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It’s time to celebrate all things Chardonnay (plus 26 Ontario Chards that hit the mark)

By Rick VanSickle

This year’s enhanced virtual International Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration (i4C) is taking place July 23-25 with a full lineup of virtual events planned to bring Cool Climate Chardonnay lovers together from around the globe.

Note, also in this report: We have a list of 26 top scoring Chardonnays from Ontario below.

Check out full details on the events of the weekend below, including exclusive School of Cool: Home Edition virtual seminars, winery-hosted events, and a Cool Chardonnay Virtual Dinner Celebration for Two.

Follow @coolchardonnay on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter for updates and details, and share your experience by tagging #i4C21!

Ontario wine

To make sure you have Chardonnay on hand in order to help celebrate, you can find a list of participating i4C 2021 International and Ontario VQA wineries here  (with many offering online ordering).

Check out the exclusive LCBO Vintages Release here with even more Chardonnay offerings from Ontario VQA wineries.

I4C School of Cool

(Friday, July 23)

Remember to register for this year’s School of Cool: Home Edition — this year on Friday, July 23 and will once again will be the coolest “home schooling” ever. Not only are all the sessions free of charge, the online format allows participation from wherever you are in the world!

• Learn to taste like a Master of Wine – A study in Chardonnay with Michelle Cherutti-Kowal, MW (Master of Wine)
• Dissecting Chardonnay! At a molecular level with Francois Chartier, author of the world best seller Taste Buds and Molecules
• Is the world’s favourite white wine grape the most sustainable, with Jamie Goode, wine writer and author of Authentic Wine.

You won’t want to miss the chance to learn and taste with the best! For details and to register, click here.

Cool Chardonnay Dinner
Celebration for Two

(Saturday, July 24)

The Cool Chardonnay World Tour of year’s past is going virtual for 2021! This virtual Chardonnay Celebration includes the best in wine country cuisine for home enjoyment; world class Chardonnays as well as a pre-recorded chef tutorial; live winemaker conversations and DJ! Invite your best Chardonnay-loving guests, follow the chef’s easy ‘finishing’ instructions, pop the corks and tune in. It’s going to be a simple, delicious and a very ‘cool’ way to salute the world’s most revered white grape!

Participation is limited so don’t wait to secure your Cool Chardonnay Virtual Dinner Celebration!

The deadline to purchase is Monday, July 19.

For full details and to register, click here.

VQA Winery Hosted Events

Ontario wineries are hosting in-person events to help celebrate Chardonnay all weekend long — from tastings, to lunches and dinners! To see the full schedule and reserve, click here.

International Virtual Week

To help keep the “international” front and centre as part of the 2021 International Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration, four producers from around the globe are checking in virtually to give a sneak peek into what is going on in their vineyard. In the week leading up to i4C, you can virtually visit to Argentina, Australia, South Africa and British Columbia to get a cool insider’s view via Zoom and Instagram Live.

No pre-registration is needed! For the full schedule and links to join, click here.

26 top scoring Ontario Chards
to help you celebrate i4C

Wines In Niagara is all in on Ontario Chardonnays. We believe Chardonnay is the province’s top grape producing world-class wines and that is backed up back with consistently high scores across the board.

We dug into our reviews from January of this year to our most recent Chardonnay review, the one that just happens to be the Decanter Awards Best in Show Felsesk Vineyard Chardonnay 2018 awarded to Niagara’s Hidden Bench Estate Winery just recently.

We offer this tasty list of 26 delicious Chardonnays, some of which may be sold out, or, as in the case with the Felseck 2018, not released yet. The list is in no particular order, but only wines that scored 90 points or over were included. Happy hunting!

Hidden Bench Felseck Vineyard Chardonnay 2018 ($45, fall release, 94 points) — The fruit for this organically certified estate Chardonnay is 61% from the heritage Block 320 planted in 1992 and the balance from a 2009 high density planting. Aging was done in 91% French oak (18% new oak) and 9% concrete egg for 14 months. Everything is on point with this beautiful and soulful Chardonnay that starts with fresh saline/sea shell notes and quickly turns to pear, flinty minerality, lemon zest, integrated spice and toasted almond notes. It caresses the palate with intensity and verve with rich pear, nectarine, apple, subtle citrus notes and a complex array of wet stones and flint. It has gorgeous texture with toasty almonds and elegant spice and vanilla accents all leading to an extremely long and finessed finished. This is a wine deserving of the recognition it just received. Will be a nice treat to tuck away in the cellar for 5+ years.

