Canadian Wine Insider – July 2023

Canada’s Grape, Chardonnay!

Sometimes trends become truths. And at this point, in July 2023, excellent Canadian Chardonnay is a fact. Read on about an important global chardonnay tasting held last month in B.C. Prepare for the International Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration coming up July 20 to 23 in Niagara and see some preview picks by the WineAlign Crü below. And then get ready for the great Chardonnay results from the National Wine Awards of Canada 2023 in the weeks ahead.

The Quails’ Gate Global Chardonnay Exploration
By David Lawrason, with comment from Janet Dorozynski

Eighteen of the world’s best chardonnays were blind tasted at Quails’ Gate winery in British Columbia on June 19, including Quails’ Gate Rosemary’s Block Chardonnay. The line-up from Burgundy, California, Oregon and Canada, plus Southern Hemisphere icons was jaw-dropping (see list below).

The total suggested retail value of 18 bottles was $4,616, or an average of $256 per bottle. Knock out one fatuously overpriced California wine, and one nose-bleed Burgundy, and the average price was more realistically $160. But still, this was a top-shelf selection.


The tasting, attended by 14 wine pros from Vancouver, Calgary, Ottawa, Toronto, Hamilton and Montreal, was conceived, organized and hosted by Quails’ Gate Family Estate Winery. At this point let’s hear from Ottawa-based Janet Dorozynksi, Canada’s top wine diplomat and a veteran judge with the National Wine Awards of Canada.

“It was a thrill and privilege to participate in the Quails’ Gate Chardonnay Tasting. Organizing an extensive tasting with benchmark wines from around the globe shows both courage and ambition on the part of the winery. Courage because you never really know how benchmark tastings will turn out or how your wines will place; ambition and commitment on the part of Quails’ Gate to chardonnay and its future in the Okanagan Valley. The tasting signals the winery’s desire to learn and compete with the best in the world, which is the best way to grow and improve.

“It’s not every day that British Columbia or Canadian chardonnays go head-to-head with greats like Ramonet, Kumeu River and Penfold’s Yattarna, among others, with all three of the Quails’ Gate chardonnays showing very admirably. As a Canadian industry watcher and supporter for over two decades, it was a source of pride to see the Quails’ Gate wines hold their own and shine brightly during this tasting.”

Quails Gate Global Chardonnay Roundtable June 20, 2023

So where exactly did Quail’s Gate land? The averaged point spread among the 18 wines was 89.5 to 94.4, so quality was not really an issue. For three Quails’ Gate chardonnays that scored 92.9, 92.5 and 92.5, it was proof that they belonged on the table, which is the whole point of such exercises. We cannot call it a resounding triumph for Canada at large, because only one other Canadian winery — Bachelder of Niagara — was included. I would have liked to see more, but hey, it was Quails’ Gate initiative, and their dime. 

If quality was not so much the issue, price and value certainly were. Most importantly, the three Quails’ Gate wines were the least expensive wines on the roster, by a long shot. It was clearly a matter of the some of the world’s top and most historic chardonnays being inflated in price through reputation, and Quails’ Gate being held in check through lack of reputation and history, and the general reticence to what is perceived as over-pricing of Canadian wine.

So, to those Canadians who will shell out hundreds of dollars for top end Burgundy and stiffen in horror at spending $60 on top Canadian chardonnay like Rosemary’s Block, I would say “wakey wakey.” This will certainly encourage, and justify, Quails’ Gate raising its prices, even though the critic’s gallery encouraged them not too to do so.

Janet Dorozynski and Rod Philips of Ottawa

Canada’s Cool Climate Bias was Clearly Showing

The Quails’ Gate tasting was divided into three flights: Cool Climate Expressions, Warm Climate Expressions and Winemaking Expressions. Given that Canada is widely considered a cool climate growing region, and because most of the world’s best chardonnays tend to be grown in cool climates (according to most of the world’s cool climate wine critics), there was not a lot of debate on or around which climate provided the better canvass for chardonnay. Even those poured in the Warm Climate group were clearly leaning into a cooler climate style, with higher acidity, moderate alcohol, and less tropical fruit and oak adornment.

