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.

2027 Cellars 2019, Niagara Escarpment, Ontario
$24.95, 2027 Cellars Ltd.

2027 Cellars Wismer Vineyard Fox Croft Block Chardonnay 2019

David Lawrason – NZ trained winemaker Kevin Panagapka has been quietly making refined, elegant chardonnays for several years. From one of Niagara’s prime Bench sites this sleek acid and mineral-driven edition is showing complex, well integrated aromas of mashed apple/pear, marzipan, vague butterscotch, light barrel toast and nutmeg.
Sara d’Amato – Wismer Foxcroft Block as premiere destination for chardonnay is well showcased in this generously flavourful chardonnay. Featuring inviting notes of peach blossom, pine nuts and toast, this elegant wine boasts an ethereal texture on the light to mid-weight palate. Excellent value.

Domaine Queylus Tradition Chardonnay 2018, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario
$29.95, Marchands Des Ameriques Inc.

Domaine Queylus Tradition Chardonnay 2018

John Szabo – One of the best chardonnays I’ve had from Queylus to date, in the classic Niagara style Old-New world divide, a bridge of sorts between worlds. Depth, complexity and length especially are highly impressive. Terrific wine, best now-2026 or so.
Sara d’Amato – This may be Queylus’ more basic chardonnay but it delivers a wealth of character and finesse. Fine oak treatment of 16-18 months in French oak (only 20-30% new) and a delicately creamy texture make for a widely appealing style. Buttered popcorn, citrus and mineral linger on the finish of excellent length.

Malivoire Estate Chardonnay 2019, Beamsville Bench, Ontario
$19.95, Noble Estates Wines & Spirits Inc.

Malivoire Estate Grown Chardonnay 2019

Michael GodelA best of many cool chardonnay worlds ’19, at once lightly toasted and then crunchy, golden so, sun-dripped, vanilla-dipped and yet subtle, understated, open-knit and fine. Another cool winner from Shiraz Mottiar and team.

Sokol Blosser Dundee Hills Estate Chardonnay 2018, Willamette Valley, Oregon
$28.95, Noble Estates Wines & Spirits Inc.

Sokol Blosser Dundee Hills Estate Chardonnay 2018

John Szabo – A lively, fine and lemony-fresh chardonnay from the red volcanic clays of the Dundee Hills, crafted with minimal flavour impact from 10 months in French barriques. Length and depth punch well above their respective weight categories. Enjoyable now, but surely cellar-able into the mid-late ’20s.

Domaine Du Chalet Pouilly Pouilly-Fuissé 2018, Burgundy, France
$37.95 Appellation Wines

Domaine Du Chalet Pouilly Pouilly Fuissé 2018

David Lawrason – A fine, firm and elegant chardonnay from the most famous village of Macon. It is not stridently aromatic but it is complex and layered with apple fruit, toast, fried onion crisp, a touch of butter and lemon. It is medium bodied with great tension and intensity.

Other Whites and Rosé

Sutherland Sauvignon Blanc 2019, Elgin, South Africa
$14.95 Epic Wines And Spirits Inc.

Sutherland Sauvignon Blanc 2019

John Szabo – From Thelema Mountain Vineyards, grown in the genuinely cool climate region of Elgin in the southern Cape, this is bright, lively and zesty sauvignon, with length and depth that exceed expectations in the price category. Sharp value indeed.

Altosur Sauvignon Blanc 2019, Tupungato, Argentina
$16.95   Sylvestre Wines & Spirits Inc.

Altosur Sauvignon Blanc 2019

David Lawrason – This may be my first highly recommended Argentine sauvignon. Gualtalary is one of the highest sites in Argentina. It is light and very fresh with a lifted elderflower, lime pith, cactus pear, snow pea and fennel. it is medium weight, a touch warm (13.5%) and sweet edged, but the acidity is excellent.

Domaine De L’Idylle Anne De Chypre Roussette De Savoie 2018, France
$21.95, Heritage Cellars               

Domaine De L'idylle Anne De Chypre Roussette De Savoie 2018

David Lawrason Roussette is a local variety in an alpine appellation central eastern France. This has a lovely nose, very fresh and pristine with yellow plum, wildflower and lemon blossom. It is medium weight, fleshy, smooth, fair rich yet nicely dry.

Château Val-Joanis Tradition Rosé 2020, Rhône Valley, France
$17.95, The Vine Agency

Château Val Joanis Tradition Rosé 2020

David Lawrason – Great buy! Val Joanis is a higher altitude estate, which I think is driving the piquancy I really like in this wine. It is typically pale, bright and alluring. The nose very lifted with pink grapefruit, red currant, strawberry, pepper and lovely florality. It is light, spry, dry and well balanced with fine detail and excellent length.

New World Reds

Osoyoos Larose Le Grand Vin 2017, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia       
$49.95, Charton Hobbs Inc.

Osoyoos Larose Le Grand Vin 2017

David Lawrason – The most refined Osoyoos-Larose in memory. With vineyards planted to Bordeaux varieties on a high slope in evening shaded East Osoyoos, this was originally a joint Franco-Canadian venture. It is now in French hands alone. This vintage is 61% merlot. It certainly shows a Bordeaux ambiance with classic, well meshed, complex blackcurrant, violet, graphite, dried sage, earth and oak vanillin. But it is the elegance that attracts.
Sara d’Amato – One of the most compelling vintages of this Bordelaise inspired blend offering exceptional balance and finesse. Bold but not showy with a voluminous presence en bouche and ripe, fine-grained tannins. The complex flavours are particularly harmonious on the palate but the wine is built for longer aging. Decant or tuck away another 2-4 years for best expression.

