Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES July 11 – Part Two
Cool Chard and Hot Reds
By John Szabo MS with wine notes from David Lawrason
The annual three-day homage called the i4c – International Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration – is almost upon us, this July 17th-19th at various venues across the Niagara Peninsula. The 5th edition of the i4c features some 60 wineries, about half from Canada and the other half representing cool pockets of chardonnay from every continent. And Ontario is poised to show very well in the international context. The VINTAGES July 11th release supports the event with a feature selection of wines that will be poured over the weekend; David and I have previewed our favourites in this report, along with our top red picks.
If you plan on attending this excellent affair but haven’t made your plans yet, consider joining the WineAlign luxury bus trip to the signature event of the i4c weekend on Saturday night, the World Tour Grand Tasting & Dinner (details below). The really keen can taste all 121 chardonnays – the only event where every wine in attendance will be cracked – while chatting directly with winery principals and jostling for position with respected writers and sommeliers from home and abroad, including keynote speaker Matt Kramer from the Wine Spectator.
I’ll be waist-deep in chardonnay all weekend, starting first thing on Friday morning over three fascinating panel discussions for the “School of Cool” at the White Oaks Resort. I’m tasked with prodding panelists, keeping passions under control, and discourses on track for topics as potentially explosive as “Does Minerality Exist?”, or as much discussed as “The Taste/Aroma of Cool [chardonnay]”, and as misunderstood as “All That Sparkles”, a discussion on the effects of lees ageing, longevity of bubbles, oxidative vs. reductive handling and much more. It will be as serious as it sounds, with panels loaded with perspectives based on hard science and deep experience, from researchers, professors, winemakers and journalists. Too geeky, you say? Apparently not. The 350 tickets available tickets are already virtually sold out, so act fast if you want in.
Will Ontario Chardonnay Perform?
The i4c was born from the belief that chardonnay in Ontario performs consistently, and well, and from the desire to share that news with the rest of the world. But boldly, the group who dreamed up the idea wanted to show their wines alongside the best from every other cool(ish) place on the planet, not in isolation, confident that the home team would not be routed. Although it’s a celebration not a competition, such events inevitably invite comparisons. In light of the impressive chardonnay flights the WineAlign cru experienced in June at the National Wine Awards – for me among the most convincing flights in the entire competition – and many more recent tastings of local wines, I’m confident that Ontario chardonnay will impress in this international context. Most of the wines at the i4c are from two strong but very different vintages, the giving and voluptuous 2012s, and the tighter and more finely tuned 2013s. Price and value are relative equations, but again I say with confidence that if regions like Burgundy and California were producing wines of the same quality and price as is Ontario, in the $20 to $40 range, there would be worldwide street parties. As it stands, I suggest you come and party in Ontario. And note that this is pure pragmatism, not flag-waving.
Buyers’ Guide to Cool Chard
Pearl Morissette 2012 Cuvée Dix-Neuvième Chardonnay, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula ($35.20)
John Szabo – Those familiar with the wines of François Morissette already know the idiosyncracies of his range, crafted with minimal intervention and very low sulphur. No effort is made to mask the ripeness of 2012, and this is as texturally rich, full-bodied and creamy as it gets in Ontario, appealing on its depth of flavour, the sheer weight imparted by both full ripeness, and the exceptional length. It’s a different paradigm for Ontario chardonnay, but one that works, and which should be part of the panoply adding depth to the region. Despite the oxidative feel, the wine is stable and should continue to age, and move though several phases of evolution.
Flat Rock 2012 The Rusty Shed Chardonnay, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula ($24.95)
John Szabo – Just starting to open nicely, Flatrock’s Rusty Shed 2012 is a lovely, elegant, seamlessly integrated chardonnay, deftly oak-influenced and texturally very attractive. Best-2015-2020.
David Lawrason –If you like your Ontario chardonnay with more opulence and generosity then look to the 2012 vintage, and Flat Rock’s easy going style. This is a rolling and ready to drink chardonnay with complex slightly reductive/flinty notes, lemon, toasted almond and generous green pineapple/pear fruit.
Le Clos Jordanne 2012 Claystone Terrace Chardonnay VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula ($40.00 Winery)
John Szabo – Winemaker Sebastien Jacquey crafted a beautiful 2012 Claystone, managing the warm season by picking at precisely the right moment, not too late, retaining crucial vibrant acids, and then adding back flesh and weight with long ageing on the lees (at least that’s how I see it). This has a lovely, slightly nutty profile, terrific, lemony acids and a pleasantly yeasty-toasty finish. New barrels, it seems, were in the small minority. With Jacquey now gone from Le Clos, all eyes are on the winery’s future.
Henry Of Pelham 2013 Speck Family Reserve Chardonnay VQA Short Hills Bench, Niagara Peninsula ($29.95 Winery)
John Szabo – It’s delightful to see this top tier wine crafted with such restraint and delicacy – I suppose it’s the confidence that comes with 30 years in the business that allows you to let the vines and vineyard speak most loudly. Wood is indeed a minor, integrated component in the overall flavour profile, which is focused more on ripe pear and orange-citrus fruit, spiked with sea salt and gentle old wood spice. The length is excellent – there’s genuine presence and depth here.
Cave Spring 2013 Estate Bottled Chardonnay, Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula ($18.95)
David Lawrason – Cave Spring has been making good whites for so long it’s easy to take them for granted. Angelo Pavan’s slim, taut style is right in the wheelhouse of the 2013 vintage, which may be the best of the decade for whites so far. Add in maturing vines and the brand is only getting even better. Great value in Chablis-esque chardonnay.
