Seriously Cool Canadian Chardonnay

Last May, a specially chosen selection of Ontario Chardonnays were sent to London, England to strut their stuff for some of the most influential wine critics in the world.  The tasting turned into a resounding success when the likes of Jancis Robinson and Steven Spurrier sang high praises for our very own local Chardonnays.  Read what they had to say here.  (Please read Seriously Cool Ontario Chardonnay – Seriously World-Class Wine for background information on this event and my tasting notes from last year’s event.)

This year on March 8, the Chardonnays are off to The Big Apple, with the addition of a few from British Columbia, making this a truly Canadian event.  Fifty-four wines from 31 wineries from Ontario and British Columbia are taking part in this year’s event as members of the US media and trade get a taste for our seriously cool chardonnays.

These international tastings are the brainchild of Bill Redelmeier of Southbrook Vineyards in Niagara.  “When people around the globe think of Canadian wines, they only think of Icewine,”says Redelmeier. “Our aim is to change that perception by presenting our wines to influential wine critics in such key cities as London and New York to let the world know what a great job Canada also does with table wines, in particular Chardonnay.”(coolchardonnay.ca)

Yesterday, the Ontario Wine Society hosted a preview tasting of the wines going to New York City at the Toronto Lawn Tennis Club.  I was able to sample all the wines being presented and I have to say that every one of them was a wine for Canadians to be proud of.  Styles ranged from light and refreshing unoaked versions to rich barrel fermented and barrel aged  Chardonnays – from delicious sparkling wines to luscious icewine.  The diverse styles were chosen to show how versatile Chardonnay can be in Canada’s cool climate vineyards.  There’s definitely a style and a price for everyone.

I found the following 18 wines to be especially exciting or interesting.  For the full list of Chardonnays going to NYC please go to coolchardonnay.ca.

Sparkling Sparklers

Both sparkling wines (from Ontario) showcased at yesterday’s tasting confirmed my thoughts that Ontario makes excellent bubbly and that this style is definitely something we should focus on.

Cave Spring Cellars 2004 Blanc de Blancs CSV Estate Bottled VQA Beamsville Bench:  Spent 5 years on its lees.  The sparkling wine is bursting with apple and fresh baked bread aromas.  A sensually creamy mousse leads to flavours of yellow apple, pear, yogurt, and brioche with a very long, lingering finish.  This wine is due to be released sometime this spring.

Huff Estates Winery 2006 Peter F. Huff Blanc de Blancs: Complex aromas of apple, pear, citrus, minerals, bread, with a slightly nutty character.  A creamy mousse with flavours of wet stones, grapefruit, and fresh baked bread and a very pleasant finish.

Unoaked Chardonnay

I tend not to get too excited about this style as it can be quite neutral unless it’s from Chablis, however, these unoaked versions were characterful and delicious.

Casa-Dea Estates Winery 2009 Chardonnay: 100% stainless steel fermented and aged for several months on the lees.  Loads of mineral, grapefruit, green apple, and white peach aromas, with a touch of green grassiness.  Zesty and refreshing on the palate.

Pondview Estate Winery 2009 Unoaked Chardonnay:  This was a surprise for me as I had never heard of Pondview before.  It’s a new winery in the Four Mile Creek sub-appellation of the Niagara Peninsula, but I’m told they have been growing grapes since 1974. The 2009 vintage was the first vintage made by Pondview.  The grapes were harvested very late – into November – and the high sugar content in the grapes has created a wine with a whopping 14.3% alcohol.  The wine was left sur lie for 6 months.   Quite aromatic for an unoaked Chardonnay with aromas of grapefruit, white blossoms, minerals, apples and pears.  It’s quite well-balanced despite the high alcohol with an invigorating acidity and long length.

Barrel-Fermented and/or Barrel Aged Chardonnays

Okanagan, British Columbia

Generally ripe and round – very New World style wines.

Meyer Family Vineyards 2009 Tribute Series – Kenny McLean: Bright with fresh yellow fruit, pineapple, white peach, blossoms, and a hint of honey.  A round and luxurious mouthfeel with refreshing acidity and a lingering finish.

