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This Chardonnay from Niagara’s Hidden Bench just shocked the world

By Rick VanSickle

What an incredible day for Hidden Bench Estate Winery, the Niagara region and, frankly Canada, with the announcement that the Beamsville Bench winery earned the top award for its Felseck Vineyard Chardonnay at the Decanter Wine Awards.

The Hidden Bench 2018 Felseck Vineyard Chardonnay, crafted by winemaker Jay Johnston, earned “Best of Show” at the prestigious awards based in London, England. Let that sink in. One of the BEST CHARDONNAYS IN THE WORLD, and it’s from Niagara, Ontario, Canada.

Harald Thiel, managing director and vigneron, said today: “This recognition from DWWA is a major accolade not only for the Hidden Bench team but for the wineries of the Beamsville Bench, the Niagara region, and the Canadian wine industry at large. The international recognition that a small, family-owned Canadian estate winery such as Hidden Bench can breakthrough internationally and stand shoulder to shoulder with the very best in the world is extremely rewarding. This award is a testament to our terroir and to the commitment and passion of our vineyard and winery team.”

Niagara wine
Jay Johnston and Harald Thiel.

How appropriate that Thiel’s winery earned this recognition. Thiel is a tireless champion of Ontario Chardonnay as the founder and former chair of the International Cool Climate Celebration that’s held annually every year in Niagara and features the best Chardonnays in the world.

It is no secret that Niagara and Ontario can and does make world-class Chardonnays, but to win what is arguable to top wine award on Earth, is pretty sweet confirmation of that fact.

Hidden Bench makes several versions of Chardonnay from organic, estate fruit across three different vineyards, including the award winning Felseck Vineyard version, the Téte de Cuvée from the best lots from both the Locust Lane and Rosomel Vineyards, the estate blend of all three vineyards and a blanc de blanc zero dosage sparkling wine from 100% estate Chardonnay. These are always among the finest Chardonnays every vintage in Niagara, and, I would dare say, from Canada.

The Decanter World Wine Awards is the largest and most influential wine competition in the world. This year the DWWA received over 18,000 submissions from 56 countries. The panel of 150 judges included 44 Masters of Wine and 11 Master Sommeliers.

Hidden Bench is a certified organic estate winery situated on the Beamsville Bench. As an estate winery, Hidden Bench’s innovative “vineyard to bottle,” team approach to wine growing has permitted it to consistently produce premium quality, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Riesling from its 35 hectares of certified organic vineyards.

The award-winning wine, 2018 Felseck Vineyard Chardonnay, is a barrel fermented single vineyard Chardonnay from a 3.5-acre parcel of 30 year old certified organic vines. The grapes are handpicked, sorted and then gently whole cluster pressed prior to fermenting with natural yeasts in French oak barrels. The wine is then bottled unfined and unfiltered after 14 months of aging. Total production was 3,500 bottles. The 2018 winning wine will be first available to wine club members in September and to consumers later in the fall at $45.

Wines In Niagara was able to get a taste of the Felseck Chardonnay yesterday, and here is our review.

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.

Can’t wait for the Felseck? This tidy little single-vineyard rosé can help fill the gap.

Hidden Bench Locust Lane Rosé 2020 ($25, LCBO, winery, 90 points) — Based on Pinot Noir and made using a combination of direct-press and saignée techniques, this certified-organic, single-vineyard rosé has a bold nose of pomegranate, rhubarb, black cherries, peach, a floral note and subtle spice from a bit of time in neutral oak. It has a lovely creamy texture, an array of red berries, peach, herbs and a refreshing finish.