Thursday, June 2, 2011

Niagara’s Search for Cool Climate Chardonnay Mastery

A report from TasteCamp North, a special Niagara wine event on both sides of the border for wine writers.

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Chardonnay marker at Tawse.

When I think of the Niagara Peninsula, I dream of peppery Cabernet Franc, crisp Riesling and spicy Gewürztraminer. Of course the region is well known for its icewine and Baco Noir is in plentiful supply. But winemakers in the region refuse to be content with the status quo, experimenting with new techniques suitable for their cool climate.

Back in March 31 Canadian wineries participated in the “Seriously Cool Chardonnay” event in New York City to spotlight their success with cool climate Chard to a group of NYC wine critics. “What impressed them,” said Canadian wine writer Tony Aspler, “was the minerality and fine acidity they discovered in the wines – a refreshing change from fruit-driven California Chards.”

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Last course of a delicious meal at
Chateau des Charmes.
Chardonnay is the most widely produced VQA (Vintner Quality Alliance) wine in Ontario. Indeed, Ontario will be hosting I4C (International Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration) next month with educational events, lunches and wine tastings.

I must admit that Chardonnay is probably my third or fourth favorite white wine, lagging well behind Dry Riesling. My Chardonnay taste runs more to Chablis and I’m averse to overly oaked, buttery Chards.

That being said, we did taste some very intriguing Chardonnays during the trip. Two top shelf Chards for me were:
  • 2007 Chateau des Charmes Paul Bosc Estate Vineyard VQA St. David’s Bench. Niagara wine legend and CDC founder Paul Bosc doesn’t attach his name to a so-so wine. Aged sur lie with the right balance of fruit and oak.
  • 2005 Southbrook Poetica Chardonnay. A touch of vanilla with plenty of minerality.
Other Chards worth noting are:
  • 2008 Malivoire Moira Chardonnay
  • 2008 Le Clos Jordanne Claystone Terrace Chardonnay
  • 2009 Tawse Estate Chardonnay
I’m not sure that Chardonnay will ever supplant some of my Niagara favorites, but the world is thirsty for Chard. Niagara has a chance to develop its own identity here – foregoing the California profile. That might mean I’ll have a few extra bottles in my trunk as I cross the border for home.
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