Reinvention tour: Ontario vintners are showing off their chardonnays and changing minds about the infamous ’80s grape

Reinvention tour: Ontario vintners are showing off their chardonnays and changing minds about the infamous ’80s grape

(Illustration: Jack Dylan)

The consumer revolt against chardonnay, known as the ABC (anything but chardonnay) movement, hasn’t stopped Ontario winemakers from producing excellent chardonnays. The province’s cool climate and limestone-rich soils provide similar conditions to those in Burgundy, France—the region that put chardonnay on the map with such wines as chablis, pouilly-fuissé and meursault. As the Ontario industry and its vines mature, home-grown chardonnays are becoming truly impressive, especially the more expensive varieties that are fermented and aged in French oak. To get the word out, Ontario vintners are sending their best bottlings (as selected in a blind tasting by Ontario wine critics) abroad to wine fairs. At the first event in London last year, pundits were pleasantly surprised to discover such high-quality chardonnays from a province known mostly for icewine. The enthusiastic response prompted Ontario wineries to repeat the performance this month for Manhattan’s wine critics. Niagara will also become an international chardonnay hub this July, when it hosts a multi-winery festival in honour of the cool-climate grape. To prime your palates, we’ve selected the region’s most seductive bottles.

Cave Spring Blanc de Blancs Brut
$29.95 | Niagara Peninsula | 89 points
Chardonnay is one of the grapes in champagne, so its success in Ontario is fuelling optimism for the future
of local sparkling wine. New to the LCBO, this one is 100 per cent chardonnay, with almond, dried apple and shortbread aromas. It’s light bodied, yet gentle and built on a beam of acidity. LCBO 213983

Huff Estates 2007 South Bay Chardonnay
$29.95 | Prince Edward County | 90 points
Huff’s chardonnay won Top White Wine at the 2010 Ontario Wine Awards. Burgundy-trained winemaker Frédéric Picard has crafted a seductive, rich wine with a sumptuous nose of butterscotch, pear and cashew. It’s elegant, with limestone acidity and nutty tones on the finish. Vintages. LCBO 88955

Norman Hardie 2008 County Chardonnay
$35 | Prince Edward County | 89 points
Norman Hardie draws the old-school Burgundian minerality out of the area’s limestone-rich soils. The nose is lifted and toasty, with green chive, almond, butterscotch and dried apple. It’s light, yet mouth-wateringly stony on the finish, with terrific length. Best now to 2013. Vintages. LCBO 149054

Chateau des Charmes 2008 Chardonnay Musqué
$16.95 | Niagara Peninsula | 89 points
Musqué, the aromatic clone of chardonnay, has become a Niagara specialty. This unoaked bottling is the best of the 2008 vintage. It has lifted notes of apricot, lavender and lemon-lime. It’s medium to full bodied, juicy and intense, with great length. Surprisingly good for the price. Vintages. LCBO 640516

Inniskillin 2009 Unoaked Chardonnay
$11.95 | Niagara Peninsula | 87 points
Some winemakers try too hard to make unoaked chardonnay as complex as oaked versions. Not Innis­killin. This unoaked version is light and simple, with classic chardonnay apple fruit, plus lemon and fennel aromas. It’s crisp but not too tart, with good focus and length. It’s a good sipper. LCBO 66266

Southbrook 2008 Whimsy Chardonnay
$29.95 | Niagara-on-the-Lake | 89 points
Southbrook is a provincial leader in organically grown chardonnays. This one is big, bold and golden, with peach, cashew, butterscotch, tobacco and peat smoke aromas. It’s full bodied and aggressive (age it from one to three years), with loads of flavour.

Hidden Bench 2008 Estate Chardonnay
$32 | Beamsville Bench | 91 points
This is the least expensive of Hidden Bench’s just-released 2008 vintage. It’s bottle-aged for a powerful, rollicking and golden wine, with crème brûlée, toast, cashew, peach and tangerine nuances. Lush and creamy and underpinned by firm acidity, with a slightly bitter finish.

Le Clos Jordanne 2008 Le Grand Clos Chardonnay
$65 | Twenty Mile Bench | 92 points
Ontario’s most expensive chardonnay comes from Le Clos Jordanne, a winery specializing in organic pinot noir and chardonnay. The nose is complex, with layers of walnut, honey, woodsmoke, garlic and dried apple. It’s taut on the palate, with great length. Age it a couple
of years. Vintages. LCBO 34561

Tawse 2008 Robyn’s Block Vineyard Chardonnay
$41.95 | Beamsville Bench | 93 points
Named White Wine of the Year at the 2010 Canadian Wine Awards, this one comes from a 28-year-old biodynamic farm. It’s a masterpiece of integrated pear and almond notes, with mineral complexity. Outstanding length. Age it a decade. Vintages. LCBO 204982

Scores David Lawrason assigns scores on a 100-point scale. They reflect a wine’s overall quality. A rating of 95 to 100 is outstanding; 90 to 94 excellent; 85 to 89 very good; 80 to 84 good.