A Wine Lover’s Diary, Part 553: i4C

i4C program

Monday, July 13th: Took the day off to watch the PanAm men’s and women’s squash doubles down at Exhibition Centre. The squash they played is a different game than I used to play. For dinner with chicken pasta, Kacaba Reserve Merlot 2010.

Tuesday, July 14th: Decided to make notes for a new novel since work is slow at the moment. It’s set in Germany during World War II.

Wednesday, July 15th: Spent the morning picking up the Gaja wines from the Italian Consulate and delivering them to the house to be cellared where the Gaia Gaja dinner will be held on October 26th; then dropped off old Grapes for Humanity files at our storage locker on Adelaide Street West. Then to Grano for lunch with Sandy Ward to discuss the use of social media for the Ontario Wine Awards. With a pizza, a bottle of Villa Medoro Rosso del Duca Montepulciano d’Abruzzo (N/V).

Thursday, July 16th: Spent the day inputting wine reviews to the website for July 25th Vintages’ release. At 7 pm drove down to White Oaks Resort in Niagara-on-the-Lake so I could attend the morning session of the Fifth Annual International Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration.

C is for cork

Friday, July 17th: Up at 7 am for get ready for the first session of i4C, a sold-out event with 350 people in attendance. The keynote speaker is Matt Kramer of the Wine Spectator. Matt is the perfect keynote speaker bound to get people’s hackles rising. Here are some quotes from his address: “Chardonnay is a way to say I’d like a glass of white wine.” “There are two styles of Chardonnay. Chardonnay of cosmetics and Chardonnays of consequence…. We all know that there are more things get done to Chardonnay than any other wine. You (Ontario winemakers) have the capacity to make Chardonnay of consequence.” He spoke of “luminosity of flavour… if they blend they lose that luminosity… Your wines are privileged to have that element of surprise. All great wines are wines of consequence.” We then tasted eight Chardonnays.

The panellist were asked to define what cool climate is all about.

Panelists: Virginia Willcox, chief winemaker of Vasse Felix, Margaret River. “Chardonnay is a chameleon… for a cool climate wine we’re on the edge.”

Virginia Willcox, Vass Felix chief winemaker 

Marco Piccoli, winemaker Jackson-Triggs, Niagara: “Cool climate Chardonnays are inclined to have high acidity and lower alcohol.”

Rajat Parr, winemaker of Sandhi and Evening Land Vineyards: “Chardonnay grapes taste of almost nothing… there are two type of climates where you can grow Chardonnay. Is it cool and long or cool at the end of the growing season? Cool climate, primary citrus flavours; warmer climates tropical flavours.”

Marlize Byers, winemaker at Hidden Bench, Niagara: “We have variability of vintages. Maybe we should call ourselves a variable climate… Regardless of the geography the character of the wine is an expression of the site… The flavour you typically see here, apple and stone fruit.”

Anthony Hamilton-Russell, Hamilton Russell Vineyards, South Africa: “I’m less fixed on soil type than climate… I’m much more in favour of a long cool growing season.”

Dr. Gary Pickering, COOVI: “Chardonnay is a manufactured product… Flavour is a psychological construct, it all happens up here (in your head). Experience, expectation, emotion all impact on flavour. Taste, smell and mouth feel. There are many hundreds of phenolics that can affect taste… 12 or 13 aromas in Chardonnay… so much starts at the winery door (in terms of the choices winemakers make)…”

Moderator John Szabo asked us to guess if the eight wines in front of us were Old World or New World by holding up either a red or a green card.

  • Two Sisters Chardonnay Unoaked 2013
  • Niagara College Teaching Winery Unoaked Chardonnay 2012
  • Evening Land Vineyards Seven Springs Vineyard La Source Chardonnay 2012
  • Hamilton Russell Vineyards Chardonnay 2013
  • Hidden Bench Chardonnay 2013
  • Sandhi Bentrock Chardonnay 2012
  • Vasse Felix Heytsbury Chardonnay 2013
  • Gerard Bertrand Aigle Royal Chardonnay 2013

Second session: “Does Minerality Exist?” Alex Maltman, professor of Earth Sciences, Aberystwyth University (Wales). “Minerality – It is not the taste of geological minerals in the vineyard.” “The nutrient minerals in wine are not detectable. The concentrations are too small to taste… Whatever minerality is, it is not the taste of minerals in the vineyard rocks and soils.”

