By Rick VanSickle
Just because we can’t share our love of Chardonnay with each other in person this year it shouldn’t lessen the celebration for this grape in Ontario and around the world.
Tomorrow, May 21, is International Chardonnay Day, a special day devoted to a grape that just happens to thrive in Ontario. So much so that one of the largest celebrations of Chardonnay in the world — the International Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration (i4C) — is held in Niagara annually.
But out of concern for public safety and wellness related to the COVID-19 pandemic, the i4C weekend planned for July 17-19 was postponed until next year. International Chardonnay Day has always been the unofficial kickoff for i4C.
“If you are an i4C devotee, you know that we always kick off our i4C season by ‘socially’ celebrating Chardonnay Day,” the organizers of i4C said in a news release.
“Chardonnay Day has always been a global virtual celebration and this year will be no different as we continue to share our love for this amazing grape. On Chardonnay Day, and leading up to it, we are encouraging Chardophiles to share what is in their glass – in the only way we can right now – via social media.”
So, go ahead, give Chardonnay some love on your Instagram or Twitter feed with a photo or video showing what you are doing (or looking forward to doing) to celebrate Chardonnay Day, featuring your favourite Chardonnay from any Ontario winery.
There are a lot of Chardonnays to choose from in Ontario. Wines In Niagara has gone through its vault to offer 18 top Chardonnays from around Ontario reviewed in the past few months. So, grab a glass, grab and bottle and let’s celebrate! Cheers
18 Ontario Chardonnays
worthy of celebration
(in alphabetical order)
Bachelder Wismer-Wingfield Ouest Chardonnay 2017 ($48, 95+ points) — The Twenty Mile Bench Wismer-Wingfield Chardonnay is from Thomas Bachelder’s latest ripening sourced vineyard parcel, furthest from Lake Ontario, at the highest elevation, from the western part of the block. “I know what to do with this wine. Just get out of the way of it,” Bachelder says. “You can practically taste the crunchy rocks between your teeth,” he says, adding: “Old world, that’s what it tastes like to me.” No other wine in the Bachelder portfolio defines his style more than this Chardonnay. If this is not the most interesting Chardonnay made in every vintage in all of Ontario, it is certainly close. When Niagara finally decides to create a “cru” system of defining the best sites for certain varieties, Wismer-Wingfield, now sourced by some of the finest Chardonnay vintners in the region, will get an automatic pass to the elite list. No question about it. This is all about elegance, finesse and defining the undefinable — minerality, and is consistent vintage to vintage because Bachelder makes the necessary tweaks to be true to the vineyard’s potential. It is one of those Chardonnays that you can pick out of a lineup of 100 Chardonnays from anywhere in the world, it’s that singular in style and that particular to Niagara and the Twenty Mile Bench. The nose is dreamy with white flowers, pear, stony/flinty minerality, lemon sharpness, bin apple and underlying elegant spice notes that all build in intensity as you swirl it in the glass. And then as you move to the palate, oh, my, such a clean and fresh entry that builds and builds in complexity with pear, apple and lemony vibrancy, adding crushed rocks, flint, spice and nougat that all leads to an enthralling and elegant finish that lasts for minutes. This will gain some fat and depth as it ages gracefully for 5+ years but is irresistible right now. Can’t see this lasting in the online retail store.
Cloudsley Cellars Foxcroft Vineyard Chardonnay 2017 ($50, 94 points) — This is made from a selection of the best barrels from the Foxcroft Vineyard and sees 50% new oak. This is the bomb, among the best Niagara Chardonnays I have tasted this year. It’s pure elegance on the nose, almost restrained on release with beautiful Bosc pear fruit, lemon blossom, flinty-stony minerality, pure salinity, green apple and already integrated spice notes. It’s just as lovely on the palate, a beautiful balance of stone fruits, oak spice and citrus driven by vivid stony-flinty minerality and laser-sharp acidity that provides lift and balance through a pure and finessed finish. In asking Adam Lowy about his deft touch with oak, he says: “I don’t want it to stick out. I want the oak to be complementary.”