Plantagenet Three Lions Shiraz 2017, Great Southern, Australia
$19.95 Airen Imports

Plantagenet Three Lions Shiraz 2017

Sara d’Amato – An absolute delight of a shiraz that is wildly complex and brimming with a tangle of natural fruit spice and botanicals. The cooler influence of Great Southern is distinctly felt giving the wine a more syrah-like character. Lovers of rotundone take note! Highly memorable and an excellent value.
David Lawrason – I am with Sara on this. Not your typical Aussie shiraz, and full of garrigue.

Henry of Pelham Estate Cabernet/Merlot 2016, Niagara Escarpment, Ontario
$24.95, Henry of Pelham Family Est. Winery

Henry Of Pelham Estate Cabernet/Merlot 2016

Michael Godel – The exceptional growing season of 2016 has by now persuaded many to find greatness in Niagara reds. At a cost of $25 Niagara does not gift more than this. In Reserve form you can expect a 15 year run. At the estate level six to seven years is ideal.

Seaward Cabernet Sauvignon 2019, Coastal Region, South Africa
$17.95 Sylvestre Wines & Spirits Inc.

Seaward Cabernet Sauvignon 2019

David Lawrason All about value in almost Euro-feeling cabernet. The nose is plenty generous with ripe blackcurrant/blackberry, some celery leaf, menthol tobacco and a touch of tar. It is medium-full bodied, fairly dense, in-filled and fairly tannic. There is a ring of cabernet authenticity hard to achieve at $18.

Garage Wine Co. Bagual Vineyard Lot #76 Carignan/Garnacha/Mataró 2016, Maule Valley, Chile
$38.95, Nicholas Pearce Wines Inc.

Garage Wine Co. Bagual Vineyard Lot #76 Carignan/Garnacha/Mataró 2016

Michael Godel – The field blends propagated, raised and delivered in Chile’s back country by Etobican-Ontarian Derek Mossman Knapp are juicy as a pomegranate monologue and rolling in like peppery tides. Balanced blends do these things and Caliboro is a great place for this to happen.

Euro Reds

Château Peyros Vieilles Vignes Madiran 2016, Southwest, France
$23.95, Vin Vino Merchants

Château Peyros Vieilles Vignes Madiran 2016

David Lawrason – Here’s a classic Madiran – 60% tannat (named for its tannic ambiance) and 40% cabernet franc, which makes total sense as a blending partner to bring elegance without changing the flavour profile. If you are Bordeaux fan you should take this for a spin. It is medium weight, slim and compact.  .
John Szabo – Mature vines (60% tannat with cabernet franc) yield here an attractively mature and perfumed Madiran from the notably lean and stony soils of Peyros (the name of the château is derived from the Gascon word for ‘rocky place’). Complexity is high, the sort of wine you could sniff all evening. A sharp value for fans of more mature wines ready to drink.

Jean-Luc Colombo Les Lauves Saint-Joseph 2019, Rhône Valley, France           
$37.95 Du Chasse Wines & Spirits

Jean Luc Colombo Les Lauves Saint Joseph 2019

John Szabo – Colombo’s Les Lauves, a cuvée named after Cézanne’s art studio and made from vines in the steeper parts of the Saint Joseph appellation, is still a couple of years away from prime drinking, but all the pieces are in place. Expect refinement and finesse, not mere heft. This should be a real beauty from 2023 or so on, into the late ’20s.

Château De Nages Vieilles Vignes Costières De Nîmes 2018, Rhône, France
$20.95 Du Chasse Wines & Spirits

Château De Nages Vieilles Vignes Costières De Nîmes 2018

Sara d’Amato – Nages’ organic blend is significantly expressive of this cooler southern pocket of featuring a distinctive freshness, textural intrigue, balance, mineral character and a mouth-filling tannic presence without heaviness. Made with a light-handed touch and offering with an authentic taste of place.

Il Grappolo Sassocheto Brunello Di Montalcino 2015, Tuscany, Italy
$56.95, DB Wine & Spirits

Il Grappolo Sassocheto Brunello Di Montalcino 2015

Michael Godel – From 20-plus year-old vines in the south-facing Piano Nero vineyard, planted at 300m near Sant’Angelo in Colle. Exacting sangiovese, as in Brunello that is just like looking in the territory’s mirror. Pure and harmonious with sly power. One of the great values of the year.

Quadrus Red 2015, Douro, Portugal
$22.95 Halpern Enterprises

Quadrus Red 2015

John Szabo – From vineyards in the heart of the Douro’s historic Cima Corgo, and selected by Toronto restaurateur Tony Amaro of Opus Restaurant, this is the finest vintage yet of Quadrus to reach our shores. It’s delicious now, but at the slow rate it seems to be evolving – showing very few signs of evolution 5 years in – I suspect this will sit comfortably in the cellar for a few years while gaining in savoury complexity.

Palacios Remondo La Vendimia 2019, Rioja, Spain
$18.95, Woodman Wines & Spirits

Palacios Remondo La Vendimia 2019

Michael Godel – The local garnacha is historically the dominant red grape in the zone but Alvaro Palacios believes in the striking of balance, with tempranillo working alongside. There is a sense of tradition here but the sheer fruit forward, open clarity, seamlessness and smooth consistency is so 21st century.

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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