J-L Groulx, Winemaker, Stratus: “Some people talk about taste, some of aromatics. The descriptors are related to two different concepts. We don’t have the ability to measure it yet.”

Albrecht Seeger, grape Grower: “Minerality is what the soil contributes and what happens in the winery.”

Paul Pender, winemaker at Tawse: “I’m a believer in terroir. I really believe the vineyards have an impact on the wine. In every bottle there are thousand decisions that you make along the way.”

Dave Keatley, director of winemaking, Flowers Vineyard, Sonoma Coast: “Is it a catch-all phrase? …Soils do matter. Dry extract is a way of measuring what the vine is up-taking (in geological minerals).”

Jeremy Dineen, chief winemaker, Josef Chromy (Tasmania): “Culturally people have different perceptions of minerality: some taste graphite, lead. The French think of minerality as zingy, fresh (acidic). It can almost be described as a loss of fruit.”

Matt Kramer: “I believe in minerality. I celebrate it… at least we’re looking for it. I believe scientists know nothing about wine. We have been bullied by science and scientists… I accept the veracity of the senses. Minerality is real, trust your senses.” (That’s what sent off the scientists in the room and on the twitter-verse.)

Then we had a tasting of wines to vote on whether we consider each to be mineral or not. Not a lot of consensus here.

  • Flowers Vineyard Meeting Ridge Chardonnay 2012
  • Josef Chromy Chardonnay 2014
  • Stratus Vineyards Chardonnay 2013
  • Tawse Quarry Road Vineyard 2012
  • Adelsheim Vineyards Caitlin’s Reserve 2012
  • Malivoire Moira Chardonnay 2012
  • Pearl Morissette Chardonnay Dix-neufieme 2010
  • Vie de Romans Chardonnay 2013

Lunch. Met up with Matt Kramer and he told me he took a copy of Death on the Douro with him to the Douro Valley.

Matt Kramer and Magdalena Kaiser

After lunch seminar: All that Sparkles. The sparkling wine panel:

Belinda Kemp, CCOVI: “Wine that has no dosage has a lot more bubbles.” The discussion is about oxidative versus reductive winemaking.

Xavier Rousset MS: “If you treat them (champagne) in an oxidative way they are dead after 10 years.”

Bernard Sparr (Pierre Sparr): “Crémant production goes up every year – up 25%. Chardonnay accounts for 1% of grape production in Alsace.”

Paul Speck (Henry of Pelham): “All things are about balance. We’re experimenting with more time on the lees and fresher sparkling rosé.”

Philip Dowell (winemaker, Angels Gate): “I don’t encourage oxidation. Lees ageing softens the wine. Chardonnay is by far the best variety for sparkling wine in Ontario.”

Then a tasting of the four wines in front of us:

  • Angels Gate Archangel 2012
  • Vina Requingua Arken Brut Chardonnay 2011
  • Cave Spring Blanc de Blancs (NV)
  • Pierre Sparr Crémant Brut Clos Ste-Odile (N/V)

Second flight (re: yeast autolysis). 2nd fermentation in the bottle takes six to eight weeks. Autolysis (ageing on the lees) begins six months after bottling. Dosage and sugar levels: sugar and CO2 have a big effect on flavour. Sparkling wine closures: younger wines come in under crown cap but the consumer wants sparkling under cork. New oak and relatively new oak in Champagne is a hot topic. But too much new oak reduces autolysis. Veuve Clicquot and Pol Roger use no oak at all. Taittinger rarely uses oak, a few percent of reserve wines are kept in oak vats to keep roundness in the wine. Interesting note: UV light causes sparkling wine to gush.

