By Rick VanSickle
The love of Chardonnay runs deep in the world of wine and that’s certainly true in Ontario where it is the most widely produced variety across all the regions and crafted in myriad styles.
I will say this, with some trepidation, it is THE most beloved grape in the world, and that holds true right here in Ontario. If you disagree, and sure, the Pinot/Riesling/Franc folks are cringing right now, just move along, there is nothing for you to see here.
Of course, because of its popularity, Chardonnay expresses itself in many ways, from rich and luxurious, to fruit forward and fresh, but at its heart and in the hands of top winemakers drawing fruit from the right terroir, Ontario Chardonnays can compete with the best in the world. Is there another grape in Ontario that can claim that? Discuss.
Once a year the world comes together to celebrate Chardonnay, and here in Ontario, with International Chardonnay Day on May 26, it just happens to coincide with Wine Country Ontario’s #30DaysofVQA — an annual campaign aimed at encouraging Ontarians to celebrate the taste of “home” with Ontario VQA wines.
International Chardonnay Day is also an opportunity to prepare wine lovers for one of the largest community wine parties held annually in Niagara — the International Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration (i4C) being held July 22-24. I4C is a massive party focused on all things Chardonnay and other cool climate varietals spread over several venues in Niagara.
Tickets and packages for the complete lineup of i4C events are now available for online purchase here. With fewer tickets for this year’s event, you may want to consider purchasing soon.
So, go ahead, give Chardonnay some love on your Instagram or Twitter feed with a photo or video showing others what you are doing (or looking forward to doing) to celebrate Chardonnay Day on May 26 featuring your favourite Chardonnay from any Ontario winery. And don’t forget to tag @coolchardonnay and use the hashtags #ChardonnayDay, #i4C22 and #iLIVEChardonnay. Also tag @Winecountryont and use #30DaysofVQA and #CheerstoVQA, if you are so inclined.
There are a lot of great Chardonnays to choose from in Ontario. Wines In Niagara has gone through its vault to offer a cool 20 Chardonnays in various styles from around Ontario reviewed in 2022 (some are new releases and reviewed here for the first time). So, grab a glass and a bottle and let’s get this party started.
New release Chardonnays from Ontario
Trail Estate County Chardonnay Cold Creek Vineyard, Prince Edward County 2020 ($45, released at i4C, 94 points) — Only 155 cases of this personable Chardonnay were produced at Trail from a vineyard on Cold Creek Road in Prince Edward County. It was whole cluster pressed to stainless steel and racked to 500 L barrels for wild fermentation over two weeks. It was aged on its lees for 10 months before being racked and put back to barrel for additional aging. It was bottled unfined and unfiltered. What an extraordinary Chardonnay from County superstar winemaker Mackenzie Brisbois. The unique and complex nose of lemon curd, gunflint minerality, peach blossoms, sweet pear, saline, crushed seashells and fully integrated spice notes draw you in for more. There is tension and verve on the palate with beautiful pear, lemon, flint in spades, subtle spice notes and a touch of smoke in a fresh and vivid style that shows precision and depth through a long and finessed finish. Would love to revisit this in 5+ years.
Adamo Estate Chardonnay 2019, Hockley Hills ($32, 93 points) — I suspect this may be one of the last wines Shauna White crafted before moving to B.C. If that’s true, what a delightful parting gift she left us from the emerging terroir of Hockley Valley. The fruit was hand harvested and whole cluster pressed. It was cold settled in stainless steel before racking into barrels for fermentation. It was then aged in oak (50% new) for 10 months. The vines are essentially new but already show great promise. Such a pretty nose of yellow pear, ripe apple, toasted vanilla bean, honeysuckle, chalky minerality and lovely integrated spice notes. It’s more rounded on the palate with ripe stone fruits, melon, wet stones, savoury notes, then a long, finessed, and vibrant finish with enticing oak spice notes. Wonderful Chardonnay that will age gracefully for 4+ years.
