Szabo’s VINTAGES Preview – July 7th, 2018

“…an event that has become a highlight on the annual wine calendar since its inception in 2011.”


by John Szabo, MSWineAlign, June 29, 2018

Long-time WineAlign readers will already be familiar with the i4C, an event that has become a highlight on the annual wine calendar since its inception in 2011. This year, 63 Winemakers from ten countries will be pouring 165 wines in Niagara from July Friday July 20th to Sunday July 22nd.

I’m afraid this report may be too late as the i4C website already indicates that several events are sold out. But if you don’t want to miss out on the rest of the action, get your tickets now to the remaining events. Highlights still open include the Friday evening FLIGHTS OF CHARDONNAY event at the Niagara District Airport (update: now wait list only), and the grandest tasting of them all, the COOL CHARDONNAY WORLD TOUR TASTING & DINNER Saturday night at Ridley College, St. Catharines, Ontario. My personal favorite is the Sunday morning MOVEABLE FEAST BRUNCH at Ravine Vineyard, complete with competitive table tennis and an occasional live music performance by local wine writers (update: sold out).

Also of note for the particularly keen is the all-day Friday symposium, THE SCHOOL OF COOL – VITICULTURAL AND WINEMAKING SESSIONS at the White Oaks Resort. I’ll be down as usual to help moderate these educational sessions, which this year feature a fascinating exploration of sensory perception led by internationally celebrated journalist and scientist Jamie Goode (who also joined us again at the National Wines Awards of Canada this month in Penticton, BC).

Respected educator and sharp palate Peter Rod will lead a panel through a deep and practical experience of matching different styles of chardonnay with cheese, while I’ll be leading a group of top winemakers through a session on the evolution of how chardonnay is treated in the winery, in light of a worldwide pendulum swing from the hey-day of heavily oaked, toasty, buttery chardonnay to a decidedly less woody, flinty style. Some tickets are still available.

For those who will be heading down to the i4C, we’ve picked out a few top local and international examples below to seek out over the weekend. Take the opportunity to meet the winemakers, who will be there pouring all weekend. It’s always an enriching experience.

And for those unable to make it down, well, you can simply buy the wines and enjoy them in your backyard. Most are from the VINTAGES July 7th release, while others, marked “Winery”, are Ontario wines that I tasted and loved during the National Wine Awards (N.B. these are not official winners – the NWAC awards will be announced in the coming weeks) and are available for shipping right to your door. That is, if you live in Ontario.

July 7th Buyer’s Guide

Ontario Cool Climate Chardonnay

2016 Closson Chase Vineyard Chardonnay, VQA Prince Edward County ($29.95)

John Szabo – Closson Chase is coming into its own, and this 2016 is a fine example. It’s clean and delicate, neither particularly fruity nor woody, indeed more stony, with fine complexity. The palate is well proportioned, mid-weight, creamy yet sharp, with genuine flavour intensity and length. Showing quite well at the moment I must say, but don’t be afraid to cellar another 3-4 years.

Sara d’Amato – The low-yielding, stony soils of Closson Chase’s home vineyards result in both tension and ripeness in the wines. The warmer 2016 vintage showcases the opulence of which this fruit is capable of producing. This incarnation takes a cleaner, more fruit-centric approach than the Closson Chase of old and has both class and wide appeal.

2016 Westcott Estate Chardonnay, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Niagara Peninsula ($27.95)

John Szabo – The best release yet from Westcott in my view, the first from home vineyards on the cooler Vinemount Ridge appellation, which helped to compensate for the warmth of the vintage and yielded a nicely pitched example. It seems a little tighter and less woody than some previous releases, and better balanced and succulent as a result. Length and depth are very good. A satisfying, fruitier style chardonnay all in all, for current enjoyment or short-term cellaring.

Sara d’Amato – An affordable, premium calibre chardonnay from one of Niagara’s younger wineries. Although the Westcott family established themselves in Vinemount Ridge a decade ago, their first vintage was not until 2012. The 2016 showcases how grownup their vineyards have become and how sophisticated their wines have come to be.