  • Cuvée Jean Bourdy Crémant de Jura (NV)
  • Henry of Pelham Cuvee Catherine Blanc de Blancs Carte Blanche 2010 (the dosage they use is old bottles of Chardonnay they keep back)
  • Angels Gate Archangel 2008 (disgorged yesterday)
  • Champagne Taittinger Comtes de Champagne Blanc de Blancs 2005

Awash in Chardonnays

After lunch I spent time in the press room tasting a raft of Chardonnays:

  • Berton Vineyards Metal Range Chardonnay 2014 (Eden Valley, Australia – $16.95): sweet and sour, a manufactured wine. (86)
  • Caves Jean Bourdy AOC Cotes du Jura White 2010 (Jura – $30): deeply coloured, oxidative, floral, dried peach flavour with a nutty finish. (88+)
  • Cusumano Jale 2012 (Sicily – $24.95): deeply coloured; developing barnyard notes, tropical fruit with toasty oak with a roasted note. (88+)
  • Cusumano Angimbe 2014 (Sicily – $16.95): better balanced than Jale – peach and mango flavours. (90)
  • Domaine Laroche Chablis Les Vaudevey 2012 (Burgundy – $39): minerally, vanilla, apple nose; well structured, beautifully balanced. (91)
  • Domaine Laroche Chablis Saint Martin 2013 (Burgundy – $25): crisply dry, apple and lemon flavours. (88)
  • Domaine Queylus Chardonnay Reserve 2013 (Niagara – $39.95): ripe, nectarine and lemon flavours with well integrated oak. (90)
  • Domaine Queylus Chardonnay Tradition 2013 (Niagara – $24.95): cashew nuts, citrus flavour, volatile note. (87+)
  • Evening Land Seven Springs Vineyard La Source Chardonnay 2012 (Oregon – $94): floral, pear and apple flavours, lovely texture. (91)
  • Evening Land Eola-Amity Hills Chardonnay 2012 (Oregon – $59): light straw colour; forest floor nose; dry, apple-pear and lemon flavours, light oak influence. (89)
  • Flowers Vineyard & Winery Camp Meeting Ridge Chardonnay 2012 (California – $129.95): rich, high toned, tropical fruit. (90)
  • Flowers Sonoma Coast Chardonnay 2013 (California – $64.95): well-balanced, elegant, rich and full on the palate. (92)
  • Gerard Bertrand Domaine de L’Aigle 2013 (Languedoc-Roussillon – $32.95): well balanced, dry, nicely balanced with a lively acidity; good length. (89)
  • Hamilton Russell Vineyards Chardonnay 2013 (South Africa – $45): Some bound-in sulphur here dumbing down fruit. Don’t know where this wine is going.
  • Josef Chromy Chardonnay 2014 (Tasmania – $32.95): Burgundian style nose, exciting acidity, orange and apple flavours. (91)
  • Josef Chromy Pepik Chardonnay 2014 (Tasmania – $21.95): forest floor nose and vanilla oak; sweetish with lively acidity. (88+)
  • L’Ecole No. 41 Columbia Valley Chardonnay 2013 (Washington – $22): Intense, ripe, tropical fruit, full-bodied, powerful. (89)
  • Maycas Del Limari Reserva Especial Chardonnay 2014 (Chile – $18.95): good fruit intensity with fresh acidity. (88)
  • Maycas Del Limari Sumaq Chardonnay 2014 (Chile – $14.95): oaky, ripe tropical fruit; moderate length. (87)
  • Vasse Felix Heytesbury Chardonnay 2013 (Margaret River – $69): still some sulphur but ag great wine underneath. Decant. Lovely balance and weight, apple and citrus flavours. (91)
  • Vasse Felix Filius Chardonnay 2013 (Margaret River – $25): bound-in sulphur, needs airing. There’s a good wine under that sulphur blanket. (88–90)
  • Westcott Estate Chardonnay 2013 (Ontario – $26): forest floor, spicy oak, apple nose; ripe peach backed by toasty oak. (89)
  • Westcott Lillias Chardonnay 2013 (Ontario – $20): similar nose to the Estate; softer on the palate with a touch more residual. (88)

Josef Chromy Tasmanian Cuvée NV

In the evening we were bussed to 13th Street Winery for “Barrels & Bonfires” and the traditional pig roast. Because the threat of rain the barrel-top tasting of all 58 participating wineries was held in the winery’s greenhouse. By this time I was dying for some red wine so Craig DeBlois, the agent for 13th Street, took Alder Yarrow and me into the winery shop to taste some Gamays and a Syrah – otherwise I might have bitten my wrist.

