By Lindsay Schwenker
July in Niagara can be unpredictable, however, we can always count on having a killer weekend celebrating cool climate Chardonnay.
This year’s i4c (International Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration) brought a busy three days of full-on Chardonnay, with many wines ranging in styles that spanned the globe from California to New Zealand. I’m a newbie to experiencing all that is i4c and was in attendance all day Friday to taste and learn at the School of Cool and laugh with friends as we sipped our way through the setting sun at Flights of Chardonnay.
The School of Cool opened with the keynote speaker Jon Bonné, a truly amazing wine writer and equally as talented speaker, as he talked about the evolution of Chardonnay winemaking styles and raised the question: can Chardonnay be rescued from becoming a fashion victim?
We see it everyday, a push from the consumer to be drinking honest wines … wines that, of course, are made by winemakers but with the intention of showcasing the fruit and less about the winemaker’s recipe.
We then revisited this topic head-on in the last session with John Szabo. He led us through a blind tasting where we sipped a selection of wines and voted anonymously on where we felt the wine fell on a scale of being a “winemaker’s wine” to “not at all,” where the winemaking wasn’t present.
However, no wines were vinegar so they all fell more on the winemaking side of the scale. In a room full of winemakers and drinkers, it was interesting to see how people voted and even more interesting to see how the panel of winemakers spoke about their experiences with a specific vintage as well as how they came to make the wines that we were tasting.
Each winemaker responded with a different driving intention for their wines … some with very little intention as to just take the harvest as it comes and follow the fruit in a very minimal way. Others chose to follow with the intention of making a wine in a certain style for a target audience whether it’s with new oak for the buttery Chardonnay lover, or for the person that wants to enjoy a crushable fruit-forward Chardonnay raised only in stainless steel. Neither is right nor wrong, just different.
This was a great discussion to have but will always be a topic that will never really have one right answer.
Wine tasting and what we like is all in the perception of the drinker. As schooled by Dr. Jamie Good, it’s in our DNA, it’s on our palates and everyone’s perception is individual.
I read on Wine Folly that Chardonnay was the most planted white grape variety worldwide, so I do not foresee(4c) this going out of style in my lifetime.
However, I do see a growing desire for Chardonnays that drink less like a “winemakers wine” and trend more in that flinty, less woody style — Chardonnays that might push a drinker to question the grape variety instead of just automatically knowing because of the butter and “oakiness” of the wine.
A wine that pushes away from the norm can excite your palate because it is something just a little bit different.
I am definitely a lover of all different styles and don’t believe that some are right and some are wrong. They are all just different and will be enjoyed to different degrees by a wide audience. After all, isn’t variety the spice of life?
Attending the later event Flights of Chardonnay, I was able to delve deeper into the question of what style of Chardonnay I was more partial to and quickly discovered I have a palate that enjoys a wide range of Chard.
Having tried many different styles of Niagara Chardonnay, I made an effort to step out of my comfort zone and explore different regions.
Here are four wines that really stood out for me and made an impression:
2012 Lightfoot & Wolfville Blanc de Blancs Brut Nature (Nova Scotia)
Salinity and warm brioche on the nose with a bold crisp backbone of acidity and a dry finish
2012 Benjamin Bridge Blanc de Blanc (Nova Scotia)
True Nova Scotian acidity that showcases a rich texture and fresh baked apple tarts
2015 Sandhi Chardonnay Sta. Rita Hills (Santa Barbara County, California)
Bright acidity with a mineral-driven palate and hints of flint on the nose
2017 Echeverría RST Chardonnay (Central Valley, Chile)
A full expression with just enough wood, lots of white fruit and hints of almond
I raise my glass to cheers those that had the energy and endurance to participate in the events all weekend and look forward to experiencing all that #i4c2019 has in store!