Mid-Market Chardonnay

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Header-image-StephenBy Robert K Stephen (CSW)

(TORONTO, ON) – Chardonnay thrives in many a cool climate region. For years France was untouchable as the great altar of Chardonnay. This might have been a result of North Americans oaking their Chardonnay to the extent that the gentle and amiable nature of the Chardonnay was overcome by obscene amounts of oak.

It got so bad that at a point oak chips were added to the fermenting wine. This led to the ABC movement standing for “Anything but Chardonnay”.

The end result was a backlash by many producers that shied away from oak in favour of fermentation in stainless steel as opposed to oak barrels.

So, given this rationalization of Chardonnay, can the Americans beat the Canadians in the Chardonnay department, at mid market prices?

Through several formal and informal competitions, American and Canadian Chardonnay can best French Chardonnay.

Before we try a few of these Chardonnays, my thought is that Chardonnay now is a fairly consistently produced throughout the world. Sort of a generic, can’t really go wrong wine.

The Charles Smith Wines 2013 Eve Chardonnay is labelled Charles Smith-style with very catchy artwork. It is quite clear he is targeting the creative, or younger, generation who may be overwhelmed by traditional labelling.

Of course, as Eve is involved, there is on the label a huge black apple with a bite out of it. Nothing terribly notable can be expected from the wine as it is not produced in a particular AVA area, but from grapes purchased throughout Washington state.

Light gold in colour, on the nose a rather pedantic apple, pear, melon favour with a touch of cinnamon. Similar notes on the palate except, there is a bit of custard and key lime pie to deal with.

A short finish. A typical cool climate Chardonnay. Inoffensive, drinkable, but hardly memorable.

A Chardonnay floating in a sea of Chardonnay. (Eve Chardonnay 2013, Washington State, Charles Smith Wines, Mattawa, Washington, USA, 750 mL, 13%, LCBO #421099, $21.95, Square Media Group Rating 88/100)

The J Lohr 2013 Arroyo Secco Monterey Chardonnay is medium gold in colour. In the aroma department, bright apple and pear notes with a touch of banana and cinnamon.

On the palate, some definite tenacity like it wants you to notice it. However, it’s rather like tenacity and not too much else. If anything, rather like a pear tart on the palate if such a dessert exists.

Lots of heat but simplistic and one dimensional. (October Night J Lohr, Arroyo Secco Monterey Chardonnay 2013, J Lohr Winery, San Jose, California, 750 mL, 14.9%, $32.95, LCBO #225375, Square Media Group Rating 84/100) Night in the name refers to the fact the grapes were picked in the evening to preserve their freshness.

Featherstone has a Canadian oaked 2013 Chardonnay. Canadian oak is relatively new on the scene; French and American oak ruling the roost.

Light gold almost white. Fresh oak on the nose with raisin, pear, and apple. Some guava, ash, and peach too.

Carries oakiness on the palate in a smooth and consistent way with a smidgen of rum, Portuguese custard tarts, and persimmon, with a medium light finish.

The Canadian oak offers a fresh element to the Chardonnay. If you liked oaked Chardonnay make no mistake, Canadian oak is oak and its high toned and a bit nervous. (Featherstone Estate Winery 2013 Canadian Oak Chardonnay, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Featherstone Estate Winery, Vineland, Ontario, 750 mL, 12.5%, LCBO #149302, $21.95, Square Media Group Rating 86/100) This Canadian oak needs a few more years to settle down. Kudos to Featherstone for using our own oak. We just need 20 years or so to figure out how to use it.

From the celebrated Cave Spring we taste a 2013 Estate Bottled Chardonnay. Light gold in colour. Lively citrus notes on the nose accompanied by apple, pear, honey with a very gentle touch of oak and some guava.

Easy going on the palate, with a gentle nip of acidity. Tastes of white peach, guava, and apple. Short finish.

Let’s call this a mid-weight white and a dignified and very professional Chardonnay. Straightforward but, all said and done, it lacks complexity to take it up to the next level. (Cave Spring 2013 Estate Bottled Chardonnay, VQA Beamsville Bench, Cave Spring Vineyard, 750 mL, LCBO #256552, $18.95, Square Media Group Rating 89/100) Drink now. Best with simple roasted chicken, roast potatoes, and gravy.

For the last Yankee Chardonnay we turn to one produced by Franciscan Estate in California’s Napa Valley.

Light gold in colour with some apple and pear and zingy cinnamon on the palate, along with toasted charred wood. Holds its own the palate quite authoritatively.

It’s almost tropical with pineapple, guava, and a tiny hint of citrus with a gentle overlay of Mexican vanilla. A medium length finish with an almost imperceptible lightning bolt of subtle sweetness.

Bachelder ChardonayA nice little sipper and with some spine to handle poultry, whether in a cream sauce or just plain roasted. Good bang for the buck. (Franciscan Estate 2013 Napa Valley Chardonnay, Franciscan Estate, Oakville, California, 750 mL, 13.5%, LCBO #00496125, $24.95, Square Media Group Rating 91/100)

Lastly the Bachelder 2013 Niagara Chardonnay. Thomas Bachelder is heralded as an Ontario guru for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir after being head winemaker for so many years a Le Clos Jordanne in Niagara.

This Chardonnay is light golden coloured. Very well integrated oak gives it a certain raspiness on the palate. It’s firm and makes its presence known.

The aromas are somewhat evenly split between pear, citrus, and butterscotch. Very clean on the palate with a long finish. Its taste of lemon, guava, and a hint of black liquorice are set in a very gentle acidity making this an ideal sipping wine or as an accompaniment to mild cheese or even mildly prepared pork. (Bachelder 2013 Niagara Chardonnay, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Bachelder, Niagara-on-the-Lake, 750 mL, 13%, LCBO #00302083, $24.95, Square Media Group Rating 91/100)

As far as Chardonnay, Ontario has nothing to hide. An analysis at a higher price point with California, Oregon, and France might prove more interesting.