Chardonnay, Your Fans Await
She is ready to take centre stage again, and at this year’s International Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration (I4C), she does. She rebuffs the ABC movement – Anything But Chardonnay – to recapture the fame she has enjoyed almost since birth, which is believed to be just after the Romans brought the now nearly extinct, Gouais Blanc from the Balkans to eastern France. Wildly cultivated by local peasants in close proximity to the aristocratic Pinot Noir, it is likely that the two varietals cross-pollinated bringing two worlds forever together.
The result of this ‘marriage’, was a new robust green grape variety used to produce white wine in a region we now know as Burgundy. Winemakers found her personality to be different than her siblings, Auxerrois, Aligote, Melon and Gamay Noir, a more malleable grape than others, taking on the disposition of her winemaker and nuances of the soils from where she resides. A blank canvas, you could say, for her maker.
Her personality however, while pliable, is also strong, and of all the whites she is the most likely to spend time in an oak barrel, a privilege usually reserved for her big brothers Pinot Noir, Cabernet and Merlot. Her ability to carry any style led to her fame across the globe and today Chardonnay is one of the most widely planted varietals for winemaking.
All Chardonnays however are not created equal and at I4C the ‘cool climate’ Chardonnays are not only complex but balanced and refreshing, and with over 100 Chardonnays to choose from it is unlikely that you would not be able to find your favourite.
My Chardonnay celebration started with the kick-off party at Jackson-Triggs Winery, one of over ten events held over the weekend. I was welcomed by a refreshing glass of their sparkling Chardonnay, a delightful way to tease my palate before diving into Chef Tim Mackiddie’s culinary treats which included a Lake Erie Perch fish fry,
a pan seared crispy skinned pork belly
and a fresh spring mix adorned with Icewine steeped bacon bits to name a few.
The Tide and Vine food truck was also on-site offering fresh shucked oysters and a creamy lobster roll. With over fifty Chardonnays from Ontario and abroad it was easy to find one that paired perfectly with each delight. The versatility of Chardonnay was apparent and during the Arkell’s concert in Jackson Trigg’s stunning amphitheater, I was compelled to test my friend Archie’s theory that an oak-aged Chardonnay and popcorn are a perfect match because of the buttery flavour of the wine. Next movie night, be sure to invite a Chardonnay to the party.
The next day brought over 100 more Chardonnays. The Barrel Dinner held at Vineland Estate Winery was the signature event of the three day celebration and precursor to the formidable Moveable Feast at Ravine Vineyard in St. David’s. It was held on Sunday and brought the celebrations to a close. The range of styles offered by winemakers in attendance was humbling, and the invitation to hear their stories about their wines is always inspiring and a testament to their dedication to their craft.
Winemakers not only mixed and mingled with the crowds but served up the local fare prepared by Chef Eric Peacock from Wellington Court, a fixture in Niagara for regionally inspired cuisine. I was now faced with the task of finding my favourite Chardonnay; thankfully my choices had been reduced to four. A front runner at our table was the Château des Charmes Barrel Ferment Chardonnay which we all found perfectly balanced and to me seemed to be the exact expression of what great cool climate Chardonnays are all about.
It might be the discovery of a tiny vineyard or appellation you have never heard of or maybe the first sip of winemaker Ron Giesbrecht’s new Blanc de Blanc that he specially removed from the lees for you to taste or even the story of the 2010 vintage in Oregon being remembered for the descent of hungry birds being “biblical in nature” – whatever the story or the discovery, this is what you will take home with you, that unmistakable connection to the winemaker, the terroir and the wine.
It may not be her debut but Chardonnay get ready, lights, camera, action!
*photo credits: Andrea Kaiser