinotnoir & #riesling lees experiments #pushingboundaries

Leaning Post Riesling 2014, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $25.00, WineAlign)

Crafted with appellative consistency from mostly Wismer Vineyards Foxcroft (70 per cent) plus (30) Featherstone Vineyard. Let’s call it proximity driven and of a ripeness pushing style, with some residual sugar in the 11-12 g/L range. Phenolic ripeness happens and matters, with similar ripe-ripping acidity, yet in ’14 there circles a rounder and weighty keen vibe. A particular Vineland oeuvre abides, of lemon condense chided by a benign vintage when it just had to be cool every day. “You shouldn’t worry about losing acidity,” says Senchuk, “just get to ripe. Wait, keep waiting, but don’t obsess.” And yet it maintains its acidity with obsession. You can’t do this with every Niagara locale and the crux requires taking a new route, a chance and a direction, as it always does. Fuller, richer Riesling with atomic bits of botrytis and VA, just a smidgen mind you, with purpose, for weight. 191 cases made. Drink 2016-2021.  Tasted March 2016

Leaning Post Riesling “The Geek” 2014, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $32.00, WineAlign)

Senchuk and swot-out cohort Ryan de Witte pulled 350 litres of riesling aside, accoutred with all readily available lees and shacked the whole gross mess in tank together, Vinification was completed at nine grams (RS) nearly-dry, in what can only be described as a reductive, cloudy, super-geeky riesling. Acquires an increased resonance from its designation stowed at a way station on what really is a longer, personal journey. The 2015 will be bone dry and like this ’14 will sit for 18 months in encouragement of a truly experimental, waiting for something to happen riesling. Time will act to fill in the gaps and increase its already developed texture. If you have ever had the pleasure you will see this as Jean-Pierre Frick-ish to be sure. When asked the question, he ‘The Geek’ will repeatedly reply, “I am not ready.” Drink 2018-2022.   Tasted March 2016

Leaning Post Chardonnay “The Fifty” 2014, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $25.00, WineAlign)

Barrel fermented but no malolactic and housed in stainless steel tanks for 11 months sur lie. The Chablis embodiment of the anti-oaked chardonnay despite seeing the inside of a barrel for a “few to several weeks” during ferment. Here in early life the aromatic lees of trickery and textural barrel magic construct an architectural chardonnay with more wood on the palate than there really is. All about and in for that texture with a late pique and tight acidity. Finishes with sushi rice seasoning after a close shave. Kind of, perhaps and perchance a visit with backwards winemaking, practically speaking. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted March 2016

Leaning Post Chardonnay Wismer-Foxcroft 2014, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $35.00, WineAlign)

Here chardonnay enters the lodge for a sit-in with fully assumed lees, neither shaken nor stirred and with no weird chemistry. Saw 12 months in barrel which is blessedly integrated and rich without ostentation. This Wismer is a wine travelled down a less worked word, speaking in subtleties and to great lengths. A wine that was allowed to do its thing. It’s not the fruit you think, it’s the fruit itself. The next goal will be to produce two single vineyard chardonnays, this and the home vineyard, along with the 50/50. 120 cases were made. Drink 2016-2021.  Tasted March 2016

Leaning Post Gamay 2014, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $25.00, WineAlign)

Time has constructed a completely different animal, meatier, grittier, younger version of the same style and so very vintage driven. More prick and spice. Cry baby cry, cru Gamay with hanks to more VA. A terrific, anterior way to go with Gamay, of substance and laser focus. “Make your mother sigh, she’s old enough to know better.” 360 cases made. Drink 2016-2018.  Tasted March 2016.

From my earlier (tank sample) note of June 2015:

Increases the colline built of earth and endemic Gamay character. Keeps the funk grooving with a precise, focused beat. So very like pinot, with grains and tannin interwoven to length. Chewy, sanguine and gamy, a manducate of meaty sashimi or a mouthful of raw, marbled rib-eye, seconded on charcoal for a split second. On tap at Barque Butcher Bar.

Leaning Post Pinot Noir McNally Vineyard 2013, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $38.00, WineAlign)

The totality here is a paltry 220L or 25 cases, accomplished with the same McNally approach and concept, from a wild ferment and full malo (well, full as far as Ilya can tell). No sulphur is added in the first year and so he smells like Mcnally, weird, wonderful and clothed in musk. Tastes like Leaning Post pinot and as McNally, urged on by just pinot lees. This vineyard sheds more citrus and bitters with terrific elongated stretch. This 2013 is ready to go, never marginalized by its bitters nor its harmonic minor VA on the finish. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted March 2016

Leaning Post Merlot 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $42.00, WineAlign)

Ilya Senchuk’s 2012 merlot is not vineyard labeled, though 85 per cent hails from a single-vineyard specific (Demoura) Niagara-on-the-Lake terroir plus (15 per cent) from Beal vineyard in Beamsville. It was massaged by three barrels in total of French and American oak and corresponds from the oak cellar markedly aromatic in vanilla and by lavender. It also posts up continentally orated in a booming black olive and briny voice, by spice, beck, cull and call. So rare to see a Bench or Peninsula winemaker go here, in this way, with dialled and filled in middle grip. Pause with this merlot and notice it tempered by a chocolate linger with more earth than 2010 (which was McNally fruit). In the end the disclosure carries that Italianate animale meets right bank-ish thing that ’10 just did not have. Drink 2017-2022.   Tasted March 2016

Good to go!

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