Domaine Queylus La Grande Réserve Chardonnay 2017 ($50, 93 points) — The fruit is from Questa Vineyard on the Twenty Mile Bench and spends 18 months in mostly older French barrels. As winemaker Kelley Mason says, the Chardonnay range “gets more focused as you go along.” She rejects any notion that Queylus Chards chases the riper style of Chardonnays, especially at this level. “I don’t want pineapple and tropical notes,” she says. This is a leaner, tighter, taut style of Chardonnay that will open up with some time. The nose is all about lemon pith, citrus zest, freshly sliced apple, flinty/stony minerality and freshness with complementing spice notes. It is so fresh and lifted on the palate with lemon, grapefruit, bin apple, Bosc pear, elegant spice notes, beautifully balanced and finessed with an echoing finish. Clean, crisp and already showing impeccable balance.
Featherstone Canadian Oak Chardonnay 2018 ($22, 91 points) — A specialty at Featherstone with the fruit aged in 100% Canadian oak, with 10% of the barrels new oak and the rest older barrels for 10 months. It shows a nice golden glow in the glass with a nose of pear, apple, spice, cream and butterscotch. It’s creamy and rich on the palate with poached pear, baked apple, a touch of lemon zest, spicy oak accents, good texture and verve through the finish.
Henry of Pelham Speck Family Reserve Chardonnay 2018 ($30, April, 92 points) — Showing some restraint on the nose, but swirl it around in the glass and beauty unfolds. Creamy pear, a floral/perfumed note, baked apple and integrated spice notes. It’s more open-knit on the palate with rich apple and pear, lemon accents, toasted oak and spice with gorgeous finesse and minerality on the finish. Lovely Short Hills Bench Chardonnay.
Hidden Bench Téte de Cuvée Chardonnay 2015 ($48, 95 points) — I stand by that score, lofty but justified, it is simply one of the best Chardonnays I have tasted from Canada. I can only think of a couple of other wines that I have scored 95 points and this definitely deserves its standing. This top Chardonnay from Hidden Bench is sourced from the best lots from both the Locust Lane and Rosomel Vineyards, all hand picked, hand sorted and whole bunch pressed. It’s aged in French oak, only 4% new for the first 9 months, racked to 17% new oak for a further 5 months, then two years in bottle without filtered or fining. It has a highly perfumed nose of rich Bosc pear, tropical pineapple and apricot, ripe apple, lemony accents, subtle oak spices, flinty minerality, hazelnuts and freshness from start to finish. It’s a joyous, enthralling Chardonnay on the palate with a revered sense of place, gracefulness and elegance. It’s layered and complex, with an integrated range of orchard and tropical fruits, hints of lemon, swirling minerality, perfectly balanced spice notes, finesse and a finish that lasts for forever. You want the best? This is it.
Icellars Chardonnay 2017 ($40, 92 points) — Chardonnay is the only white grape planted on the estate and there’s a reason for that: “My wife loves Chardonnay and I want to make her happy,” says Adan Icel. The grapes are hand-picked, whole cluster pressed, fermented and aged for 12 months in oak puncheons (30% new wood) with full malo and lees stirred weekly. An interesting aside is that half the production of 380 cases is closed with cork, the other half in Stelvin — which he intends to taste over time to see how each develops. The nose is rich and fragrant with overt notes of ripe pear, baked apple and elegant oak spices with just a touch of citrus on the edges. It’s rich and layered on the palate with ripe apple, pineapple, poached pear, cream, buttery oak stylings and decent acidity holding it all together. A robust and bigger style of Chardonnay that stays true to the Niagara-on-the-Lake attributes.
KIN Vineyards Carp Ridge Chardonnay 2018, Ottawa Valley ($40, 92 points) — Right out the gate, this is a special Chardonnay, an incredible achievement for such a new Ontario wine region. It’s another multi-clonal blend that was aged in French oak and stainless steel for 10 months with bi-weekly lees stirring and bottled with minimal filtration. It shows a light gold colour in the glass and an impressive nose of creamy pear, crisp apple, toasty vanilla and spice and subtle minerality. It has a creamy feel on the palate with a lovely mélange of pear, apple and quince with lemon accents and such lovely spice notes, toasted almonds, bright acidity and length through the finish. This Ottawa Valley winery is one to watch as the terroir becomes more evident and a must visit if you are in the neighbourhood. Bravo!