Quail’s Gate Winery 2006 Stewart Reserve: Smoky toast, vanilla, ginger, pineapple, citrus, baked apple and pear aromas give a wonderfully complex nose.  A very silky texture with toasty caramel on the finish.

Mission Hill Family Estate 2005 Select Lot Collection: Showing some signs of maturity with spicy baked apples and hazelnut aromas.  Round and creamy on the palate with yellow fruit and ripe pear flavours with some well-integrated oak nuances.

Niagara Peninsula

Typically ripe fruit flavours with bright acidity and a minerally character.

Rosewood Estates Winery 2008 Reserve: 14 months in oak with full malolactic fermentation.  Aromatic yet elegant aromas of ripe pineapple, vanilla yogurt, nutmeg, and white blossoms.  A creamy texture and lively acidity lead to a long toasty finish.  A more lively wine than the fuller, rounder, more buttery 2007 version, which also happens to be delicious.

Malivoire Wine Company 2008 Moira:  Both Chardonnays – the 2008 Moira and 2008 Mottiar – presented by Malivoire were excellent in my books, but for the sake of space I will concentrate on the Moira.  Spicy perfume, ripe yellow stone fruit, mineral, vanilla, and a pretty floral note on the nose.  Very concentrated fruit flavours and well-integrated oak make this a delicious and complex Chardonnay.

Lakeview Cellars 2007 Reserve: Aromas and flavours of peach, nectarine, pineapple, and creamy vanilla.  Very juicy and delicious!

Lakeview Cellars 2000 Reserve: A gold-coloured wine with baked apple, nutmeg, caramel, and a nutty character.  Butterscotch and burnt caramel on the finish.  Maturing gracefully.

Southbrook Vineyards 2009 Triomphe: Biodynamic.  Complex aromas of creamy butterscotch, vanilla, apricot, caramel apple, ginger, and mineral.  A round and luxurious texture with peach, apricot, and mineral flavours, bright acidity and a long, butterscotch finish.

Colaneri Estate Winery 2008 Paese: Another new winery in Niagara – still under construction.  A pretty perfume of citrus blossoms, fresh yellow fruit, and caramel apples.  Full and creamy on the palate with a lingering caramelly finish.

Ravine Vineyard Estate Winery 2009 Reserve:  16 months French oak, unfiltered.  Aromas of sweet vanilla, ripe pineapple, apricot, nutmeg, lightly toasted bread.  A silky texture, fresh stone fruit flavours, vanilla and beautifully integrated oak lead to a wonderfully complex finish.

Closson Chase Vineyards 2005 Beamsville Bench:  Although the winery is located in Prince Edward County, the fruit for this wine was sourced from the Beamsville Bench in the Niagara Peninsula.  Lots of creamy vanilla, pineapple, nutmeg and wet stone aromas.  Juicy fruit flavours and minerality explode on your palate with this well-structured and balanced wine.

Prince Edward County

Very crisp and minerally with judicious use of oak.

Rosehall Run 2008 Cuvee County:  aged in 500 l puncheons.  Aromas of green apple, pineapple and a stony minerality.  Very zesty and mouthwatering with pineapple and yellow fruit flavours and soft creamy caramel on the long length.

The Grange of Prince Edward County 2008 Victoria Block Fermented: Complex and elegant, this wine has aromas of yellow fruit, citrus zest, creamy vanilla, and stony minerals with a pretty floral perfume.  Flavour of yellow fruit and citrus are layered with minerals and smoky caramel with a long length.

Norman Hardie 2008 Cuvee L:  Made from a blend of 65% Niagara fruit and 35% Prince Edward County fruit.  A complex wine, full of pear, yellow apple, lemon rind, dried pineapple, and sweet vanilla aromas, and yes…with a minerally character, and a slight smokiness on the long finish.

That is just a mere taste of the assortment of delicious Chardonnays making the journey to New York City in a couple of weeks.  I wish the winemakers and winery representatives all the best as they continue to show the world that Canada makes wines worthy of international acclaim.