2027 Cellars Grimsby-Hillside Chardonnay 2020 ($40, 94 points) — This Lincoln-Lakeshore sub-appellation, where winemaker/owner Kevin Panagapka sources this Chardonnay, is gaining quite the reputation for its terroir-driven wines, with 2027, Thomas Bachelder and Leaning Post all crafting stellar Chards from this vineyard. “I think it’s got some amazing potential,” says Panagapka. The fruit for the 2027 version is hand harvested, whole cluster pressed, wild fermented (but no malo) and aged for 18 months in 20% new Burgundian oak. It’s tightly wound right now, but let it breathe and notes of fresh pear, saline/flinty minerality, apple skin, bergamot, and a lovely, balanced approach to the oak spice accents emerge. It opens up on the palate and shows some weight with richer pear, yellow apple, toasted almonds, vanilla bean and spice, flinty/stony notes and pure elegance and finesse on the lifted and long finish. Such a beautiful expression of Niagara Chardonnay, but please give it some time. Can cellar 5+ years.
Featherstone Canadian Oak Chardonnay 2020 ($23, 91 points) — Here’s a fun fact: Featherstone has the largest inventory of Canadian oak barrels in the world, and they only have one purpose — to age the estate’s distinct Chardonnay. The winery is proud of this wine that is sourced only from estate fruit, wild fermented and aged in Ontario oak barrels. “You can’t get more local than that,” says Louise Engel, co-owner of Featherstone. It’s made in an unapologetically bold and sassy style with pronounced spiced apple, baked pear, toasted vanilla bean, rich spice notes and a touch of lemon blossoms. It has weight on the palate and a rounded feel to go with concentrated stone fruits, some buttery notes, subtle citrus, and all wrapped up in mouth-watering acidity keeping it lively through the finish. A perfect pairing with lobster, pork tenderloin and grilled wild-caught West Coast salmon.
From the Chardonnay vault
2027 Cellars Wismer Vineyard Foxcroft Block Chardonnay 2020 ($25, 93 points) — Panagapka has always found success with fruit sourced from the Foxcroft Block in the Wismer Vineyard, located on the corner of Victoria Avenue and Moyer Road in the Twenty Mile Bench sub-appellation. When he acquires the pristine grapes from a perfect vintage such as 2020, consumers should take note. The Foxcroft Block was cropped at just 2.2 tonnes per acre and the grapes were hand-harvested and whole bunch pressed to 500l/tonne. Wild fermentation took place in fine French oak barrels over three months and the resulting wine aged in Burgundian oak (20% new oak from Allier and Nevers) for 13 months before being bottled. Due to the warmth of 2020, alcohol is up a bit to 14.2% abv, but the wine wears it well. Also, all 2027 barrel-aged wines are now finished in Diam corks. This is the most richly adorned Wismer-Foxcroft Chard Panagapka has made but he somehow retains the juicy acidity and pristine mineral notes that give this wine its personality. The nose is awash in concentrated yellow pear, lemon tart, green apple, wet stones, crushed seashells, salinity, and beautifully integrated spice notes. The palate reveals the full range of stone fruits and ripe citrus notes with such lovely river-rock purity, toasty almonds, spice, and racy acidity keeping it fresh and vibrant through the lifted finish. A pure delight that will keep giving pleasure for five or more years in the cellar.
Westcott Block 76 Chardonnay 2019 ($48, 94 points) — This single block, single clone Chardonnay is wild fermented and aged for 16 months in neutral oak barrels and is bottled unfiltered. Such gorgeous saline freshness on the nose, then Bosc pear, apple skin, elegant and fully integrated spice with subtle lemon-citrus notes. It’s vibrant and mouth-filling on the palate with electric acidity that highlights the fresh pear, apple, quince, lemon zest, flinty minerality and seamless spice notes that melt into the fruit. It benefits from length and finesse through a lifted finish. It’s just starting to reveal its full potential, so I recommend a bit of cellaring or even a decant to get started. Make sure to tuck one or two bottles in the cellar to watch how this will develop over time.