David Lawrason – From young vines and a relatively new ambitious family project focused on chardonnay and pinot up on Vinemount Ridge, this shows complex aromas of toast, hazelnut and baked apple. Quite smooth and well balanced in a slightly leaner, cool clime style. Wanted a bit more fruit depth and length for a 90-rating, but close.

Château des Charmes 2015 Chardonnay St. David’s Bench Vineyard, Niagara Escarpment ($23.95)

John Szabo – Always decent value in Ontario chardonnay, this 2015 is particularly appealing. It’s clearly ripe in the St. David’s Bench style (one of the warmest Niagara sub-appellations), with notable creamy wood influence (also the house style) and in this case both oxi and reductive notes. The palate really pulls it together with its lovely texture, deep and rich, creamy but sharp, with long finish and high flavour intensity. Has a bit of an oak-aged Chablis-feel to it. (WINERY)

Ravine Vineyard 2015 Reserve Chardonnay, St. David’s Bench, Niagara Escarpment ($55.00)

John Szabo – Another excellent example from St. David’s Bench, the estate vineyard at Ravine, rendered here in a beautifully balanced oxidative-reductive (both volatile-acetic and flinty at once) guise with high complexity. The palate is juicy and zesty, with great acids, concentrated and deep, and great length. too. (WINERY)

Hidden Bench 2015 Chardonnay Tête de Cuvée, Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula ($48.00)

John Szabo – Hidden Bench’s full range of chardonnays are all excellent, and this top cuvée in 2015, mainly from old vines in the Rosomel vineyard further subjected to barrel selection, is particularly impressive. It’s perfectly crisp and balanced, fresh yet rich, with a marvellous mix of citrus and orchard fruit flavours and integrated wood. Really top notch. (WINERY)

Michael Godel – If you’ve never had the pleasure of a moment alone with a Hidden Bench chardonnay it is here where you’ve come to the right place, vintage and bottle for which to begin the relationship. As full, flavourful and generous of cool-climate chardonnay spirit as it has ever shown, the 2016 Estate work is pure, unbridled and effortless genius. Spend $10 more on Bench chardonnay like this and you’ll be drinking properly every time out. At this reduced rate it’s an absolute steal.

Tawse 2015 Chardonnay South Bay Vineyard, Prince Edward County ($34.95)

John Szabo – Chardonnay is the strongest suit within Tawse’s ever-expanding portfolio of wines. I’m especially fond of the Quarry Road bottling (there’s still some of the excellent 2013 kicking around). But this South Bay vineyard is surely worth a look. It’s an unusual bottling, born of a successful experimental exchange of fruit between Tawse and PEC producer Huff in 2013, and always interesting to see winemaker Paul Pender’s Niagara interpretation of County fruit. The style has tightened up it seems, delivering fine pear flavours and moderate oak on an open and fragrant, balanced and fleshy palate. Long and delicious. (WINERY)

Malivoire Mottiar Chardonnay 2013, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario ($39.95)

Michael Godel – There is something about this land, hard to really put a finger on it but the wines made by Shiraz from his namesake vineyard stand out, even in a line-up of Malivoire chardonnay. All has come together; cool-vintage, once cloudy and now clarified fruit. Generosity of wood, now eased and withdrawn. Acidity tempered, stretched and supportive. It’s like perfectly in season and expertly poached lobster in drawn with deft ability, clarified butter. Or just drink it with such a thing.