In fact, a couple of the cool climate wines were downright lean and austere. But the leaner, the more some tasters seemed to like them. On the other hand, the few wines that were boldly and proudly warm climate tended to elicit negative comments as being old school, no matter that they were excellent quality wines made in that style.

David Lawrason and Vancouver judge Michaela Morris

Another point of discussion was reduction, a winemaking technique in which wines are produced with minimum exposure to oxygen, therefore more exposure to natural sulphurs created through fermentation. The resulting aromas can be described as anything from mineral to matchstick to flint, or even onion and garlic. It is a philosophy widely employed in Burgundy, thus now common elsewhere where Burgundy chardonnay is being emulated. And it is particularly indicative of the cooler climate style. Or, to make chardonnays seem more cool climate than they are.

Many of the wines in the Quails’ Gate tasting had some degree of reduction. But, as always, on a wine-to-wine basis, and taster-to-taster basis, it was a matter of how much reduction… not enough or too much? Which is always a matter of the balance with the other elements—fruit, lees/yeasts, oak spices and vanillin. There were a couple of wines with all kinds of fruit and little reduction that were considered too big and blowsy, while a couple of wines were so laced with onion that were no other flavours apparent. The best came down the middle, offering layered complexity, i.e., Quails’ Gate Rosemary’s Block.

Rosemary’s Block

There were two vintages of Quails’ Gate Rosemary’s Block Chardonnay in the blind tasting, the 2019 and the 2021, which is just being released. I placed both among my top five wines of the tasting, with only Ramonet and Louis Latour Corton Charlemagne scoring equal or higher. For the record I scored the 2019 vintage 95 points blind during this exercise and last year during a non-blind encounter. It took a Gold at the National Wine Awards in 2022 with an average score of 93, and WineAlign colleagues Michael Godel and John Szabo have individually scored it 94 and 93 respectively. Janet Doroynski has rated it 94.

I think it is one of the great Canadian chardonnays, embodying everything I like about chardonnay—power and volume yet a great sense of proportion, balance and complexity. Whenever I taste it, I think of Meursault, but with a just a bit more fruit presence. 

Rosemary’s Block 2021 Chardonnay

Rosemary’s Block — named for family matriarch Rosemary Stewart — is a section planted in 1997 on the steepest part of the south-facing slope of Mt. Boucherie above the winery. It is only seven rows wide but runs up the hill from mid to the highest elevation, although recently it is the lower section that has been kept aside for Rosemary’s Block. It was former winemaker Nikki Callaway who, in 2012, first identified the impressive character in barrels from this site. In an average year 14 barrels (350 cases) are produced.

Ranking the Roster of Global Superstars

The selection and procurement of the wines was largely carried out by Okanagan-based Master of Wine Geoff Moss and Vancouver critic and broadcaster Anthony Gismondi. It is a who’s who of global chardonnays. Here is how they stacked up, ranked by average score of the group of 14 taster

Chardonnays Group DL
Domaine Ramonet 2020 Chassagne-Montrachet Blanc, Burgundy 94.4/96
Kumeu River 2021 Maté’s Vineyard, New Zealand 93.5/94
Penfolds 2019 Yattarna Bin 144, Australia 93.4/91
Domaine Serene 2019 Evenstad Reserve, Willamette Valley, Oregon 93.1/92
Leeuwin Estate 2019 Art Series, Margaret River, Western Australia 93.0/91
Quails’ Gate 2019 Rosemary’s Block, Okanagan Valley, BC 92.9/95
Louis Latour 2020 Corton-Charlemagne Grand Cru, Burgundy 92.9/95
Kistler 2020 Stone Flat Vineyard, Sonoma Valley, California 92.6/93
Quails’ Gate 2021 Rosemary’s Block, Okanagan Valley, BC 92.5/96
Quails’ Gate 2020 Stewart Family Reserve, Okanagan Valley, BC 92.5/93
Felton Road 2020 Block 6, Central Otago, NZ 92.1/92
William Fèvre 2020 Le Clos Chablis Grand Cru, Burgundy 91.8/93
Catena Zapata 2020 White Bones Adrianna Vineyard, Argentina 91.7/88
Leeu Passant 2020, Stellenbosch, South Africa 91.6/90
Bachelder 2020 Hill of Wingfield, Niagara, ON 91.4/90
Domaine Des Comtes Lafond 2020 Meursault Clos de Barre 91.3/89
Kongsgard 2020 The Judge, Napa Valley, California 91.2/92
Domaine Leflaive 2020 Puligny-Montrachet Les Folatieres 1er Cru 89.5/89