Hidden Bench Felseck Vineyard Chardonnay 2017 ($42, 93 points) — This unfined, unfiltered single-vineyard estate Chardonnay is aged in 82% French oak (17% new) and 18% concrete egg for 14 months. It has a highly perfumed nose of ripe pear, apple, toasty/creamy vanilla notes, underlying lemon notes and beautiful, rich spice notes. It’s gorgeous on the palate with ripe Bosc pear, golden apple, flinty/chalky minerality and toasty vanilla and spice on a racy, vibrant finish. Can cellar 6+ years.

Hidden Bench Estate Chardonnay 2018 ($30, 93 points) — “The most holistic of our wines are the blends,” says winemaker Jay Johnston. “I just love pulling the components together for these wines.” The blend is chosen from the three estate vineyards — Locust Lane, Felseck and Rosomel — with aging in concrete egg (4%) and the rest in French oak (15% new oak) for nine months. Maybe the best Chardonnay at this level made to date at Hidden Bench and hard to imagine a better Chard at this price point in Niagara. It has a beautiful nose of pear, lemon zest, vanilla toast, and elegant spice notes. It’s rich and broad on the palate with a range of stone fruits, citrus zest, vanilla bean, minerals and spice through a clean, fresh finish. Simply, a delicious example of Niagara Bench Chardonnay.

Hidden Bench Tête de Cuvée Chardonnay 2017 ($48, 94 points) — This unfined and unfiltered top Chardonnay from Hidden Bench is consistently one of the best examples of this variety in Niagara. It’s a blend of 27% Locust Lane and the rest Rosomel fruit with aging in French barrique (23% new). It has an enthralling nose of golden apple, ripe pear, nougat, citrus zest, integrated spices and flinty/stony minerality with lovely freshness and persistence. So beautiful, rich and textured on the palate with harmonic spice notes, poached pear, baked apple, flint, toasted almonds, citrus zest and racy acidity on a long and finessed finish. A beautiful wine that will bring pleasure for many years to come.

Stratus Chardonnay Unfiltered 2019 ($49, 92 points) — This fascinating Chardonnay is bottled on the lees and is aged for 195 days in neutral French oak and also bottled unfined. As winemaker J-L Groux stresses, “It’s not about the lees, it’s about making the best Chardonnay we can.” I am often surprised by Stratus’s Chardonnays, they tend to vary in style from vintage to vintage and are the least likely to conform to any preconceived notion. So, here we go again. What an interesting nose of grapefruit, apple, leesy notes, pear and citrus pith with very subtle oak spice notes. It’s cloudy in the glass and complex with notes of bin apple, guava, lemon tart, apple skin, pear and a lovely salinity that runs through the mid-palate. It shows more spice on the palate, has structure, richness through a perky finish and just hinting at reduction. Oh, yes, you want to cellar a couple of bottles to find out exactly where this is going.

Malivoire Mottiar Chardonnay 2018 ($35, 93 points) — Moira Chardonnay 2018, the other Beamsville Bench single-vineyard Chardonnay from Malivoire, was named as one of the most thrilling white wines of 2020 by Wines In Niagara. And this one, from winemaker Shiraz Mottiar’s own vineyard, could easily fit into that same list. The wine is wild fermented in older French oak puncheons and than aged in barrel on the lees for nine months. Only 60 cases of this wine were made. Wow, such a lovely lemony/saline nose of pure minerality with pear, apple, nectarine and integrated spice notes. It has gorgeous texture on the palate with rich stone fruits, toasted almonds and vanilla with a deep vein of stony minerality and spice on a bright, zesty, lifted finish. Just lovely and will only get better with a few years in the cellar.

Henry of Pelham Speck Family Reserve Chardonnay 2019 ($30, 92 points) — This is the Speck brothers’ top Chardonnay in the portfolio. It’s made from the best Chardonnay blocks at the estate’s Short Hills Bench vineyards and is aged up to 10 months in French oak barrels. The nose starts with a fresh wave of saline minerality then summer pear, golden apple, lemon blossom and elegant oak spices. It is much more rounded on the palate with ripe stone fruits of nectarine, pear, apple and then butterscotch, spice and juicy acidity through a bright, clean finish. Can cellar 5+ years. I paired it with a delicious pasta with a lobster and Chardonnay (this one) cream sauce, pancetta, garlic, shallots and Parmesan (photo above). Ooh la la!