Rockway Small Lot Chardonnay 2020 ($25, 91 points) — The grapes come from the estate vineyard and the wine is aged for nine months in second and third fill French oak barriques. It has a rich and elegant nose of baked pear/quince, toasted vanilla bean, creamy/leesy notes, a squirt of lemon and barrel spices. It’s caressing on the palate with ripe stone fruits, a creamy texture, plenty of oak spices (that should integrate with a bit of time in the cellar) and a fairly bright and lifted finish.
Le Clos Jordanne Le Grand Clos Chardonnay 2019 ($45, 93 points) — The “cru” Chardonnay from Le Clos is wild fermented and aged in selected French oak barrels (only about 20% of which are new) for 16 to 18 months. This has a saline nose of ripe pear, baked apples, toasty notes, honeysuckle, bergamot, lemon tart and lovely integrated spice accents in a pure and elegant style. It has a rich and savoury entry on the palate with ripe quince, lemon zest, fine oak spices, creamy/toasty/buttery notes, chalky minerality with a touch of flint and such a bright, lifted, and finessed finish. Highly satisfying and elegant Chardonnay that can age well for 6+ years.
80x Wine Company Dam Chardonnay 2020 ($30) — Andre Proulx and his team source the grapes from the Willms Vineyard 1983 planting in the Four Mile Creek sub-appellation in Niagara-on-the-Lake. It was still aging in two oak puncheons, 2nd and 4th fill when I reviewed this wine. It shows the beauty of the warm 2020 growing season with a generous nose of ripe pear, toasted spice notes, yellow apple, crushed stones and a touch of citrus zest. It’s quite nice on the palate with baked pear and apple, elegant spice notes, pulpy citrus, a flinty note, and a bright, lifted finish. This was still developing when tasted and still in barrel.
Malivoire Small Lot Chardonnay 2020 ($22, 92 points) — The grapes were sourced from the estate vineyard, Mottiar Vineyard and Moira Vintage over three picking days. After whole-cluster pressing, the juice finished primary fermentation in stainless steel. The majority (68%) of the wine settled and aged on the lees in a stainless-steel tank, while 20% rested in steel barrels and 12% aged in neutral French oak. It has a rich nose of peachy-apple, ripe pear, lemon, harmonized/sublime oak accents and freshening minerality. It’s mouth-filling with pure and ripe stone fruits, a flinty/chalky note, light spice, and nervy acidity through the juicy finish.
Malivoire Mottiar Chardonnay 2019 ($35, 92 points) — The Chardonnay juice from winemaker Shiraz Mottiar’s Beamsville Bench vineyard was wild fermented in older French barriques. Partial malolactic conversion took place during eight months on the lees. It has a lovely saline nose of fresh pear, green apple, lemon chiffon, lime zest and subtle spice and lees notes. It shows rich and ripe pear, toasted spice, apple, pineapple, toasted almonds and juicy through a lifted finish.
On Seven The Devotion Chardonnay 2018 ($65, 94 points) — The Devotion is a blend of Chardonnay from the finest retention of the soils at the estate vineyard in Niagara-On-The-Lake. Winemaker Peter Gamble zeroes in on the best barrels and clonal differences for this top Chardonnay from the estate. It shows a golden colour in the glass and is tight on the nose until you swirl to open it up. The reward is immediate, pure elegance, quince, lemon zest, crushed stones, salinity, subtle 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.
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.
Bachelder les Villages NOTL Chardonnay 2020 ($35, 91 points) — The Willms, Bator, Bai Xu and Patte Rouge (yes, Red Paw of Coyote’s Run fame) vineyard parcels make up this blend from the warm 2020 vintage. It immediately shows off the vintage with a ripe and overt nose of ripe peach, pear, spices, and a lifted perfumy note going on. All that ripeness carries to the palate with a concentrated array of plump stone fruits, integrated spice notes, touch of honey and vanilla toast and enough juicy acidity to keep it fresh and lively. Can cellar 3+ years.