Some Picks from the Upcoming i4C Celebration June 20–23

Hidden Bench Chardonnay Felseck Vineyard Unfiltered 2020

Hidden Bench Chardonnay Felseck Vineyard Unfiltered 2020, Beamsville Bench, Ontario
$48.00, Hidden Bench Estate Winery
David Lawrason – This surprises with its juxtaposition of flavour intensity and depth delivered on such a taut and delicate frame. But that is consistent with the Beamsville Bench. To start at the end, the focus and length are remarkable. This is a non-quitter. The nose is very lifted with ripe peach-like fruit of the vintage and complex butter, spice, nutty and herbal notes. It is medium weight, very well balanced, fresh, firm yet substantial.
Michael Godel – Estate chardonnay is a cracker 2020 for Hidden Bench and along comes single-vineyard Felseck to crank up the volume for something off the charts. The farmer, maker and proprietor may not be the fruit themsleves, but Felseck 2020 is most definitely their wine.
John Szabo – 2020 is another terrific vintage for the Felseck vineyard chardonnay, the wine in the Hidden Bench portfolio for mineral lovers. Try after 2025; this also has the stuffing to go deep, into the ’30s without concern. Top notch kit, full stop.
Megha Jandhyala – This organic, single-vineyard chardonnay is inarguably a world class wine. It is remarkably balanced, at once potent and elegant, complex and focussed, rich, yet lithe. It feels like liquified silk on the palate and the finish is impressive in its intensity and length. It is ready to enjoy now but can also be cellared into the close of the decade.

Tawse Chardonnay Robyn's Block 2021

Tawse Chardonnay Robyn’s Block 2021, Twenty Mile Bench.  Ontario
$46.95, Tawse Winery
David Lawrason– The flavour intensity is somewhat lower than expected but the complexity from this biodynamically farmed plot of old vines is excellent, and so is the overall balance. Look for classic, finely woven hazelnut, mild vanillin, baked apple and a touch of flint. It is medium bodied, somewhat fleshy yet nicely sewn with good acidity and minerality.
Michael Godel – Chardonnay with a Twenty Mile Bench pulse and an athletic one at that. Length goes on and on. An almost perfect Robyn.

Bachelder Wismer Wingfield Chardonnay 2020

Bachelder Wismer Wingfield Chardonnay 2020, Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario
$60, Bachelder Wines
John Szabo – One of Bachelder’stop chardonnay vineyards, out of a long list of eleven (!) bottlings from across Niagara. We’ve featured this wine before, so regular WineAligners won’t be surprised to see it singled out here again. Tight and precise relative to many other 2020 Ontario chardonnays, it’s more a wine of depth rather than breadth, more linear than round. I feel that this, more than any others in the range, will need additional time in bottle to begin to reveal its full potential; try after 2024 or hold late into the decade.
Michael Godel – A chardonnay to enjoy without hesitation because there is some development happening, albeit in the subtlest of ways. Great gastronomy here, ready and willing to sidle up to a Michelin-starred chef’s preparation. Warm crab in beurre blanc and a lemongrass foam anyone?
Sara d’Amato – A less austere expression of a Wismer Wingfield chardonnay from a notably
warm vintage. The parcel is late-ripening, the furthest from Lake Ontario and highest in
elevation of the chardonnay sites curated by Bachelder. For those who want it all in their
chardonnay – crunchy acids, buttery texture, a flinty nose and finely integrated oak – this one’s
for you!
Megha Jandhyala – There is a fascinating, dichotomous quality to this chardonnay crafted by iconic winemaker Thomas Bachelder. Though it is the result of a warm vintage and displays some richness, there is a pillowy lightness and elegance to this wine. I love the focus, poise, and complexity showcased here, and the memorable, ever so finely textured finish.

