Buyer’s Guide to VINTAGES July 10th, 2021

Ontario Chardonnay Grabs the Spotlight

By David Lawrason, with reviews from John Szabo, Sara d’Amato and Michael Godel

There was big news out of London, England last week when Hidden Bench 2018 Felseck Vineyard Chardonnay from Niagara’s Beamsville Bench took a “Best in Show” award at the massive Decanter (Magazine) World Wine Awards.  Press releases gushed and social media was all a-twitter with worthy praise for Hidden Bench. On my own Facebook page I joined the chorus, but also decided some context was important.

Winning “Best in Show” sounds as if it was judged the single best wine in the competition. There can only be one best, right? My grammar teachers said so. But um, no. There were 50 wines that took a Best in Show honour.  Decanter has five medal tiers – bronze, silver, gold, platinum and Best in Show.  So, Best in Show is the top tier, and it remains a great accomplishment to be among the top 50, especially considering there were about 18,000 wines entered.

Canada, by the way entered about 280 wines, but they were not competing against each other for Best in Show Canadian wine. Every wine is assessed on its own merit, not where it came from, as it should be.  And no other Canadian wine took a Best in Show medal.


Some might interpret my contextual comments as undermining the accomplishment by Hidden Bench owner Harald Thiel and winemaker Jay Johnston. I am not.  Hidden Bench deserves this win, and is well known in the industry, to wine lovers, and to this observer, as being one of the top-notch estate wineries in the country. I think it is terrific that our best gets recognized by UK judges (no Canadians judged Canadian wine in 2021 due to COVID), for the message it sends to all who are working so hard in Niagara, especially with chardonnay.

In my mind chardonnay is Ontario’s star grape. Chardonnay was the first vinifera ‘varietally labelled’ wine bottled by Brights’ Wines in 1955 because it was one the most successful in a large trial of European varieties in that post-war era. And Niagara chardonnay was winning awards in the 1980s and 1990s at Cuvée Experts Tastings while pitted against white Burgundy, especially those from vines planted by George Lenko in the late fifties on the very same Beamsville Bench as Hidden Bench’s Felseck Vineyard.

International Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration

In 2010 Ontario chardonnay got its very own event – the International Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration (14C) – which sees dozens of international and local chardonnay producers assemble for a three-day chardonnay fest in Niagara. This year’s event (July 23-25) is essentially virtual but Ontario wineries are offering some live events. See the full schedule including three intense, educational Zoom seminars by leading authorities with Canadian connections being held July 23. Link:

On July 24 there is a re-opened, actually live, Step 3, invitational outdoor in-the-vineyard launch, or re-launch, of Le Clos Jordanne 2019 Villages Chardonnay. Le Clos Jordanne was the Franco-Canadian joint venture launched in 2004 to make premium Burgundy inspired chardonnay and pinot noir in Niagara. The corporate partnership dissolved and three bad winters in 2013, 2014 and 2015 stressed the farming aspects as well. But it was reborn two years ago by Arterra Wines, with original winemaker Thomas Bachelder back in the director’s chair. The excellent 2017 vintage of the top drop, called Le Grand Clos, was relaunched in 2019. The much more affordable Villages label is on this week’s Vintages release, except that it isn’t.  It is late being shipped to stores by the OMGLCBO.  We will report once we try it.

There is a Cool Climate Chardonnay spotlight on the Vintages July 10 release, with a handful of Niagara chardonnays plus a select few international wines (much fewer than previous non-virtual years). I really think that the LCBO should have been trying harder to make more of the 14C wines available during what is Ontario’s moment in the international spotlight. Especially when much of the event is virtual and consumers have no other way to access the wines. A boat missed.

Chardonnays From The Rideau

Before moving to our picks from July 10th, I tasted two other notable Ontario chardonnays in very recent days en route to Ottawa. Both are from the promising new, limestone laced region I am calling, for now, The Rideau.

For one, the Scheuermann family has established a fine vineyard and booming restaurant business in the summer cottage town of Westport on Rideau Lake north of Kingston, less than a kilometre from a huge limestone quarry. They are making pinot, chardonnay, vidal and sparkling. The 2018 Chardonnay is a slim, polished, refined and pure, only lacking some concentration due to the young vines, planted early last decade.

Farther northeast and closer to Ottawa on the edge of the Rideau Valley lies KIN Vineyards and its 10-acres south facing, organically farm, winter vine-buried site on Carp Ridge. Winemaker Brian Hamilton, who has worked with leading Niagara organic houses like Malivoire, Tawse and Southbrook, is making very fine pinots and chardonnays, with the 2019 Chardonnay to be showcased during I4C. And the 2020s just tasted this week from barrel are exciting.

So, we begin our coverage of this release with chardonnays, then move into other intriguing international whites, reds and one rose. And by the way, the timing of the arrival of wines on VINTAGES shelves has been an accordion over recent weeks due to LCBO warehousing and logistics issues, and we are dancing to the tune in terms of when we can deliver this report.


Gary Farrell Russian River Selection Chardonnay 2018, Russian River Valley, California
$49.95 Noble Estates Wines & Spirits Inc.

Gary Farrell Russian River Selection Chardonnay 2018

Sara d’Amato – A Russian River specialist, Gary Farrell has been farming chardonnay and pinot noir in the region since before the inception of the AVA and takes pride in site-specific growing throughout the five neighbourhoods of the appellation. The Russian River Selection chardonnay is a blend of various vineyards and blocks throughout the Valley. The complexity that arises from obvious care both in the vineyard and in the assemblage is notably impressive and what you might expect from a 1er cru Meursault.
John Szabo – A lovely chardonnay that marries sunshine with fog admirably, delivering the California orchard basket of flavour with a cool, windy, fog-induced sensation of freshness driving through the long back end. Classy wine, for current enjoyment of mid-term hold.
Michael Godel – Farrell’s 2018 Russian River Valley chardonnay does what so many dream of by delivering fully realized fruit cut by acidity and salinity for the truest if broad and wide-ranging appellative expression. Benchmark, worth every penny and a wine that speaks to what it’s all about.
David Lawrason – This is full bodied, yet very fresh and lively version driven by great acidity. The nose is a complex weave of detailed pineapple fruit, lemon, fine toast and spice. It is full bodied, warm and intense.

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And that’s a wrap for this edition.  The WineAlign cru will be in attendance at the International Cool Climate events, virtual and otherwise, July 23- 25.  Michael Godel is penning an article on South African wines this week, and Sara illuminates on Pays d’Oc wines from the south of France, her second home, spiritually speaking.  John will return in two weeks with a look at the July 24 release, which includes a South Africa feature.


David Lawrason

VP of Wine

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Szabo’s Smart Buys
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