Buckhorn Festival, Unoaked Chardonnay, Fevre Chabl
Summery, mild-mannered, unoaked chardonnay is a style that Ontario does very well. Most refresh the palate like a crisp new apple, with better examples sewing in mineral and leesy complexity—just as in good Chablis, the spiritual homeland of the genre. I was reminded of Ontario’s growing prowess with this style while grazing at the 10th Annual Fiesta Buckhorn on Saturday in Kawartha cottage country. This event has grown from the vision of one local Ontario wine evangelist named Larry Paterson into a three-day wine, beer and culinary weekend that attracts hundreds and raises funds for the Buckhorn Community Centre, 30 minutes northeast of Peterborough on the Trent-Severn Waterway. It’s like summer camp for wine fans, with over 75 exhibitors stationed in a series of cabins plus the main community hall. 49 Ontario wineries were pouring, often skippered by proprietors and winemakers themselves. In other words it has become a big deal, and when part of leisurely summer weekend for Kawartha cottagers and Trent boaters it’s can’t help be relaxed and fun. It’s the most unpretentious, undressed wine event you’ll ever attend, so make a note now to attend next year—the third weekend of July.
Three unoaked chardonnays impressed me at Buckhorn. One of the best values is Willow Heights 2004 Chardonnay Sur Lie *** ($11.85, LCBO), a restrained style with apple-mineral notes, very good balance and grip. Sur Lie is a common—if confusing and too obtuse—term meaning the wine was aged on its lees (fermentation solids) and implies the ageing did not happen in oak barrels. Sometimes chardonnay can be so opulent that oak ageing is plainly redundant, as is the case with Coyote’s Run 2005 Chardonnay Unoaked **** ($15, winery), a showboat with ripe peach fruit, bread crust, creamy texture yet fine acidity and minerality on the finish, and very good length. The most interesting, and expensive, chardonnay was the Closson Chase 2005 Chardonnay San Chêne **** ($22.90, winery ). Sans chêne, which is equally obtuse, translates as “without oak.” Closson Chase is a tiny, high-end winery in Prince Edward County; although, in this case, winemaker Deborah Paskus has sourced the fruit from two Niagara bench sites. Like the Chablis, it needs a year in bottle to open up, but it shows substantial weight, structure and terrific length, reminiscent of Grand Cru Chablis. Now if only Ontario wineries would drop those pretentious French names and just call the wines Unoaked Chardonnay.
William Fevre 2005 Champs Royaux Chablis ***1/2 ($19.80 LCBO) is also an unoaked chardonnay, but its label makes no reference to this at all. Apparently, it is in danger of being de-listed as it falls below sales quotas, largely, I suspect, because the price is higher than the average general listing and because French appellation contrôlée wines like Chablis are more individualistic and a bit of a mystery to many who are growing up on New World chardonnay. William Fevre is one the major producers of this famed French village, with a long tradition and fine reputation. Some of Fevre’s Grand Cru Chablis fetch over $75 a bottle; at $20, this basic line called Champs Royaux, captures much of the same mineral, green apple, mint and crisp elegance, but with less flavour depth. The arriving 2005 vintage, although aromatically reserved, captures an even richer texture and better depth than usual. If you see remnants of the 2004 vintage, it is lighter, more taut and juicy, although lighter weight than the 2005—it’s ready to drink now whereas I’d age the 2005 one more year.