How about tasting nothing but Chardonnay?
There is only one thing to say to the misguided self-declared consumer of “anything but Chardonnay” – that leaves more for those who know better.
The aversion to Chardonnay goes back a decade or so when there were too many over-oaked Chardonnays on the market, especially from Australia. In recent years some producers have gone to the other extreme by offering unoaked Chardonnays.
That often reduces a great white wine to a cocktail party beverage, although there are exceptions. The great Chardonnays are almost always made and/or aged in barrels, but not excessively. And many British Columbia wineries are now dialling in such great Chardonnays.
A great Chardonnay is a wine where the aromas and flavours of the fruit are paramount; but the potential complexity of the variety is enhanced by fermentation techniques (a touch of wild ferment, sometimes) and by subtle use of oak. Barrel-fermented Chardonnay integrates the oak much better than a wine that is merely barrel-aged. There may be a touch of malolactic fermentation which, in addition to softening the acidity, imparts richness to the flavour that recalls butter. By letting only a portion of the wine in the blend to go through ML, some winemakers preserve acidity that gives the wine a bright, crisp finish. The structure of the wine enables great Chardonnay to age in the bottle at least five years.
In short, there are many steps involved in growing and making great Chardonnay. This is the reason why the wines are unlikely to be cheap (but bargains can be found).
I have gone through my tasting notes for this season to highlight some examples. Since I have not tasted every Chardonnay, there will be some omissions. Please add your discoveries in the comment section at the bottom of this blog.
Here are my notes.
Arrowleaf 2008 Solstice Chardonnay ($23). By fermenting a third in barrel, the rest in tank, the winery produced what it calls, quite rightly, a “bright, nervy, cool climate Chardonnay.” It begins with attractive aromas of apples and citrus fruits, continuing to flavours of citrus with a touch of buttery richness, yet with a crisp finish. 90
Blue Mountain 2007 Chardonnay ($21). The style here is restraint and elegance. The wine has a core of sweet fruit subtly framed by very restrained oak. The finish is crisp and dry. 88
Blue Mountain 2006 Chardonnay Reserve ($26). A wine of finesse, like a white Burgundy, with the structure to age and bring out more richness on top of the citrus and apple notes. 90
Burrowing Owl 2007 Chardonnay ($25). The wine begins with a toasty aroma that it picked up from the barrels in which it was fermented. The wine has good weight on the palate, with citrus flavours and with a long finish. The wine is sealed with a synthetic stopper. Because this is a problematic closure for aging, you should enjoy this elegant wine within the next nine months. 88
CedarCreek 2007 Platinum Reserve Chardonnay ($30) The wine begins with biscuity, toasty and apple notes in the aroma, leading to flavours of apple and citrus with a delicate hint of hazelnuts and butter. Elegant wine with a long finish. 90-91
Cerelia Vineyards & Estate Winery Chardonnay MMVIII ($18.90). An unoaked Chardonnay, this wine is crisply refreshing with notes of citrus. 88
Gray Monk 2008 Unwooded Chardonnay ($17). A pretty wine, with clean fruit flavours. The finish is refreshing. A wine by the glass Chardonnay. 88
Foxtrot Vineyards Chardonnay 2008 ($49). This is the first Chardonnay from a tiny Naramata Pinot Noir specialist with a cult following – and the wine is a great success, beginning with a medley of tropical fruit aromas and flavours subtly framed by oak. The bright acidity makes the wine zesty and refreshing but also gives it the potential to age well. The flavours linger so long on the palate that the finish lasts for minutes. 95
JoieFarm 2007 Reserve Chardonnay ($30). Although the wine was just released in September, it was entered this spring in the Lieutenant Governor’s competition and won an award of excellence. If it was good in June, it has developed gloriously over summer. It begins with rich, honeyed aromas of tangerine. On the palate, there are flavours of honey, citrus fruits, a hint of butter, with a backbone of minerals and bright acidity. The finish of this elegant wine goes on and on. 93-94
JoieFarm 2008 Unoaked Chardonnay ($20.40) is modeled on the unoaked Chardonnays of Macon in Burgundy. This elegant wine is pristinely fresh in its aromas and flavours, hinting of newly sliced apples and freshly baked bread, perhaps reflecting nuanced lees treatment. The wine has good weight, with a tangy acidity to give it a crisp finish. 90
Kettle Valley 2005 Adra Station Reserve Chardonnay ($30). Partially barrel-fermented in French oak, this wine was held back to mature into a richly-textured Chardonnay. The flavours suggest baked apples and apricots with a hint of spice on the finish. 88-89
Kettle Valley 2008 Chardonnay ($22). This winery has changed the style of its white wines in recent vintages so that wines are fresher, lively, less alcoholic. This wine is fresh and juicy, with flavours and aromas of apricots, peaches and citrus. 88
La Frenz 2008 Chardonnay ($20 – and sold out). Winemaker Jeff Martin describes his style of Chardonnay as “peaches and cream.” That is spot on for this lush, tropical fruit version of Chardonnay, with a finish that is crisp and refreshing. 90
Lake Breeze 2008 Seven Poplars Chardonnay ($24.90). Totally barrel-fermented, with subtle oak notes well integrated with the wine’s buttery tangerine flavours. The finish is long. 89
Laughing Stock Vineyards 2008 Chardonnay ($26). Here is a barrel-fermented Chardonnay partly done in the larger puncheons which subdue oak flavours. This wine, tasting of pineapples and lemon zest, has bright acidity and a steely backbone of minerals. This wine will age well. 89
Le Vieux Pin 2008 Chardonnay ($35). The wine is made from the Chardonnay Musqué clone, noted for its spice and intense fruitiness. To preserve that unique flavour profile, half the wine was fermented in tank, the rest in barrel, and the entire lot was barrel-aged. The wine is crisp, with a backbone of steely minerals. It tastes of baked apples and citrus. 90