Bachelder les Villages Bench Chardonnay 2020 ($35, 92 points) — You can decide for yourself, but Bachelder begs the question: “How does one recognize a Chardo from the Bench? You can smell the effortless minerality in this wine peeking through the fruit before ever tasting a drop.” The fruit is sourced from parcels of Saunders, Wingfield Ouest and Est and Foxcroft Sud and Nord. There is more ripeness and concentration on the nose than in previous vintages, but it is tempered by beautiful salinity and crushed oyster shells to go with ripe pear, lemon blossoms, elegant oak and yellow apples. It’s no doubt fleshy and plump on the palate with stone fruits, toasted creamy vanilla and spice, but there is some freshness from the acidity and saline minerality through the lifted finish. Cellar 3+ years.
Henry of Pelham Family Tree The Goat Lady Chardonnay 2021 ($17, 88 points) — The fruit was fermented and aged in American oak for seven months. It has a subtle nose of apple, pear, lemon blossom and underlying oak spice notes. It turns fleshier on the palate with more overt stone fruits and spice with a vibrant finish. Drinking fine right now.
Cloudsley Twenty Mile Bench Chardonnay 2018 ($35, 92 points) — In 2018, owner/winemaker Adam Lowy decided to make only a blend of the single vineyards he usually bottles. So, this ends up being the best of the best grapes and barrels and from Foxcroft, Wingfield and Cuesta that was wild fermented and aged for 18 months in French oak barrels, 28% of which is new. This really does feel like a lot of wine for the money with an inviting, aromatic and perfumed nose of sweet pear, golden apple, stony minerality, some citrus zest and light oak spice. It’s rich and creamy on the palate but retains freshness with pear/quince, lemon zest, integrated oak spices and length through a finessed finish.
Wending Home Chardonnay 2020 ($35, 92 points) — Aged in a combination of 228 L French oak barrique and 500 L puncheons, 20% of which is new oak, for 8-9 months. It has a rich and creamy nose of ripe pear, yellow apple, lemon tart, a floral note, flint, and elegant spices. It has a lovely creamy texture on the palate with ripe stone fruits, flinty minerality, spice and a long, lifted finish.
Inniskillin Montague Vineyard Chardonnay 2019 ($26, 93 points) — The original owners of the historic Inniskillin Wines in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Donald Ziraldo and Karl Kaiser, purchased the Montague Vineyard from Stan Murdza in 1982. The 100 acres of vines are planted to Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Merlot and Pinot Gris and are now nearly 40 years old. As a single-vineyard Niagara Chardonnay, not many have a richer history. The wine went through partial malo and was aged for 8 months in French oak barrels. This is a terrific wine at a great price with such a generous nose of creamy pear, lemon sorbet, golden apple, flinty minerality, toasted vanilla and almonds with nutmeg spices. It is rich and ripe on the palate with smoky/flinty notes, ripe apple, lemon, poached pear, creamy texture, elegant spices, and a long, vibrant finish. At this price? Load up and save a few for the cellar.
Two Sisters Unoaked Chardonnay 2019 ($39, 92 points) — This personable Chardonnay is sourced from a nearly 50-50 blend of old vine Lenko Vineyard (Beamsville Bench) and estate fruit. The wine is made completely in stainless steel, with only light lees stirring, which gives it some weight and tricks one into thinking there just might be some spice in this wine, but don’t be fooled, it is 100% sans oak. The nose shows lovely creamy pear, ripe apple, lemon zest and subtle summer peach in a pure and fresh style. It has nice weight and mouth feel on the palate with ripe apple/pear and quince notes with flinty minerality and vibrancy through a fresh finish. Really nice Chardonnay.