we’ve come a long way, baby.
It hasn’t always been the easiest relationship, but Chardonnay and the world seem to be maneuvering the rocky roads and holding strong. – Sheila Flaherty
This past weekend marked the 3rd annual International Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration — better known as #I4C. The three day long festival of the good drink attracted 60 winemakers from cool climate regions around the world, pouring over 120 Chardonnays. That’s my kind of weekend.
Put on by a core group of wineries, the event comprised of a big Friday night cookout at Hillebrand, five themed luncheons at five separate wineries, a garden tasting at VRIC, a dinner hosted by the supremely amazing Vikram Vij and to top it off — Sunday brunch at Ravine. Now don’t get me wrong, I love Chardonnay almost too much — but by Sunday afternoon a Caesar had never tasted so good … but I digress.
With the countries’ top ferment-heads, winemakers, sales folk, and connoisseurs all in the room — it got me thinking about Chardonnay and the good fight.
Some of you may have seen the movie Bottle Shock or heard of the 1976 ‘Judgment of Paris’, but for those of you who haven’t, it was Steven Spurrier who staked California wines (specifically Chardonnay) on the global market when Napa defeated the French in a blind taste test. Well, Steven Spurrier was in Niagara at I4C. What about Jamie Goode, the brilliant wine mind with the PhD who made famous the ‘wine blog’, alongside writing such consequential books as ‘The Science of Wine’ and ‘Authentic Wine’. Why yes, he was in Niagara too.
If you want to talk versatility in a grape, Chardonnay is your main man — er, leading lady? As grapes go, Chardonnay is actually surprisingly neutral compared to some and most of the flavours in the final product are a direct result of factors such as oak usage, and the oft overused but honest ‘terroir’ (site or region specific characteristics in a wine). It is quite the shape shifter with the ability to go from light, lean and crisp like a Silver Bullet, to buttery, tropical or oily even.
The ‘80s did it well, but as most fads go, the jump in popularity led to a pretty severe backlash until now, thanks to the negative-nancies who saw the grape as a leading negative component in the globalization of wine. Vineyards all over the old-world were ripping out indigenous varietals and replanting with Chardonnay in the hopes of attracting the more modern and westernized palate. Generally speaking, things are now beginning to balance with resurgence in native varietal protection. Today, it remains one of the most widely planted grapes on the planet, with over 400,000 acres under vine, and with relatively low maintenance and high yields, it has become approachable to nearly all wine growing regions. As I4C boldly stated on their t-shirts this year: ‘400,00 acres can’t be wrong’.
From it’s humble origins in Burgundy, to world domination — the grape has ridden the wave from New Zealand to India, Uruguay, Chile, England, Macedonia, Israel, Serbia, Russia, Moldova, Germany, Switzerland, South Africa, Slovakia … I could go on.
But with all this world domination talk, let’s just try to remember that there is a whole whack of it in our backyard. So here is a plan: Next year attend I4C; this year — drink more Chard. Cool?
A few of my favourites from this year’s I4C, at an LCBO near you:
• Lailey Chardonnay 2011 (Niagara, Ontario)
• Norman Hardie County Chard. 2011 (Prince Edward County, ON)
• Flowers Camp Meeting Ridge Chard. 2011 (Sonoma Coast, California)
• Bachelder Saunders Vineyard Chard. 2011 (Beamsville Bench, ON)
• Staete Landt Map Maker Chard. 2012 (Marlborough, New Zealand)
• Chateau Genot-Boulanger Puligny-Montrachet ‘Les Nosroyes’ 2010 (Burgundy, France)