Leaning Post Wismer-Foxcroft Chardonnay 2017 ($40, 93 points) — Winemaker Ilya Senchuk has been making a Wismer sourced Chardonnay from the Twenty Mile Bench since 2012, but it is the cooler years, like this 2017 version, that he prefers to make and drink. “There’s weight and power, but it’s really about the length,” he says. The grapes were hand picked, hand sorted, and whole cluster pressed. Once the wild fermentations were completed, the wine remained in French oak barrique (40% new, 20% 1-year-old, 40% 3+ year-old) without stirring of the lees for 14 months. Such a lovely perfumed nose of ripe pear, apple, quince, lemon accents, toasted almonds, spice and that vein of chalky minerality that rages through the Wismer vineyard. Beautiful mouth feel on the palate with pear, pineapple, citrus, creamy/spicy notes, saline/chalky minerality and all perfectly finessed through a long, racy finish. Can age 5+ years. Gorgeous.
Le Clos Jordanne Le Grand Clos Chardonnay 2017 ($45, 93 points) — The Chardonnay is whole-cluster pressed and wild fermented in tanks with the barely fermenting juice transferred to 228L French oak barrels to complete the fermentation. The wine is aged in barrels (no more than 20% of the barrels are new oak) for 16 to 18 months, racked and left to settle in tank for a month and filtered prior to bottling. The wines are aged a further eight months and bottled. This has a highly perfumed nose with notes of pear, quince, elegant and subtle spice, profound limestone minerally and freshening waves of salinity. While it’s tight and still rounding into form on the nose, it opens up beautifully on the palate with persistent and generous stone fruits, complexity and depth, barrel spice notes working in harmony with the pear/apple fruit, pristine river-rock minerality, lemon peel, integrated oak spices and a long, vibrant, intense finish. This is a terroir-driven Chardonnay you should cellar and watch grow as the acidity melts into the fruit and the minerality has a chance to strut its stuff. Thomas Bachelder is the winemaker for this reborn project by Arterra Canada.
Malivoire Mottiar Vineyard Chardonnay 2016 ($30, 92 points) — The fruit is sourced from winemaker Shiraz Mottiar’s own vineyard on the Beamsville Bench. It’s wild fermented in old oak puncheons with partial malo and aged for 8 months in old oak barrels. Such a fresh and saline nose with defined minerality to go with pear, apple skin, subtle oak spice in a pure and invigorating style. The palate reveals a bit more flesh but it’s driven by that saline/flinty minerality with quince, complex stone fruits, depth of flavour, integrated spice notes, vibrancy and finesse on the finish. Lovely, pure Chardonnay from the Bench.
On Seven The Pursuit Chardonnay 2017 ($45, 93 points) — The first wine from On Seven is sourced from the home vineyard in Niagara-on-the-Lake consisting of calcareous-loam and clay soil from vines planted in 2014 to Dijon clone 76. It was hand picked and whole cluster pressed. After settling to remove gross lees, the juice was transferred to large format French oak barrels (20% new, 80% neutral) for wild fermentation and aging for 14 months. This has such a pretty nose of fresh pear, salinity, stony minerality, crisp apple, lightly toasted vanilla, lemon blossoms and subtle, unobtrusive oak accents. This shows its full personality on the palate with rich yet poised flavours of pear/quince, river-rock minerality, gorgeous texture and oak accents all perfectly balanced from start to finish. The finish is clean and with just a touch of lemon zest on a long, lingering finish. Welcome to the grand mosaic of Niagara, On Seven. Made by consultant Peter Gamble.
Organized Crime Cuvée Krystyna Chardonnay 2017 ($28, 93 points) — In October 2016, Organized Crime lost their matriarch, Krystyna Tarasewicz. It is in her honour and memory that that this cuvée is made. The fruit was hand picked and the free-run juice was transferred to French oak puncheons to ferment using native yeasts, which took about 6 months. Such a beautiful Chardonnay with a nose of pear, apple, quince, fresh squeezed lemon, stony minerality and integrated spice notes. A perfectly balanced and complex wine on the palate with harmonious stone fruits, zesty citrus, a subtle reductive note, caressing oak spices, vanilla and finessed through a long finish. Can age 5+ years.
