If you’re into the geeky twilight zone of wine, you may be aware of the Summer of Riesling. It’s a global campaign launched in 2008 by ex-Torontonian Paul Grieco of New York’s Hearth Restaurant and Terroir Wine Bars in New York. Grieco loves riesling, the zesty and sometimes sweet noble white grape.
So much for summer. These past four months for me will go down as the Winter of Chardonnay. I have been craving the full-bodied white (sorry, zippy riesling). Rich, round, buttery-toasty chardonnay is the great white for the Great White North, at least in winter.
Here’s my reason for the intense devotion of late: my driveway. It’s long and unfortunately too narrow for a hired-gun snowplow. Ever had to clear an Athabasca-Glacier-sized field of ice and snow each week without the advantage of, say, the Toro Power Max HD 1128 OXO ElectriStart Snow Blower (which I just spotted in a flyer and intend to buy this spring when it’s discounted from the winter-high price of $2,500)?
A couple of nights a week I’ve been entering the house from manual-plowing duty with a thirst for something gusty and warm. You might think whisky. But I’m sweaty and panting, in need of brisk refreshment. In principle, I would not turn down hearty beer, especially not a bracing pale ale or rich stout. Problem is, dinner will be on the table and gut-filling beer is not my stomach’s idea of the ideal aperitif.
Two of the better chardonnays I sampled over the past couple of weeks happen to come from our land of snow. Bachelder Wismer Vineyard from Niagara is not cheap at almost $45. But I’d say it’s not overpriced given the competition from the United States, Burgundy and beyond. It also happens to be made by Thomas Bachelder, a Canadian who crafts chardonnays in Oregon and Burgundy. Another Niagara star: G. Marquis The Silver Line Chardonnay. It’s a high-end brand from the successful direct-sales specialist Magnotta, headquartered in the Toronto suburb of Vaughan. And at $17.95, the G. Marquis won’t cut drastically into my savings toward that Toro Power Max. Thank you, Magnotta.
Bachelder Wismer Vineyard Chardonnay 2010 (Ontario)
SCORE: 93 PRICE: $44.95
This wine has been getting better since I tasted it last summer – or maybe I just love it more in winter. I scored it 92 in July and now I think it merits 93. The oak is beautifully integrated into its tropical fruit, butter and baked-apple core. And a glorious roasted-nut quality is beginning to emerge, as often occurs with the finest white Burgundies, against which I would compare this fine Canadian white. There’s brown butter on the finish for added depth and wintry appeal. Available in Ontario.
Kistler McCrea Vineyard Athearn Estate Chardonnay 2011 (California)
SCORE: 93 PRICE: $97.95
You may balk at the price if you are like most people who earn less than the gross domestic product of a Balkan republic. But this is the sort of stuff white-wine zealots prize, a bottling with a track record for improving with, say, up to eight years in the cellar. Kistler’s McCrea Vineyard is medium-full bodied, with a delectable core of tropical fruit, cold butter, vanilla and flowers. If you give it time to speak, you might detect a faintly toasty impression on the upper palate and nasal cavity and a stony-smoky finish. Available in Ontario.
G. Marquis The Silver Line Chardonnay 2011 (Ontario)
SCORE: 91 PRICE: $17.95
Gabe Magnotta, the late and distinguished Ontario-wine entrepreneur, shares initials with this premium spinoff label, launched by Magnotta winery a few years ago. The Silver Line chardonnay represents excellent value the money. Like the Bachelder above, it puts me in mind of Burgundy, and that’s always a good thing. Full-bodied, it displays notes of buttered popcorn, caramel and vanilla on a well-balanced frame kicked up by toasty oak and fresh acidity. Distributed in Alberta by Bacchus.
Domaine du Chardonnay Vaillons Chablis Premier Cru 2010 (France)
SCORE: 91 PRICE: $29.95
Chablis is the northern satellite region of Burgundy, the world’s chardonnay capital. It’s also associated with the most vibrant, refreshing chardonnays anywhere. This high-end premier cru happens to be silky with chewy, candied fruit. Available in Ontario.
Marchand Tawse Meursault 2011 (France)
SCORE: 91 PRICE: $66.95
Meursault-on-a-diet, this mid-weight chardonnay dishes up chewy, tropical fruit lightened by lime zest and crisp acidity, with a nuance of buttered popcorn in the background. From the team of Niagara’s Moray Tawse and Pascal Marchand, ex-Montreal wine-making star in Burgundy. Available in Ontario.
Joseph Drouhin Mâcon-Villages 2012 (France)
SCORE: 89 PRICE: $17.95
Smooth for white Burgundy and a relative value, it’s mediumbodied, with soft pear and tropical fruit laced with butterscotch and framed by clean acidity. Imported in Alberta by Pacific Wine & Spirits.
Simi Russian River Valley Reserve Chardonnay 2011 (California)
SCORE: 90 PRICE: $31.95
The Simi reserve is unapologetically Californian, with a full body and round, rich, ripe fruit wrapped in toffee and no shortage of vanilla. That will no doubt make it appealing to many consumers, though it’s a whisper on the heavy side for my ideal chardonnay experience. Available in Ontario.
Wente Morning Fog Chardonnay 2012 (California)
SCORE: 89 PRICE: $16.96
Here’s a well-crafted chardonnay – full-bodied, round and smooth – in the classically ample California style. Red apple, tropical fruit and vanilla get support from butter and fresh acidity. $18.99 in B.C., $15.60 in Manitoba and $19.65 in Quebec.
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The Flavour Principle, by Lucy Waverman and Beppi Crosariol, was named best Canadian Food & Drinks Book in the 2014 Gourmand World Cookbook Awards. Published by HarperCollins.