Hamilton Russell 2013 Chardonnay, Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, South Africa ($37.95)
David Lawrason – From a classicist and pioneer of South Africa’s most exciting chardonnay region, this is full bodied, quite powerful and complex. It’s a riveting chardonnay that holds your attention from start to finish, sip to sip, glass to glass. Although you may want to serve it with grilled seafood or poultry rather than pour it as a summer sipper.
Bachelder 2012 Oregon Chardonnay Willamette Valley, Oregon, USA ($29.95)
John Szabo – Thomas Bachelder’s 2012 Oregon chardonnay is showing very well at the moment, representing the Willamette with style. What really beguiles is the sensation of sapidity and salinity, not to mention the great length. At the price, it is an excellent value, although it might be a touch soft to go long distance – ’12 was very warm – so enjoy over the next 3-5 years. Best 2015-2020.
Buyers’ Guide to July 11 Reds
Uccelliera 2012 Rosso Di Montalcino DOC Tuscany, Italy ($31.95)
John Szabo – A full, ripe, ambitious Rosso with evident depth, density and pleasant salinity, from one of Montalcino’s best. Drink 2015-2022.
Omaggio a Gino Friedmann 2013 Lambrusco Di Sorbara, DOC, Emilia-Romagna, Italy ($14.95)
John Szabo – Pale pink in the Lambrusco di Sorbara style (Sorbara is the sub-biotype of the large Lambrusco family of grapes), this is all strawberry shortcake and red currant jam on the nose, but just when you were expecting a sweet palate, this enters bone dry and sharp, like a welcome session of electric shock therapy. Tart red fruit/cranberry flavours linger. Hardly a monument of complexity, but a great charcuterie wine to be sure, and the classy package looks far more expensive than the $15 price tag.
Beyra Vinhos De Altitude 2012 Red, DOC Beira Interior, Portugal ($12.95)
John Szabo – A thoroughly satisfying wine for $13, from the granite inland mountains of central Portugal, zesty, fresh, fruity, with enough roundness to please widely, and enough cut to please the punters. Serve with a light chill.
Tawse 2013 Gamay Noir, VQA Niagara Peninsula ($18.95)
David Lawrason – Gamay is maturing into a bona fide variety in Canada, with the recent National Wine Awards highlighting the strength of this variety in our coolish regions (results coming soon). This is a lovely light yet serious gamay with classy, pure aromas of strawberry/cherry compote, fresh herbs, pepper and a touch of salami\like meatiness.
Buena Vista 2011 Pinot Noir, Carneros, California ($24.95)
David Lawrason – This intense and surprisingly complex pinot once resided on the LCBO’s general list (sorry to see it moved off to more sporadic distribution). But it is here for now, and worth grabbing a handful as a current grilling season pinot, as its now showing just a touch of maturity. It’s a California pinot with French leanings. The winery was purchased fairly recently by Boisset of Burgundy.
Famiglia Bianchi 2013 Malbec, Mendoza, Argentina ($17.95)
David Lawrason. I am increasingly impressed by Bianchi’s reds – there is a just a touch of more restrained Euro classicism in era where many peers are going for fruit opulence and generosity at every turn. This is a dense, spicy, concentrated young malbec that could age nicely for five years.
Dominio Del Plata 2013 Crios Limited Edition Red Blend, Mendoza, Argentina ($14.95)
David Lawrason. They would do better to state that this a tannat on the label (90% tannat and 10% syrah). This variety is showing fine potential in Argentina, bringing structure that malbec often lacks. The colour is deep, the nose is brooding with some iron and dried ripe berry fruit. It’s full bodied, dense and balanced, and great value at $14.95.
WineAlign i4c Bus Tour Details
Your evening begins with the Grand Tasting – the only public tasting event that showcases all of the wines of the i4c. Taste your way through the realm of Cool Climate Chardonnays, self-explore at the ‘What Kind of Cool Are You?’ station – an interactive palate profiler, and sip bubbly and slurp oysters at the pre-dinner reception. Then, join Chef Paul Harber of Ravine Vineyard Restaurant and Chef Craig Youdale of the Canadian Food & Wine Institute and their dream team of vineyard chefs for a family-style feast Ontario-style. After dinner, enjoy the “Après Chardonnay” bar featuring the Ontario winemakers’ favourite RED wines, the popular Craft Brewery bar, and dance under the stars.
We feel we’ve put together a fantastic evening. The cost of the i4c tasting and dinner alone is $150 + taxes. Add on the expense of driving from Toronto to Niagara and you’re already well north of $200. By joining WineAlign you’ll not only get round trip luxury transportation, grand tasting & dinner; but you’ll also get reserved seating, a souvenir T-shirt and a Summer of Chardonnay Passport, for $225.00 all in (incl’ taxes, fees and gratuities). And you don’t even have to drive.
All-in Price: $225
Depart Kipling Subway Station: 3:15pm
Pickup at Burlington Go Station (Fairview & Brant): 3:50pm
Arrive at i4c, Ridley College, St. Catharines: 4:45pm
Depart i4c: 10:30pm
Arrive at Kipling: 11:45pm
That’s all for this week. See you over the next bottle.
Editors Note: You can find complete critic reviews by clicking on any of the highlighted wine names, bottle images or links. Paid subscribers to WineAlign see all critics reviews immediately. Non-paid members wait 60 days to see new reviews. Premium membership has its privileges; like first access to great wines!