Thirty Bench Small Lot Chardonnay 2021

Thirty Bench Small Lot Chardonnay 2021, Beamsville Bench, Ontario
$38.00, Thirty Bench Wines
John Szabo – Another classy, restrained, well-balanced chardonnay from Thirty Bench, with characteristically sharp acids and a cool citrus and green orchard fruit profile. I like the firmness and tautness on the palate, not a billowing, generous style, but rather one for attuned wine lovers looking for companionship at the table. Best 2024-2030.

Stratus Chardonnay Unfiltered & Bottled With Lees 2021

Stratus Chardonnay Unfiltered & Bottled With Lees 2021, Niagara-on-the Lake, Ontario
$49.20, Stratus Wines
Michael Godel – The kept lees in bottle emulsify with fruit and texture for Niagara’s most inte-resting and intersecting chardonnay. Most harmonic, clarity and varietal transparency in spite of the cloudy nature of this wine.
Sara d’Amato – Don’t be put off by the cloudy appearance, the wine continues to evolve, gaining complexity in the bottle thanks to those suspended lees. This age-worthy chardonnay is a textural marvel, enhanced by fermentation in clay, amphorae, and French oak barrels. Features palpable energy despite a warm growing season.
Megha Jandhyala – Fermented in a combination of clay amphorae and French oak, this unfiltered chardonnay is unusual, including in terms of its appearance, its diffused, milky yellow opalescence only adding to its charm. Tropical and orchard fruit are accompanied by aromas of toast and lees here, while the palate has a citrusy ambience, though this wine is all about texture. I love the creamy, yet energetic palate, and the nuanced finish.

Malivoire Estate Grown Chardonnay 2021

Malivoire Estate Grown Chardonnay 2021, Beamsville Bench, Ontario
$22.00,  Vintages Essential
John Szabo – Such sharp value! How Malivoire manages to turn out this quality from all-estate fruit in the Beamsville Bench at $22 is a marvel. This should be a house wine for many houses – and that it’s a Vintages Essential and hence always available at the LCBO (though the vintage will change) is just a bonus, and also explains the sharp pricing that must make Martin Malivoire’s accountants cringe. Drink or hold to 2026 or so.

Queenston Mile Chardonnay 2020

Queenston Mile Chardonnay 2020, St. David’s Bench, Ontario
$35.00,  Queenston Mile Winery
David Lawrason – This is a very lean, almost sharp-edged and riveting chardonnay packing quite intense flavours. The nose shows, compact lemon, apple, leesy/yeasty notes and subtle nuttiness. It is medium bodied, racy and juicy, with very lemony acidity. The length is excellent.

Trius Showcase Wild Ferment Chardonnay 2020

Trius Showcase Wild Ferment Chardonnay 2020, Lincoln Lakeshore, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario
$36.95, Trius Winery
Sara d’Amato – Matured optimally and ready to drink, this wild ferment chardonnay is made in a plump, widely appealing style yet with impressive balance and length. Fleshy and lightly viscous with a wealth of tropical and stone fruit. Not too hot but generously laden with high-quality oak from both barrel fermentation and barrel aging.

Kin Vineyards Carp Ridge Chardonnay 2019, Ontario
$39.95, Kin Vineyards
Sara d’Amato – Akin to a gracefully maturing Chablis, Kin Vineyards’ chardonnay is a long way from Burgundy, grown on Carp Ridge in the Ottawa Valley. Relatively light in alcohol but with volume and a slight creaminess from lees aging. Quite fresh but not tart with citrus, wet stone and honey chiming in on the finish. A smartly made expression of this ever-present grape variety from an emerging growing region of Ontario.


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