Vineland Estate Bo-Teek Vineyard Chardonnay “Bottled on the Lees” 2017 ($25, 91 points) — Soaking up the lees gives this gorgeous Chardonnay from the coveted Bo-Teek Vineyard a lovely creamy pear nose with saline minerality, citrus, vanilla toast and spice. It is a creamy and rich Chardonnay with a vein of chalky minerality, Bosc pear, Mac apple but all lifted by citrus fruit on a vibrant finish. Very nice.

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.

Bachelder Les Villages Chardonnay 2019 ($35, 92 points) — This “Villages” Chardonnay bottling is a small-production lot drawn from a handful of the estate’s best single-vineyard barrels from Bench fruit in Grimsby, Beamsville and Vineland as well as Four-Mile Creek. It’s a low intervention, barrel-fermented wine made the same way as all single-vineyard wines at Bachelder. The parts were fermented bone-dry using indigenous yeasts in mostly-neutral barrels with just 2- to 5-year-old Burgundian oak barrels, and given a long 16-month élévage without bâtonnage. For an “entry” level wine into the Bachelder portfolio, there’s a lot of wine here. The nose is profoundly soaked in chalky/saline minerality with perfumed pear, apple and light, elegant spicy/creamy notes. It turns a bit more creamy and rich on the palate with dense, caressing orchard fruits, quince, a touch of lemon zest and a chalky mineral feel on a lifted and bright finish with well integrated spice notes. Gorgeous Chard that is good to drink now or save for a few years.

Rosehall Run JCR Rosehall Vineyard Chardonnay 2018 ($36, 93 points) — This top estate Chardonnay, named after the winery’s co-founded John Campbell Reston, is into its 15th vintage and continues to perform at a high level. The Chardonnay is fermented in 500 L puncheons and aged on the less for 17 months. The elevage saw only used French oak barrels, as less oak character was desired to the frame the vintage. Generous aromas waft from the glass and the immediate thought turns to the stony minerality of Prince Edward County. There is ripe pear, apple, lemon blossom and perfectly integrated spice notes. It’s more robust on the palate with saline/stoniness followed by creamy pear, bin apples, touches of citrus zest, vanilla toast, oak spices with a zesty, finessed finish. Beautiful Chardonnay that can age 5+ years.

Ravine Chardonnay 2019 ($35, 91 points) — This Chard is barrel fermented and aged for 14 months in French oak. The nose explodes with pear, yellow apple, creamy/spicy notes, citrus zest, toasted vanilla and a nice vein of salinity. It’s caressing on the palate with a rich and creamy texture and loaded with ripe orchard fruits, toasted oak spices and plenty of acidity keeping lively on the finish.

Southbrook Triomphe Chardonnay 2017 ($25, 90 points) — This is a regional blend of Chardonnays from organic growers, including 70% “later harvested” Chardonnay Musqué from Lincoln Lakeshore, and the remaining 30% from Twenty Mile and Beamsville Benches and relatively late harvested at several dates throughout October. The slightly settled juice was transferred to 300 L used French oak barrels for wild fermentation, including wild malolactic fermentation, and aging for 7 months in those barrels. This has a bright nose of quince, nectarine, lemon, light and toasty spice notes, subtle ripe apple notes and flinty minerality. It’s juicy on the palate with a hint of savoury spices, cream, peach, pear, crisp apple, lemon zest and a lifted finish.

Chateau des Charmes St. David’s Bench Vineyard Chardonnay 2016 ($25, 92 points) — This estate Chardonnay is barrel fermented and aged sur lie for 12 months in French oak barrels with regular bâtonnage. It shows expressive pear, lemon toast, some tropical fruits, golden apple, butter and cream with elegant oak spice notes. It has a lovely creamy texture on the palate and is perfectly mature, with ripe orchard fruits, toasted vanilla and spice. All that and a finessed finish keeping it lively and fresh. Very nice, full-bodied, old style Chardonnay.

