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Founded in 2003 by Harald Thiel and family, Hidden Bench focuses on pinot noir, chardonnay and riesling, with limited quantities of other wines, produced from three estate vineyards in Beamsville, Ont. ​​

Steven Elphick/Courtesy of Hidden Bench Estate Winery

In the wake of travel and physical-distancing restrictions, the 10th anniversary of the International Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont., is taking on a different form. Instead of in-person tastings and social events featuring products from Canadian and international winemakers that specialize in producing the world’s most popular white wine, organizers are taking the festivities online.

A range of virtual, complimentary programming is planned for July 17 through July 19, including two webinars that make the educational School of Cool sessions available to a global audience for the first time.

Billed as the Homeschool edition, the first session offers a 10-year retrospective, featuring interviews with international experts and former attendees, such as wine writers Ian D’Agata, Matt Kramer and Karen McNeil as well as a keynote address by British communicator Andrew Jefford. The second presentation sees Canadian sommeliers and critics, such as Véronique Rivest and Brad Royale, debate the relative merits of cool-climate chardonnays made in the Chablis region of France as well as Ontario and New Zealand.

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Operated by 55 Ontario wineries, the International Cool Climate Celebration was modelled after the International Pinot Noir Celebration in Oregon. The Niagara weekend was designed to be equally educational and entertaining.

It was developed as an opportunity to showcase Niagara wine country to the world and draw attention to the distinctive style of crisp and complex chardonnays coming out of province’s cool-climate regions. Since the inaugural event, 226 wineries from 38 wine regions have participated. New ideas have taken root and the overall quality has shown marked improvement.

Anyone looking to participate in this year’s celebration can register for the webinars by visiting coolchardonnay.org. A series of videos from winemakers and chefs, will be posted leading up to and through the weekend via the celebration’s social media channels on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter .

Whether you’re able to join the virtual party or simply wish to explore the diversity of styles on offer, here are a selection of distinctive chardonnays to enjoy. Many of this week’s recommendations are producers who were primed to participate in the tastings and associated luncheons and dinners, including Ontario newcomer Therianthropy and established Okanagan player Tantalus. There are also two popular California labels to display the difference between the richer and riper expressions from warmer climates and the vibrant and refreshing styles from cooler regions.

Jean-Pierre Colas, a French native who worked at Domaine Laroche in Burgundy before coming to Niagara in 2000, produces a range of red, white and sparkling wine at 13th Street Winery.

Handout

13th Street Winery Blanc De Blanc Sparkling Wine 2017 (Canada)

rating out of 100

90

PRICE: $29.95

Made from 100-per-cent chardonnay grown in Lado Viscek’s vineyard near the 13th Street Winery in west St. Catharines, Ont., this is a fresh and intense traditional-method sparkling wine. Refreshingly dry, this is marked by green apple, lemon and lime flavours that are rounded out by some toast and cream notes on the finish. Drink now to 2024. Available direct through 13thstreetwinery.com.

Cave Spring Cellars Chardonnay CSV Estate Bottled 2018 (Canada)

rating out of 100

92

PRICE: $29.95

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This rewarding chardonnay comes from a well-established vineyard on Niagara’s Beamsville Bench, with an average vine age of 45 years, which naturally produce lower yields of grapes, resulting in more concentrated and complex wines. A mix of tank- and barrel-fermented wines, this is an appealingly fresh, ripe and rich style of chardonnay with toast and cream notes that contribute complexity to the mix of fresh and juicy fruit flavours. Drink now to 2028. Available direct through cavespring.ca.

Hidden Bench Estate Winery Felseck Vineyard Chardonnay 2017 (Canada)

rating out of 100

93

PRICE: $42

Acquired in 2007 and certified organic, the Felseck vineyard’s chardonnay has quickly established itself as one of the most dynamic wines in the Hidden Bench portfolio. This impressive white wine offers richness, complexity and intensity. The mix of smoky, toasty and bright citrusy character is tantalizing, complex and complete. This is a delicious wine right now that promises to mature gracefully over the next four to six years. Available direct through hiddenbench.com.

Kendall-Jackson Vintner’s Reserve Chardonnay 2018 (United States)

rating out of 100

90

PRICE: $21.95

Kendall-Jackson’s popular chardonnay has changed with the times, with more bright and buoyant acidity in the mix to give a lift to the crowd-pleasing ripe fruit and rich oak-derived notes. You can still expect a smooth and mouth-filling style, which has made it a top-selling white wine across North America, but with more refreshing lemon and pineapple on the palate to cut through the vanilla, butterscotch and luscious fruit notes. Drink now to 2023. Available in Ontario at the above price ($19.95 until July 19), $24.49 in British Columbia, various price in Alberta, $19.99 in Manitoba, $18.85 in Quebec.

Malivoire Wine Mottiar Chardonnay 2018 (Canada)

rating out of 100

91

PRICE: $34.95

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Every wine released by Malivoire is guided and influenced by the hand of winemaker Shiraz Mottiar, but it’s only natural to presume this chardonnay from his own vineyard gets special attention. This is a richer and riper style of Niagara chardonnay, with a soft and round character that features yellow apple, pear and honey notes, with a fresh finish. A small-batch release, only 60 cases of this rewarding wine were bottled. Vegan-friendly. Drink now to 2024. Available direct through malivoire.com.

Mer Soleil Reserve Chardonnay Santa Lucia Highlands 2018 (United States)

rating out of 100

89

PRICE: $34.95

The Santa Lucia Highlands enjoy cooling breezes from Monterey Bay that help grapes retain freshness and focus. Nevertheless, this quintessential California chardonnay offers layers of flavour and smooth, rewarding texture. It’s a richer, decadent style that maintains balance and harmony. Drink now to 2023. Available in Ontario at the above price, $34.95 ($29.95 until Aug. 1) in British Columbia, various prices in Alberta, $37.99 in New Brunswick.

The old-vine riesling and pinot noirs at Tantalus Vineyards often overshadow its complex chardonnays.

Handout

Tantalus Vineyards Chardonnay 2017 (Canada)

rating out of 100

91

PRICE: $27.83

Tantalus winemaker David Patterson has been a frequent guest at the Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration, using the opportunity to network and promote the exciting wines coming from this Kelowna, B.C.-based winery. While the attention-grabbing old-vines riesling and pinot noirs from the site often overshadow the quality and complexity of Tantalus’s chardonnays, this delicious white is equally worthy of your attention. Made from an old block of chardonnay vines planted in 1985, this is rich, refreshing and really enjoyable. Drink now to 2027. Available direct through tantalus.ca.

Therianthropy Bonnie Vivant Chardonnay Bock Vineyard 2019 (Canada)

rating out of 100

91

PRICE: $29.95

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This year’s cool-climate chardonnay celebration promised to be a first look at this exciting Ontario newcomer. Therianthropy is building its winery in Creemore, Ont., near Georgian Bay, with a vineyard planted with hearty grape varieties, including zweigelt and gruner veltliner. The partners responsible are taking a different approach, which is evident in this lively and distinctive chardonnay made from a single vineyard in Niagara-on-the-Lake. Unoaked, unfined, unfiltered and fermented with ambient yeast (a so-called wild fermentation as no yeast strains were added), this is a mouth-filling and appealingly textured white wine, with attractive fruit, honey and stony notes that carry through to a clean, refreshing finish. Drink now. Available direct, sold as six packs or 12 bottle cases, through therianthropy.wine.

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