Since my wife is Canadian, I always keep an eye out for wines from her home country. They're difficult to find in NYC so I like to try them out when the wine makers themselves come to town. Last month, we tasted Canadian Chardonnay wines at the Seriously Cool Chardonnay presentation held in midtown Manhattan. The trade event was held by Wines of Ontario and Wines of British Columbia. Upon arrival, we were greeted with a glass of sparkling wine, the 2006 Cuvee Peter F. Huff Blanc de Blancs from Huff Estates in Prince Edward County, Ontario. This 100% chardonnay sparkler spent three years on lees and was a pleasant introduction at 12% ABV.
The trade group is using the term ‘Cool Chardonnay’ to differentiate its wines from warmer climates (Napa one could guess) as the grapes are grown in the cooler climates of Ontario (Niagara region and Prince Edward County) and a few from British Columbia. The wines are closer in style to wines from Burgundy and Sonoma, but in a more restrained, food-friendly style.
Before the general wine tasting, we partook in the special seminar tasting and panel discussion. The panel consisted of Tony Aspler (The Wine Guy), Thomas Bachelder (Le Clos Jordanne), John Szabo (Master Sommelier) and Tara Thomas (Wine & Spirits Magazine). One of the central themes was the ripeness levels of grapes (phenolic and aromatic ripeness) compared to the alcohol level of the wine produced. I guess this discussion plays into the constant debate of what ‘balance’ means in wine (can a wine be 'ripe' but low in alcohol or high in alcohol but still have acidity to balance the fruit?). Other panel topics were acidity and pH levels, 'reductive' winemaking techniques, barrel-aging vs. stainless steel, and fermentation methods implemented (including the use of malolactic fermentation).
The wines tasted covered a wide range of prices, vintages and style with the majority of wines under 14% ABV, with some under 13% or even 12% (which I rarely see anymore). Several wines have a strong mineral backbone to it (which I love) or even a bit of earthiness to it, but a common takeaway for me is that these wines are easy on the palate (too bad oysters and crab were not served) with crisp acidity. There was even a 1998 Chardonnay from Southbrook Vineyards in Niagara to finish up the tasting to show aging potential of the wines, albeit on the sweeter side. I would not mind seeing some of these showing up on a restaurant wine list, especially the Norman Hardie Cuvee 'L', Tawse Quarry Road Vineyard and the Quails' Gate Stewart Family Reserve.
After the seminar, we toured the walk-around tasting. There were 31 wineries pouring over 50 Chardonnays from various price ranges and styles. Similar to the structured tasting, I really liked the Norman Hardie unfiltered wines and the Claystone Terrace Chardonnay from Le Clos Jordanne. Although we did not get to try them all, both my wife and I enjoyed the wines from Tawse, Quail's Gate, Maliviore, Flat Rock and the blanc de blancs from Cave Spring Cellars (I missed the Pelee Island Barrique 2005). We finished off the tasting with the mouth-watering 2007 Icewine from Pillitteri Estates, (Chardonnay not Riesling or Vidal Blanc) in Ontario.
Overall, it was a great opportunity to hear the panelists and other industry veterans' reactions to taste alongside them. It seems they are targeting the elegant end of the white wine spectrum which would be a nice break from the high alcohol, low acid and fruit forward wines still dominating store shelves. The wineries are seeking to get their name out about their terroir and style (and even if unfairly, how it compares to Burgundy and California). Unfortunately, most, if not all, of these Chardonnays are not available in the U.S. (a couple of wineries have limited distribution of other wines). Hopefully we’ll start seeing some soon here in the U.S.