Ravine Unoaked Chardonnay ($32, 92 points) — The St. David’s estate fruit was hand picked and whole cluster pressed with zero oak aging, zero malolactic fermentation and meticulous lees stirring weekly for 5 months. It has a highly aromatic nose of lifted pear, white peach, creamy lemon chiffon and citrus notes. It’s bright, clean and fresh on the palate with apple/quince notes, lemon, stony minerality and a vibrant, zesty finish with mouth-watering acidity. It’s not easy to make an unoaked Chardonnay personable, but winemaker Lydia Tomek has nailed it here.
Strewn Terroir Chardonnay French Oak 2016 ($32, 91 points) —French barrels often provide much a more subtle, integrated nuance in Chardonnays, as is the case in this lovely Chard. The nose shows Bosc pear, citrus, apple and restrained toasted vanilla and spice. The stone fruits and citrus on the palate are joined by elegant spice notes and fairly firm acidity to keep it finessed through the finish.
Tawse Robyn’s Block Chardonnay 2016 ($46, 93 points) — Consistently one of the finest Chardonnays made in Niagara and the riper 2016 version follows that winning trend. Certainly more robust than previous vintages with pronounced pear, ripe apple, saline minerality and elegant spice notes. This Chardonnay is layered and textured with ripe orchard fruits, tingly acidity, stony minerality, creamy notes and elegance that benefits from a zesty citrus accents on a finessed finish. Drinking perfectly right now, but can cellar up to three years.
The Farm Unmarked Chardonnay 2017 ($22, 94 points) — Winemaker Kelly Mason’s style has always been for low intervention, always wild fermented, hands off, gently oaked and finessed, highlighting the minerality of the Twenty Mile Bench. “This is as natural a wine as I’ve ever made,” she says over lunch. It is such a well integrated and lean Chardonnay I was surprised to find there was oak aging applied — 22% new French oak for 18 months and the rest aged in stainless steel. It has such a beautiful and pure nose of lemon, citrus, saline minerality, bright apple and pear with elegant subtlety to the oak spices that it’s almost imperceptible. It’s lean with electric acidity, stony minerality and vibrancy in the mouth to go with lemon, crisp apple, fresh pear and a texture that caresses the palate and finishes in a glorious burst of energy. I suspect that the oak might show up a bit more on the palate with a year or two in bottle once the bright acidity rounds out, but, my, what a beauty right now. Um, $22, folks.
Trail Estate Chardonnay 2018, Prince Edward County ($40, 93 points) — This estate grown Chardonnay is aged in variously older oak barrels for 10 months. It’s bottled unfined and unfiltered. The nose explodes with fresh apple, lemon cream, stony and flinty minerality, subtle reductive notes and elegant barrel spices. Such verve and intensity on the palate with rich and creamy pear, apple skin, lees, lemon, spice and driven by profound flint and salinity that all lead to a fresh and finessed finish. It’s a beautiful expression of Country fruit when put in the hands of a talented and creative winemaker such as Mackenzie Brisbois.
2027 Cellars Chardonnay Wismer Vineyard — Fox Croft Block 2018 ($28, now via email, 94 points) — I don’t know what more I can say about this bottling that I haven’t said before. The 2027 version of this same wine was Wines In Niagara’s Most Thrilling White Wine of 2018 and has never strayed far from the top of that list in the 10 years that Kevin Panagapka has made it from the same vineyard. He blew this wine through Vintages stores, at $23 a bottle, so quickly that consumers had trouble getting some. Don’t be that person now that it has hit shelves this spring. This follows closely to all the other vintages of this wine and is made similar to all the others — 100% whole cluster pressed, wild fermented, wild malo with 100% French oak aging (20%, new oak). It’s a beautiful wine with a nose fresh pear, quince, nougat/toasted almond, gunflint, lemon and elegant oak spice that only builds in intensity as you come back to it. It’s certainly fresh and lively on the palate, but showing more concentration of layered pear/apple fruit and zesty citrus to go with light, toasted spices, flinty minerality, salinity and finesse through a long, long finish. So youthful right now and a definite candidate for the cellar, say 5+ years. Another superstar from 2027.