New kids on the BC block challenge the establishment

By / Wine + Drinks / January 17th, 2018 / 7

When new kids on the block want to flex their muscles they challenge the established order. In oenological terms, this means the equivalent of a schoolyard tag-team rumble without Marquess of Queensberry rules.

The challenger gets to choose the turf and the card — meaning who the opponents are and where they are placed in the flight. For this format, you can applaud or blame the English wine merchant, Steven Spurrier, who started it all with the now-legendary “Judgement of Paris” tasting in 1976. He pitted top California Chardonnays and Cabernet Sauvignons against Domaine-bottle white Burgundies and château-bottled red Bordeaux.

Anyone who has lifted a wine glass knows the result: eight French tasters placed California at the top of each category — a David-and-Goliath match-up that put Napa Valley on the world wine map.

Since then, emerging New World wine regions have battled the Old World for the prestige of besting their honoured products.

The latest iteration of this hand-to-palate combat was held in Toronto recently at Canoe Restaurant. Philip McGahan, the winemaker for CheckMate winery in Oliver, BC, matched his six Chardonnays from the 2014 vintage against price-comparative Chardonnays from Burgundy, Sonoma and Argentina’s Mendoza Valley.

Before I give you my notes on this blind tasting, a word about CheckMate. Anthony von Mandl, proprietor of Mission Hill in BC, acquired the old Domaine Combret winery in Oliver for the specific purpose of producing world-class Chardonnay and Merlot from dedicated vineyard plots in the Okanagan. All these wines are chess-themed (as are the Merlots).

92 Checkmate Capture Chardonnay 2014 ($90)

Pale straw colour with a lime tint; apple bouquet with nicely integrated toasty oak; medium-bodied, dry, well-balanced apple and orange flavour with a lively spine of acidity, a thread of minerality and good length. A well-balanced wine.

93 Checkmate Queen Taken Chardonnay 2014 ($125)

Pale straw with a lime tint; minerally, white flowers and apple on the nose with apple, peach and oak spice notes; rich mouthfeel, full-bodied, dry and beautifully balanced.

93 Marc-Morey Puligny-Montrachet 2014, Burgundy ($80)

Pale straw-lime colour; minerally, smoky, high-toned, lemony green apple bouquet with a toasty oak finish; a beautifully balanced wine.

93 Checkmate Little Pawn Chardonnay 2014 ($110)

Straw colour; vanilla oak and apple nose; full-bodied, spicy peachy nose; well-balanced, great length of flavour with a lively acidic finish.

92 Checkmate Knight’s Challenge Chardonnay 2014 ($85)

Pale straw colour with a lime tint; minerally, apple nose; medium- to full-bodied, dry, apple flavour with a touch of oak spice; fresh acidity with green pineapple and apple flavours. Long finish with well-integrated oak and a nutty finish.

93 Wayfarer Vineyard Wayfarer Chardonnay 2014, Sonoma County ($150)

Straw colour with a lime tint; spicy, nutty, toasty apple; rich and full on the palate.

92 Checkmate Fool’s Mate Chardonnay 2014 ($80)

Pale straw colour; white blossoms, oak spice, apple and white pepper bouquet; medium- to full-bodied, mouth-filling, dry, well-balanced with a lively acidic finish.

91 Domaine Latour-Giraud Meursault Cuvée Charles Maxime 2014, Burgundy ($104)

Pale straw colour; developing barnyard notes; earthy, minerally, apple bouquet; medium-bodied, dry, lean and lemony, slightly tart and tight with mouth-watering acidity.

90 Checkmate Attack Chardonnay 2014 ($105)

Pale straw colour; minerally, apple nose with a sour-cream note; medium-bodied, soft on the palate with fennel and salty notes and a toasty, nutty finish.

88 Bodegas Catena Zapata Adrianna Vineyard White Stones Chardonnay 2013, Mendoza, Argentina ($90)

Straw colour; spicy, resiny nose of Fernet Branca; full-bodied, dry, some bitterness here with lively acidity.

As you see from my scores, the CheckMate wines showed very well, Queen Taken and Little Pawn tying for first place with the Puligny-Montrachet and the Sonoma Chard.


Tony Aspler, Order of Canada recipient, has been writing about wine since 1975. He is the author of 18 wine books, including The Wine Atlas of Canada and three wine murder mystery novels. The best concert he ever attended was Rush with the Tragically Hip as the opening band. His favourite comfort food is milk chocolate and his cocktail of choice is a Kir Royale. At home, he drinks wine (lots of wine).

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