Chateau des Chames Paul Bosc Vineyard Chardonnay 2017 ($24, 90 points) — This wine is from Paul Bosc’s home vineyard and made the way he was taught: barrel-fermented, barrel-aged and regular stirring of the “lees” for 12 months in French oak barrels. It has an elegant, old-world nose of ripe stone fruits, butter, cream, caramel and spice rack. It’s soft and creamy on the palate with ripe apple and pear, caramel-toffee notes, spice and fairly bright on the finish.

Domaine Queylus Tradition Chardonnay 2018 ($30, 91 points) — The Queylus Tradition is from a mix of estate and Butler’s Grant Vineyard fruit with oak aging for 18 months (20% of the oak is new). There is a lovely chalkiness on the nose here with notes of pear, lemon blossom and light spice notes. The palate reveals pear, apple and lemon with flinty accents and searing acidity driving the finesse on the finish. “This is a more precise year than others,” said winemaker Thomas Bachelder. “We’re in a more linear, terroir place.”

Flat Rock Cellars The Rusty Shed Chardonnay 2019 ($33, 93 points) — This top of the line Chardonnay from the estate’s Twenty Mile Bench vineyard represents a barrel selection of Chardonnays chosen for their richness, texture and subtleties of oak. It’s deep and complex on the nose with ripe pear, golden apple, nougat, citrus accents and biscuity/creamy notes and spice. It’s rich, layered and expressive on the palate with a ripe attack of pear, quince and lemon zest to go with elegant oak spice notes, a creamy texture, underlying minerality and all driven by racy acidity to keep it lively through the finish. Really fine Chardonnay that will benefit from 5+ years in the cellar.

Westcott Butlers’ Grant Vineyard Chardonnay 2019 ($48, 93 points) — This is the first Chardonnay harvested from the Westcott’s Butlers’ Grant Vineyard. It’s made with low sulphur, wild fermented in barrels and barrel aged for 9 months in a mix of 50% second use and 50% neutral French oak. What an exciting debut for this Chardo. Such a perfumed nose of summer pear, flinty minerality, lemon zest, warm apple notes and lovely integrated spices. It’s tight on the palate, like a flower waiting to bloom, but wait on it, swirl it vigorously and it opens up to a rich and elegant wine with a beautiful flinty/mineral edge, creamy texture, ripe pear, apple, lemon, spice rack and a finish that is finessed, long and elegant. A really nice Chardonnay that will benefit from some cellar aging. My notes when originally tasted last Nov. echo those above.

Chateau des Charmes Blanc de Blancs Sparkling 2016 ($35, 92 points) — A consistently delicious traditionally made blanc de blancs sparkling wine made from 100% Chardonnay grapes and aged on the lees for a minimum of two years. It pours with a vigorous mousse and a nose of toasted/creamy vanilla, brioche, golden apple, ripe pear and subtle lemon peel. It has gorgeous texture and verve on the palate with an elegant bead to carry the toasty vanilla, pear/apple notes, touch of citrus, baked bread all leading to a crisp, fresh finish. Great bubbly at this price point.

Kin Vinyards Carp Ridge Chardonnay 2019 ($40, 92 points) — This estate Chardonnay was picked on two dates — Oct. 4 and Oct. 21 — and was wild fermented then aged in French oak (19% new barrels, 70% neutral barrels and the rest stainless steel) for 10 months. There is a beautiful note of saline minerality on the nose with pear, lemon blossom, toasted almonds and nougat with subtle elegant oak spices. It is fresh and finessed on the palate with stony minerality, pear/apple fruit, a creamy texture and a bright, long finish with zesty citrus accents and spice.

2027 Cellars Falls Vineyard Chardonnay 2019 ($30, 92 points) — Chardonnay (and Pinot Noir) is what owner/winemaker Kevin Panagapka thrives on and he makes some of the finest examples of single-vineyard bottlings in the Niagara region. This is sourced from the Vinemount Ridge and is 100% barrel fermented (20% new) and aged in French oak for 14 months prior to racking and left to settle in stainless tanks for two more months. It has a mineral-laden nose of chalky flint, ripe pear, lemon toast, apple and elegant oak spice notes. It’s rich and textured on the palate with pear, yellow apple, citrus zest biting on the edges, spice and then waves of flinty minerality before the mouth-watering acidity carries it through the finessed finish. Can age this 6+ years.