Meyer Family Vineyards Micro Cuvée Chardonnay 2007 ($65)- of which only 141 cases have been released - resulted from tasting and selecting the six best barrels of Chardonnay in the cellar that vintage. This wine is the match of a fine Burgundy, with intense flavours of citrus framed by toasty oak. The wine is finished with commendably bright acidity, giving it a crisp, fresh finish as well as the ability to age. The winery says three to five years. 94
Meyer Family Vineyards Tribute Series Chardonnay 2007 ($30) represents the remaining 399 cases of this vintage. It shares the flavours, aromas and crispness of its big brother, with a texture that seems a bit leaner. Again, the acidity, which is not at all overdone, lifts the fresh fruit flavours and gives the wine ability to develop in the bottle. 90
Mission Hill Five Vineyards Chardonnay 2007 ($13.99) is a very nice Chardonnay at this price. The wine is fruit-forward because it was cold-fermented in stainless steel and spent only seven months in American oak barrels. The result is a refreshing wine with citrus flavours and very subtle oak, with a crisp, clean finish and an appealing lightness in weight. 88
Mission Hill 2007 Perpetua Chardonnay ($35). The winemaker stayed away from malolactic fermentation in order to keep the fruit flavours fresh and lively. This wine begins with clean, delicate aromas of citrus, pineapple and tropical fruit, carrying through to the palate with citrus flavours and with a fine mineral structure. Extended lees aging added to the fullness of the wine on the palate. This elegant wine is drinking well now but has the potential to development further complexity and richness over the next two or three years. 92-94
Nk’Mip 2007 Chardonnay($17). Here is one of those good values. The wine presents a medley of buttery, toasty, tangerine flavours and aromas with an astonishingly long finish. 89
Nk'Mip QQ Chardonnay 2007 ($24.99). This is a variety that benefits from complex winemaking techniques - fermenting and aging in barrels, using some wild yeasts, adding a buttery or honeyed profile to the acidity with malolactic fermentation. All of these tricks and others are employed here. The wine begins with aromas that are toasty, showing notes of bacon fat and oak. On the palate, the wine is rich in texture, with flavours of tangerine and orange rind. The finish lingers. 90-91
Orofino Vineyards Chardonnay 2008 ($24.90). This wine was 30% barrel-fermented in new oak, 70% in stainless steel, achieving a complex balance between the fruit and the subtle oak. The wine has a lovely core of tropical fruit flavours with a long finish of spice and citrus and with bright acidity. 90-91
Painted Rock 2008 Chardonnay ($30) From a new Okanagan winery comes this elegant premium Chardonnay aged in new French oak The toasty and vanilla notes are very subtle, with the fruit – crisp, bright citrus flavours – being showcased. The bright acidity guarantees the wine will develop very nicely over several more years. 90-92
Quails’ Gate Stewart Family Reserve 2007 Chardonnay ($30). The wine begins with appealing aromas of citrus framed by the delicate toastiness that comes from barrel fermentation in good French oak. It is a surprise that the wine completed full malolactic fermentation because it still presents lively, tangy acidity, giving the wine a refreshingly crisp finish. On the palate, the wine is rich, with abundant flavours of lemon and lime and subtle spice, likely from the barrels. This Chardonnay will develop additional character with a year or two of cellaring if you can keep your hands off it. 90-92.
Quails’ Gate Chardonnay 2007 ($18.99). Two-thirds of the blend was fermented in barrel (20% new French oak as well as American oak) and that comes through on the palate with buttery and honeyed marmalade flavours. The one third that was tank fermented adds the fresh and crisp citrus notes. The texture is rich and the finish is lingering. 88
Red Rooster 2007 Reserve Chardonnay ($22). This wine was barrel-fermented and aged in American oak for five months. The oak combines with the wine to bring a sweet note to the aroma and a note of corn amid the bright citrus flavours. This is a different take on the variety but it succeeds. 88
Road 13 2007 Jackpot Chardonnay ($35). The aromas begin with subtle mingling of oak and fruit. On the palate, this is a richly flavoured wine – tangerine, vanilla, butter – with good weight and with a lingering finish of fruit flavours and cloves. 91
Robin Ridge Winery Chardonnay 2007 ($18.90). From a winery that opened just last year, this is a full-bodied Chardonnay with buttery flavours of citrus and pineapple. 88
Sandhill 2008 Chardonnay Block 11 ($30). Only 132 cases were made of this Small Lots wine. The fruit flavours are pure and focussed, with notes of apple, pineapple, citrus and minerals with a rich texture. 93
Seven Stones Winery Chardonnay 2008 ($24.99). This winery, which opened in 2007, still sells half of its grapes to Okanagan wineries. They are lucky: George Hanson is a superb grower and it shows in the quality of Seven Stones wines. This wine is a complex Macon-style Chardonnay, with tangy flavours of citrus and tropical fruits. The Macon echo comes from the earthy minerality of the wine. This wine deserves to aged a few years. 90
Therapy 2008 Chardonnay ($25). This is a delicious wine with citrus flavours and a tangy finish but also with richness and a note of butterscotch produced during fermentation and barrel-aging. 88
Tinhorn Creek Chardonnay 2008 ($18). The style is fruit forward. Only 20 percent of the wine was aged in new French oak, and just for two months. The finished blend has a touch of oak in the aroma and taste. The wine tastes of citrus, with a good core of minerals. 88
Township 7 2007 Chardonnay ($20). Barrel-fermented in French and American oak, this wine shows flavours of citrus and peaches with the light nutty/buttery note that malolactic fermentation brings. 88