Tasting in the greenhouse

Saturday, July 18th: A sultry hot day. An early email from Peter Gamble invited me to an impromptu tasting of Benjamin Bridge wines in one of the hotel’s meeting rooms. About a dozen winemakers were sitting around the table to hear winemaker Jean-Benoit Deslauriers lead us through a tasting of Benjamin Bridge Vero 2013 and Benjamin Bridge Brut Reserve 2008. He told us that the dry extract in the 2008 is twice as high as that of Dom Pérignon. The wine is a blend of 60% Chardonnay and 40% Pinot Noir, six years on the lees with 9 grams sugar dosage. (Lemony, green apple with a biscuit note. 92–93).

Jean-Benoit Deslauriers, Benjamin Bridge winemaker

Alder and I were driven by limousine to Trius for an event called “Sabre & Savour.” Bottles of Trius Brut were sabred and served in Riedel’s new sparkling wine glass. We had a chilled glass of Trius Wild Ferment Sauvignon Blanc 2013 before dividing up into three groups to attend three tastings led by winemakers. Our group attended Jean-François Bourdy’s tasting in the cellar of Caves Jean Bourdy Crémant du Jura Brut (N/V), a Chardonnay sparkler (apple, honey flavours with a creamy mouth-feel (89)). The Bourdy family has been making wine since 1485 and are one of the ten oldest wine families in France. Their cellar contains 30,000 bottles of old wine dating back to 1781.

Jean-François Bourdy

Our next tasting was conducted by Jeremy Dineen, chief winemaker at Josef Chromy in Tasmania. We tasted Josef Chromy Sparkling (NV) – 65% Pinot Noir/35% Chardonnay (dry, crab apple and pear flavours). Finally we moved to Trius’ sparkling wine cellar, where winemaker Craig McDonald served Trius 5 Blanc de Noir 2009 (a blend of Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, 5 years on the lees – toasty, raspberry, citrus and leather nose; well-balanced, dry and firm with a red apple flavour and great texture (91)).

Trius winemaker Craig McDonald

Lunch followed, about 60 of us at two long tables at which the following wines were served: Josef Chromy Chardonnay 2014 (rich, spicy, peach with lively lemony acidity; full-bodied, green pineapple flavour; great length (90+)); Trius Wild Ferment Chardonnay Oliviera Vineyard 2012 (golden colour; vanilla, spicy oak nose; broad, full-bodied, tropical fruit flavours backed by toasty oak, finishing on a clovey note (90)); and Jean Bourdy White 2009 (old gold colour; high-toned nose, spicy and oxidative apple with a floral grace note; mature flavours of dried peach and green nuts with a touch of bitterness on the finish (89+)). With dessert, Trius Brut Rosé (deep pink – more of a pale ruby – colour, dry, easy drinking, cherry flavour (87+)).

Trius’s lunch menu

After lunch, back to the hotel to change and freshen up for the evening event – “Cool Chardonnay World Tour.” A table-top tasting in the grounds of Ridley College with all the wineries. Everyone made a beeline for the Taittinger table and then to the oyster tent and Imant Malins’ amazing Fat Chance Hand-Sliced Smoked Salmon. We sat down for dinner in the college grounds with servers bringing the wines to the tables.

Oysters at Cool Chardonnay World Tour

Sunday, July 19th: Up early to drive back to Toronto in order to walk Pinot T. Wonderdog. Deborah had left at 6 am for her Pan Am volunteer duties. A great weekend of Chardonnay and there is no question that Ontario Chardonnays can stand next to the wines of the world without a blush.

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