A Good Day For Chardonnay
Whenever my friend Lise is in a wine drinking mood she’ll gently deflect the wine list and order a glass of Chardonnay. Every time. She doesn’t care if that glass of wine is light and citrusy, buttery, or oaked and golden, she just knows that she has been drinking Chardonnay since 1970 and that she likes it. She also likes to drive on the shoulder of the road and talk a good, long yarn, but that’s a story for another time.
In the 80s and 90s Chardonnay was the hip thing to drink, thanks in part to The Judgment of Paris Tasting of 1976 when a Californian Chardonnay beat out top ranked French wines in a blind tasting. In a collective frenzy of national pride, Americans began drinking Chardonnay by the bucketful and soon everyone else followed that golden wine trail. The weeping sounds of vines being ripped from the earth in order to make room for more Chardonnay could be heard all over the world. This was not always great for the reputation of Chardonnay as much of it was mass produced in an attempt to garner sales.
Fast forward to the Canadian High Commission in London, England where a blind tasting of Ontario Chardonnay took place in May of 2010. Respected wine critics gave much deserved kudos to Ontario wines. In our little corner of vine covered earth vintners have been working with the grape, treating it with respect and making, now, wines worthy of notice. Ontario, it seems, is the new dandy of the Chardonnay wine world. The cool climate, the limestone and the chalky soils set a stage for the grape to really sing.
I like Chardonnay because it goes well on my table. As long as the oak is kept in check it’s not too over powering in the glass, and it comes in a variety of tastes since the grape is so amenable. In Ontario Chardonnay tends to be light, citrusy and crisp but there are richer, oaked and second fermented versions that will warm a soul on a cold winter’s night, particularly in vintages when the sun was generous. One of life’s simple pleasures is washing down a bite of succulent roast chicken with a swirl of Chardonnay. The same goes for any creamy sauced pasta, buttery seafood, herb encrusted pork dish, or lemon-tinged salad.
Over time, things change and today many wine producing regions have gone back to working with indigenous and site appropriate varieties. Chardonnay is still, perhaps, the most ubiquitous grape on the planet, but it’s not the catchall white wine it once was and you’ll be as likely to hear someone order a glass of Albariño or Pinot Gris as a glass of Chardonnay. But, for those of us living in cool Ontario, we are learning that local Chardonnay makes wines with finesse, and if you are like my friend Lise, then that’s good news.
A few wines to try:
Norman Hardie Unfiltered County Chardonnay: Norman Hardie makes wine in Prince Edward County and while his bottles are a little pricey, they are worth it. You need to travel to the County or watch for his wines in the Vintages section of the LCBO.
Joseph Drouhin Chablis Drouhin Vaudon: because Burgundy is where it all began and this is a balanced, classic example of Chardonnay; try it next to an Ontario version for the fun of it.
Bonterra Chardonnay: from the Fetzer vineyards in California this is a fuller version with a little spicy profile; the butter and caramel notes compliment the tropical fruit nicely, and it’s organic.
Kacaba Unoaked Chardonnay: this is a great, inexpensive Chard with a lively, crisp appeal; currently the 2012 vintage is on shelves at the LCBO.