In 2016 and for the first time in its brief yet facund tenure, Ontario’s International Cool Climate Celebration will include some other cool-climate varietal representation; pinot noir, gamay and cabernet franc. Yes it is true. Plus has joined the i4c, an ideogram of addendum, a character of diversity for the fluently persuasive and forceful congress. This gathering will open its arms for colour and to allow its constituents to regale with what they do best. For an event-driven pure as single-varietal snow and formerly known exclusively as chardonnay, is this really a shocker? This is the reality of democracy.
In August of 2015 I asked the question, can chardonnay get any cooler? My immediate answer to myself was this. “Five is a big number. Any annual convention that survives and thrives into a fifth caucus must be divined by some unseen force, a guiding hand perhaps, by avatar or prosopopoeia. And something other. The International Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration has priceless equity on its side. Three aces in the hole. Canadian climate and geology, adroit farmers and winemakers, simpatico of communities.” That answer was not exclusive to chardonnay. It held the door open for more.
Cool Chardonnay at Ridley College
Related – Can chardonnay get any cooler?
Niagara’s Cool Chardonnay Conference will take place between July 22nd and July 24th. It begins on Friday with the annual School of Cool, Viticultural and Winemaking Sessions in the Grand Room at White Oaks Conference Resort & Spa. Ian D’Agata (Decanter, Vinous.com), John Szabo (MS) and twenty of the brightest talents in the world of Cool Climate viticulture and winemaking will explore three provocative topics. Two seminars from Wines of Chablis and Riedel Canada will follow.
Related – 50 cool Chardonnay in 5,000 words or more
Friday’s main event, “Flights of Chardonnay” will be hosted at Niagara District Airport. Sixty winemakers from nine countries and 75 wines will be poured at this “boots and blue-jeans” event. The new culinary marché will offer dishes from Niagara’s top chefs and the mainstage will feature live bands as the sun sets over the airstrip. On Saturday night the Cool Chardonnay World Tour Tasting & Dinner will return to Ridley College in St. Catharines, Ontario.
Related – The meaning of Chardonnay: You’ve gotta be cool to be kind
When I reflected back on i4c 2015 I wrote this. “Yes, we thought these things and then year number five blew our minds. We had been wrong. We found out that the bar had yet been breached. Further was still out there, not yet claimed, hovering in the realm of the possible and still, going forward, yet remains plausible.” And so in 2016 there will be reds. Oh, the blasphemy, the bastardization, the spurious board gone askew. Really? Can this multifarious variegation really cause such angst? Must we express ourselves with varietal racism just to be heard? Just take it easy man.
The internal red invasion comes at an appropriate time, by coincidence or not with “TanninAlert” a new Brock University Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute (CCOVI) program that will track tannin levels in red wines which impact bitterness and astringency. The joint CCOVI and Ontario Grape and Wine Research Inc. (OGWRI) concept will provide Ontario grape growers and winemakers with information on the ripeness of these flavours to help consistently create rich and robust Ontario red wines. Red wines and cool chardonnay living together like cats and dogs. What a revelation.
At the end of this week I will prep my chardonnay palate in Chablis for six days. Last week I tasted, assessed and judged more than 40 Canadian chardonnays in Penticton at the WineAlign National Wine Awards of Canada. Now I count down the days (22 of them) and in anticipation I’ve drawn up more cool tasting notes as the great #i4C16 event nears. Many will become available through VINTAGES next week for the July 9th release. After Canada Day. Notes that include chardonnay, gamay, pinot noir and gasp, riesling. Imagine the horror of tasting such an intruder at a cool chardonnay conference sometime soon.