Bachelder Wismer Vineyard #2 “Foxcroft Block” Chardonnay 2015, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario ($22.95)

Michael Godel – Wismer-Foxcroft delivers a simpatico and workable growing season for Thomas Bachelder to craft a sensible, unpresumptuous, repeatable and perfectly balanced chardonnay in 2015. The togetherness of another classic Bachelder fresh glade and generous barrel note front is equally centred but I don’t envision much movement or morphisms any time soon. The palate is all about the liquefaction of the kept solids having settled into textural precipitate so that pleasure is derived more by sips than smells. That’s a fine thing from chardonnay, especially from one as much Beauned as it is Niagarafied. The happenstance of fine spicy bytes mark the last moments with the ad hoc and scrupulous WFN2

International Cool Climate Chardonnay

Domaine Drouhin 2015 Arthur Chardonnay Dundee Hills, Willamette Valley, Oregon ($40.95)

John Szabo – The Drouhin family was the first Burgundian investor in Oregon back in the late 1980s, and the wines have been among the regional leaders ever since. ‘Arthur’ comes from the original plot of Dijon clones planted in 1990 on the Dundee Hills estate. The 2015 is clean and fragrant, nice and open, unusually aromatic for the variety to be sure, and inviting. The palate is fleshy, ripe but fresh, with moderate oak influence (part is fermented in barrel and the rest in stainless steel) and fruit spans a wide spectrum from ripe citrus (orange, tangerine), though white and yellow fleshed orchard fruit. Great length. Best 2018-2025.

David Lawrason – This is a very streamlined, subtle and underplayed chardonnay to the point some might find it simple at first pass. It is very finely honed if reserved with oak way in the background and pretty fruit and florals on centre stage – nectarine, acacia and gentle spice with minerality showing on the finish. It is medium-full bodied, balanced and complete with excellent length. Tasted June 2018

Hamilton Russell 2017 Chardonnay WO Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, Walker Bay, South Africa ($44.95)

John Szabo – Walker bay pioneer Hamilton-Russel continue to move in the front peloton, and this follow up to the excellent 2016 is already nicely open, perfumed, fragrant, with fruit slipping into the tropical spectrum – pineapple, peaches in syrup, nectarine, even some guava – unusually fruity for chardonnay. The palate is straighter, however, quite tightly wound, with high acids containing a creamy frame, as has been the case in past vintages, and very good length. Definitely worth exploring, and holding mid-term in the cellar. Best 2018-2025.

David Lawrason – One of the priciest chardonnays of South Africa perhaps but it easily competes with and outshines many other global chardonnays at the price. This is a very complex, cohesive chardonnay that shows restraint, tension and finesse. Expect well distributed aromas and flavours of fine toast, spice, peach pit and stoniness that extend of almost outstanding length.

Sara d’Amato – A consistently elegant and authentic chardonnay sourced from Hemel-en-Aarde, a sub-appellation of Walker Bay that features a cool maritime climate. The wine shows distinctive purity of fruit, a light yeasty character and a chalky mineral texture. Well defined, precise and with very good balance.

Kellerei St. Magdalena 2017 Chardonnay DOC Alto Adige Alto Adige/Trentino, Italy ($18.95)

John Szabo – Here’s a sharp little value in cool climate chardonnay from the cooperative in Bolzano, with fine appley flavours and nicely mid-weight, firm-fleshy palate. Fine length too. Lots of appeal here – a great ‘party’ wine selection.

Sara d’Amato – A more than competent chardonnay for under $20 with complex appeal. The balance between fruit and acid gives the wine a deliciously nervy edge. Generous floral notes along with green apple and a salty profile contribute to the notable depth and personality of this high altitude chardonnay.

Marcel Cabelier 2014 Vieilles Vignes Chardonnay, AP Côtes du Jura, France ($19.95)

John Szabo – A Jura chardonnay in the ‘ouillé’ style, which is to say made in fully topped up barrels (unlike wines aged in partially topped barrels exposed to ogygen that lead to the classic oxidative Jura style). That said, it’s showing marked maturity, offering more nutty, lightly caramelized aromatics, alongside baked citrus and dried apple flavours. Acids are sharp and even a touch sour, and some dusty, old wood flavours emerge on the back end. There’s good length and lots of complexity for the money nonetheless in an original style, though more idiosyncratic to be sure. For intrepid drinkers.