Lighthall Vineyards Chardonnay 2018 ($35, 93 points) — This superb Chard was aged in 2nd and 3rd fill French oak for 12 months with regular lees stirring. It shows a light golden colour in the glass and a rich, savoury, saline nose with flint, apple, pear, lemon and toasted spice notes. It is beautiful on the palate with profound gunflint, ripe apple, lovely savoury notes with lemon zest and baking spices through the lifted, finessed finish. Class County Chard done right. Bravo!

On Seven The Pursuit Chardonnay 2018 ($45, 93 points) — The 2018 growing season got off to a slow start, but record heat from May through August more than made up for it. Summer drought was an issue in the young vineyard, limited somewhat by the high moisture retention of the soils. Cluster thinning to one bunch per shoot was employed to reduce the crop and lessen the burden on the vines, hence the tiny yields in 2018. The estate fruit was hand-harvested and the whole clusters were then pressed to produce juice. After settling to remove gross lees, the juice was transferred to French oak barrels (20% new, 80% neutral) for fermentation and aging. After 18 months in barrel, the wines were coarsely filtered and bottled. Such a beguiling nose of perfumed pear, ripe apple, white flowers, nectarine, toasted vanilla and perfectly balanced oak spices. The pear/apple/nectarine fruits are broad and succulent on the palate and impart a wonderfully elegant mouth feel. There is a nervy vein of flinty minerality through the mid-palate with lemon zest and bright acidity lighting up the finish. A lovely wine that will reward with 5+ years of cellaring.

On Seven The Devotion Chardonnay 2018 ($65, 94 points) — The Devotion is a blend of Chardonnays from the finest retention of the soils at the estate vineyard. Winemaker Peter Gamble zeroes in on the best barrels and clonal differences for this top Chardonnay from the estate. It is made essentially the same way as The Pursuit, but presents itself in a whole new light. It shows a slightly deeper golden colour in the glass and is tighter on the nose until you swirl to open it up. The reward is immediate; pure elegance, quince, lemon zest, crushed rock, salinity, subtly buttery notes, nougat and fine spice accents. There is depth, concentration and persistence on the palate with ripe pear and golden apple melting seamlessly into the wet stone minerality, zesty citrus notes, elegant spices, toasted almonds and vanilla and a long, long finish driven by electric acidity. This is a long-lived Chardonnay that will reward with extended time in the cellar. It is a must for lovers of fine Chardonnay.

Le Clos Jordanne Jordan Village Chardonnay 2019 ($25, 92 points) — The Chardonnay is sourced from the Le Clos Vineyard, Claystone Terrace Vineyard (both Twenty Mile Bench) and Talon Ridge (Vinemount Ridge) on the Jordan Bench and made with the same attention to detail and deft touch of French oak winemaker Thomas Bachelder employs with the Grand Clos. The wine is aged in selected French oak barrels (only about 20% of which are new) for 16 to 18 months and both the Chard and Pinot are wild fermented. It has a pretty perfumed nose of ripe pear, lemon drop, yellow apple, honeysuckle, creamy/toasted vanilla notes, chalky minerality and lovely integrated spice notes. It’s generous on the palate with a creamy texture, pure chalky minerality, pear/apple/quince fruit, persistence, complexity and subtle savoury spice notes to go with a bright and finessed finish. Can cellar 5+ years if you can hold it that long.

Trail Estate Chardonnay Vintage Four 2019 ($45, 93 points) — I’ve been impressed with this wine since the very first vintage. It waves a giant flag for the unique terroir of The County and is presented with little manipulation, a deft touch with the oak, and bottled unfiltered at 12.7% abv. The fruit was hand harvested and pressed whole cluster straight to barrel where it was fermented and aged without racking or stirring. It was aged in 500 L barrels (25% new oak, 50% 3rd fill, 25% 4th fill) for 10 months and bottled unfiltered and unfined with minimal sulphur added. It has a lean and saline nose with lemon, green apple, pear skin, peach, river rock minerality and subtle integrated spice notes. It turns rounder and a touch fleshier on the palate but it’s still a taut and mineral-laden Chardonnay with ripe pear and peach, citrus zest, salinity, stony minerality and a fresh, zesty finish. Whatever oak spice is there, it has essentially melted seamlessly into the wine. Can cellar 5+ years.

Note: Information about i4C was provided to Wines In Niagara