Tawse Gamay Noir 2014, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (322545, $19.20, WineAlign)
Tawse repeats itself in 2014 with a gamay noir that breathes deeply and breeds consistency. From a vintage that few varietals could find great shine, gamay seems the outlier and Tawse does what was required. The firm, dark and tasty taut fruit is really all that matters, a result of a driven desire to celebrate the simplicity of the grape In Niagara when uncertainly lurks. Eight months in oak committed neither diversion nor crime. Drink 2016-2018. Tasted June 2016
Château Des Charmes St. David’s Bench Vineyard Chardonnay 2012, VQA St. David’s Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (430991, $19.95, WineAlign)
Tasting the CdC SDB chardonnay a year after it may have been held up with halting reduction is the best thing I could have done and props are fisted forward to the folks at the winery for timing this perfectly. It’s so very mineral-driven and may have stung like a bee in 2015, now fluttering and dancing like a butterfly instead. The barrel presented texture is all marzipan and honey butter with a crunchy bite of rye toast under-spread. Dramatic for the vineyard and exceptional as a price with quality quotient from a polarizing chardonnay vintage. Exceptional timing is exemplary and day assessing uplifting. Drink 2016-2021. Tasted June 2016
Oak Bay Pinot Noir 2012, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (267146, $19.95, WineAlign)
The Oak Bay pinot noir by St. Hubertus has drifted into settled middle age at a time when whatever high tones may have once spoken loud have now faded away. This is light, truffled and whiffing of a vanilla cigar. Blackberries and currants too. Simply complex enough to offer up some value that exceeds decent and enters the realm of great. Drink 2016-2017. Tasted June 2016
Tinhorn Creek Chardonnay 2014, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (378489, $19.95, WineAlign)
Classic cool-climate please all camps Okanagan chardonnay. From here and there, with this and that; Black Sage and Golden Mile Bench fruit. New oak and stainless steel, wild and cultured yeasts. Herbs and spices, fruit and mineral, ying and yang. Lean, green verdancy and warm, textured liquor. Cool and boozy. All in for $20. Drink 2016-2019. Tasted June 2016
Flat Rock The Rusty Shed Chardonnay 2013, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (1552, $24.95, WineAlign)
It’s as if this label had bided all this time to be the benefactor of 2013 fruit. This Rusty Shed, this 20 miler with the track record to age, a wine that sheds baby fat over a 10 year mineral through echelon stratum, in ways few other peninsula to bench chardonnay can do. This Jay Johnston handled surfer of a wine, buoyant and balanced, centred and able to withstand turbulence, oscillation and tidal sway. Here with sumptuous and spiralled fruit gaged in lode intervals and a tartness held in lope and line by a membrane of extract and tannin. Best ever. Showing well, repeatedly and to forecasted repute. Impressing critics and consumers alike. Bravo. Drink 2016-2025. Tasted June 2016
Charles Baker Riesling Ivan Vineyard 2015, Niagara Escarpment, Ontario (395921, $27.20, WineAlign)
In 2015 Ivan delivers the labour of ripe, concentrated fruit, by lower yield, alcohol and spine, concomitantly and conversely to elevated, amenable juicy potability. I can think of 100 reasons to drink this repeatedly over the next three years while the more structured ’13 and ’14 Ivans continue to mature. Three good reasons would be breakfast, lunch and dinner, from scones, through croques and into fresh, piquant and herbed shrimp rolls. Drink 2016-2019. Tasted June 2016
Bachelder Bourgogne Blanc Chardonnay 2013, Burgundy, France (416602, $28.95, WineAlign)
The winemaking gypsy Thomas Bachelder “flies from coast to coasts” and his 2013 French foray into basics and the essential tenets of white Burgundy is a trip replete with a sunbeam shining through your hair. A sweet Melissa of a chardonnay, an ode to what is pretty, simple and carefree about Bourgogne Blanc, but also the idea of chatting up and producing pure driven varietal wine from ideal terroir. Bachelder does this, albeit with romantic vision, here with phenolics, dry extract and mineral of organza sheathing. The vintage speaks clearly and the wine responds with thanks, in kind. “Crossroads, will you ever let him go?” Drink 2016-2020. Tasted June 2016
Henry Of Pelham Speck Family Reserve Chardonnay 2013, VQA Short Hills Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (616466, $29.95, WineAlign)
The barrel toast is a gift of the highest order, dispensing a twinge neither wholly lucid nor abstruse, but somewhere on the demurred line in between. Exposes flint in mineral over fruit in its younger development, with elements of sunshine, forest glade and some herbal tones. Not to say it is balmy in any perceptible way, its lees layered body pops fresh in happily reductive design, in a real Ontario way. So representative of the regional, modern, cognoscenti connection. Drink 2017-2023. Tasted blind at the WineAlign National Wine Awards of Canada, June 2015
Pearl Morissette Cuvée Dix Neuvieme Chardonnay 2013, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (303602, $38.20, WineAlign)
The greatest surprise is a skeptic’s dream, that is, no surprise. The vintage was a gift for chardonnay as we all know and so Francois Morissette does what a wise winemaker does. He lets the fruit from such conditioning speak on its own behalf. The less is more approach allows his fruit to do more than most, to condense into pure elixir of terroir, to inflate with airy, philosophical heir and to exhale a perfume so very, very Cuvée Dix-Neuvieme. Like marzipan but more umami and like stone fruit but crossed with the orchard. The palate and the texture speak of resolution after the revolution and the level of calm post chaos is quietly dramatic. Hypnotizing clarity is what it is. Drink 2017-2027. Tasted June 2016
Good to go!