Some Great Wine from British Columbia

A couple of weeks ago, I had the opportunity to taste many excellent wines from British Columbia.  Unfortunately, here in Ontario, we see very little wine on the shelves of the LCBO that hails from BC.  It seems odd and a little disappointing to me that Ontarians are more familiar with the huge variety of wine imported from foreign countries than we are with the wine produced in one of our own provinces.  British Columbia might as well be a foreign country.

The climate for grape growing in BC is very different from what we experience in Ontario.  Tony Aspler, in his Wine Atlas of Canada, compares BC’s climate to that of the Northern Rhone, while Ontario is more like Burgundy.  The Northern Rhone has no problem ripening grapes, but the cooler weather in Burgundy can pose difficulties for wine making.

Aspler also writes, “Certainly the reds from the Southern Okanagan have more alcohol and more fruit extract than their Ontario counterparts.  They are more Washington and California in style than they are European.”  Ontario wines also tend to have higher acid levels.

David Lawrason, founder of the Canadian Wine Awards, says that BC has more consistency in the ripeness levels of the grapes from year to year because of the hot summers.  The tannins are also consistently ripe; not hard, green, and austere.

Most of the vineyards in BC are located in the Okanagan and Similkameen Valleys.  The two valleys are right next to each other and share a similar climate.  Daytime temperatures easily reach 30°C and occasionally shoot up to 40°C.  Summers tend to be cloudless so the heat of the day is not retained at night creating a large diurnal range in temperatures. The cool nights help retain the grapes’ acidity and flavours.  The southern Okanagan is a true desert.  There is little disease and the long days with intense sunlight promote vine growth and grape ripening.  There can be a risk of late spring and early autumn frost.

Here are some tasting notes for a few of my favourites from the tasting.

Thornhaven Estates Gewurztraminer 2008 VQA Okanagan Valley:  The wine is a bright lemon yellow colour.  It has pronounced aromas of sweet lychee, rose petals, and tropical fruit with a good dose of spice.  On the palate it is off-dry with luscious lychee fruit, melon, and ripe pineapple.  There is spice and rose petals on the very long, lingering finish.  A beautiful wine!

Jackson-Triggs Okanagan Estate 2007 Meritage Sunrock Vineyard VQA Okanagan Valley:  This wine has youthful aromas of smoky chocolate, bell peppers, and dark fruit.  It is full-bodied with high tannins that need a bit of time to mellow.  The flavours are of blackberry and plum with coffee grounds and dark chocolate with a medium plus length.  A couple of years in the cellar should benefit this wine nicely.

Laughing Stock Vineyards Portfolio 2007 VQA Okanagan Valley: blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, and a tiny bit of Petit Verdot.  The wine has an intense nose of dark fruit, pencil shavings, smoky tobacco and spice.  On the palate there are flavours of dark berries and plums with red bell peppers and a toasty finish.  It has a good structure and balance and is a candidate for the cellar.

N’k Mip Cellars Merlot 2007 VQA Okanagan Valley: Youthful aromas of plum, blackberry, spicy chocolate, and underbrush.  It is full-bodied on the palate with a very smooth texture and velvetty tannins.  There are lots of dark fruit flavours, such as black cherry, blackberry, and plum with a hint of underbrush and chocolate.  This wine is drinking well now, but it could benefit from at least 5 years aging in the cellar.

Burrowing Owl Pinot Noir 2008 VQA Okanagan Valley:  Not only does the Okanagan handle the Bordeaux varieties very well, but it also does a fine job with Burgundian varieties.  This wine has aromas of cherry and red fruit as well as darker fruit, such as plum and blueberry.  There is a touch of earthiness reminiscent of damp soil and a nice floral perfume.  On the palate there is more red fruit with sweet ripe cherries, strawberries, and other red berries.  The medium tannins are very smooth and silky and there is a nice long finish.  It’s ready to drink now but will evolve over the next few years.

Summerhill Pyramid Winery Syrah 2006 VQA Okanagan Valley:  The youthful nose has aromas of sweet ripe dark fruit and chocolate covered cherries.  There is a spiciness that is reminiscent of mace.  The oak is evident but well-integrated.  On the palate it is very fruit forward with cherries, plums, and blackberries with some spice and a bit of cracked pepper.  A very pleasant wine.

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