Cool climate chardonnay is taking the stage
The International Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration (i4C) has come and gone for another year and I find myself reading through my media material and tasting notes, trying to decide whether or not I have learned anything new about Chardonnay.
Look, there is no doubt that there are two camps when it comes to Chardonnay: those who love it and those we call ABCers (Anything But Chardonnay). The i4C is geared mainly to those who fall into the former category rather than the latter. I classify myself among the ABC camp, though I’m probably not as staunch as some I have met over the years. As a taster of wine and a reviewer who has been writing about wines for more than 15 years, I have tasted more than my fair share of Chardonnay and have come to know what I personally like and don’t like in the wines made from this grape. What the i4C does for me is open my eyes to those countries that are now making Chardonnay (and it is a growing membership).
Since Ontario hosts the event, there are plenty of local wineries in attendance, but who would have thought “cool” Chardonnay could come from such places as Spain, Chile or Uruguay (yes, Uruguay), which are making surprisingly delicious versions. When I see that, I am reminded of what a winemaker once said to me, “Chardonnay is like a weed: it grows anywhere; it finds a way.”
Of course, there’s no surprise that New Zealand, France, Austria and Canada all make fine “cool” Chardonnays. But it was a surprise that both Nova Scotia and Quebec have stepped up to the plate and shine on a “world” stage, showing that it’s not just about Ontario and British Columbia any more.
On the other side of the coin, we still find offenders from California and Australia who continue to dilute their Chardonnay with too much oak, which in turn continues to divide the camps, and might even be the root of the ABC movement and why it continues. That said, I am happy to report that there are producers who are getting the message about lighter oak usage.
Chardonnay continues to divide people who have to pick which type of Chardonnay is right for them. But after tasting through the i4C wines, I realized that maybe it’s not Chardonnay’s fault that it’s such a polarizing grape – after all, it is one of the most pliable grapes in the world and can chameleon itself into whatever a winemaker wants it to be. Instead, maybe it’s not the player (Chardonnay), maybe it’s the game (winemaking) – a perfect example of Don’t Hate the Player, Hate the Game. And in the end, you can’t stay mad at wine for long, can you? Sooner or later, something will win you over.
Adamo Estate Winery Sogno Unoaked Chardonnay 2016, Ontario ($17.25)
Fresh and lively with peach, pear and pineapple notes.
Bachelder Niagara Chardonnay 2015, Ontario ($24.95)
Aromas of lime meringue kick things off, then vanilla, peach and apple purée appear in the mouth with a nice, long finish.
Borthwick Vineyard Chardonnay 2016, Wairarapa, New Zealand ($25)
A small-batch Chardonnay made from 1 hectare of fruit, producing only 800 cases. Oak aged for a mere 6 months for texture, this wine has lovely minerality and pear fruit with a fine finish.
Cremaschi Furlotti Chardonnay Reserve 2016, Chile ($17)
Six months in second-use oak barrels helps keep the freshness on this wine, with lemon and lime notes on the nose and grapefruit and green apple on the finish.
DeLoach O.F.S. Chardonnay 2013, California, United States ($44)
Very oak-dominant California style with plenty of buttered toffee on the nose and palate, leading to apple purée and a certain smokiness on the finish.
Domaine Berger-Rive Manoir de Mercey Clos des Dames 2015, Bourgogne Hautes Côtes de Beaune, France ($26.95)
The Burgundians love to dive deep when it comes to naming a wine, giving it a specific location but it’s hard not to like the mineral-stoniness of this wine, which also delivers apple and pear notes.
Domaine Laroche Chablis Saint Martin 2015, Burgundy, France ($25.25)
Crisp and dry, which is important to note off the top because of the pretty sweet pear and apple notes that emit from the glass upon sniffs one and two before the delicate minerality of Chablis takes over in the mouth.
Domaine St-Jacques Chardonnay Réserve 2015, Quebec ($24.25)
Known primarily for iced cider these days, Quebec wineries are starting to make noise with “the weed.” Fresh, clean and ultimately drinkable, with time St-Jacques will be a leader with this grape in the province.
Emiliana Organic Vineyards Novas Chardonnay 2016, Chile ($17)
Fresh and juicy with lots of peach and pear at its core.
Esterhazy Chardonnay Leithaberg 2015, Austria ($19.95)
This is a citrus bomb of flavour with lime zest on the finish and a mineral-driven mid.
Familia Traversa Chardonnay 2016, Uruguay ($12.95)
Only 1 month in medium-toast American oak barrels still gives this wine a smoky note, which shows the intensity of the fruit. The finish is reminiscent of smoked apples.
Hahn Chardonnay 2015, California, United States ($23)
A bare-bones California Chardonnay with subtle melon and tropical aromas and flavours, and good acidity backing it all up.
Invivo Gisborne Chardonnay 2016, New Zealand ($16.95)
A richly developed Chardonnay for not a lot of dough. Peach, melon, vanilla, buttery and delicately spiced on the finish.
Jackson-Triggs Reserve Chardonnay 2016, Niagara ($13.95)
A fruit-forward number with a kiss of vanilla, along with apple, pear, peach and some lemonade notes. Amazing depth and complexity considering the mere 6 to 8 months in oak.
Jean Leon 3055 Chardonnay 2016, Spain ($18.95)
I’m pretty sure Spain is not your go-to place for Chardonnay but this one is juicy with apple and pear and balanced by acidity; maybe we should start looking here more often.
Maycas del Limari Chardonnay Reserva Especial 2015, Chile ($18.95)
A lovely blend of tropical fruits like guava and pineapple with some peach and vanilla taking it to another level.
Miguel Torres Sons of Prades 2014, Spain ($32.95)
Another 6-month oaked wine that really turns it up in the flavour department: creamy yet with good acidity, lime zest and stony-minerality. Another surprising Spanish gem.
Peller Estates Private Reserve Chardonnay 2015, Niagara ($18.95)
Nice freshness right from the get-go, then in sweeps hints of vanilla and white fruits — like apple and peach — with a grapefruit-rind finish.
Ventisquero Grey Single Block Chardonnay 2015, Chile ($20)
Rich, full-bodied Chardonnay that has a creamy mid-palate along with pineapple, apple, peach and caramel. Surprising notes because 70% of this wine was aged in stainless steel and the other 30% in oak for 12 months, which it explains the acidity’s balancing effect.