Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Le Clos Jordanne's wines come to B.C.




Photo: Thomas Bachelder in Vancouver


In British Columbia, Ontario wines don’t get the respect they deserve. Perhaps it is a chicken and egg scenario: the best Ontario wines are seldom available on the west coast.

There are several reasons for that, aside from the usual tit for tat one (the best of British Columbia, until recently, has seldom been offered in Ontario either).

One: the liquor boards get in the way. Even in this age when you can buy almost anything over the Internet, wineries are not permitted to ship directly to customers in other provinces. The liquor boards, who want to collect their mark-ups, might just lift the licenses of any direct-selling wineries.

Two: the top wines are usually in limited supply. If a winery can sell out in its home province, why bother with exports to another? This has begun to change, however, as new vineyards come into production and more wine is available.

And that is why Ontario’s Le Clos Jordanne has recently begun to offer its elegant Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays to restaurants and private and government wine stores in British Columbia. These are among the finest wines currently being made in Ontario.

Le Clos Jordanne was launched in 2000 as a joint venture between Vincor and the giant Boisset group of Burgundy in France.

This was about the same time that Vincor and Bordeaux’s Group Taillan established the Osoyoos Larose joint venture winery in the Okanagan. In both instances, Vincor’s former chief executive, Don Triggs, invited two leading French producers to lend their expertise to raising the bar in Canada.

The Burgundy connection began in the early 1990s when Inniskillin (which was about to become part of Vincor) enlisted Jaffelin, one of the Boisset wineries, in a project to make a Pinot Noir in Ontario called Alliance. The wine was impressive enough that Boisset agreed a few years later to provide some advice on Pinot Noir terroir in Ontario and then to partner in Le Clos Jordanne.

The winery is so named because it and its vineyards are near the village of Jordan. The spelling of Jordan had to be tweaked because of trademark issues with wineries in Napa and in South Africa already called Jordan. Ironically, there once was a Jordan winery in Ontario but, no doubt, the trademark had lapsed before Vincor absorbed the remnants.

Jean-Charles Boisset says that his father, Jean-Claude, had briefly considered planting vines in Ontario just after World War II. When Jean-Charles tramped vineyard land near Jordan with Don Triggs, he was struck by how Burgundian the terroir was.

“We had a blank slate,” he recalls. The partners bought about 150 acres in three parcels on the Jordan Bench, imported French vines and planted the land between 2000 and 2002. There are seven clones of Pinot Noir, three clones of Chardonnay and a small block of Pinot Gris. Why Pinot Gris? Apparently, the clever Burgundian monks used to plant that variety centuries ago, blending it small quantities with Chardonnay in cool years and with Pinot Noir in hot years. The vineyard is farmed organically, with a nod to biodynamic principles as well.

To make the wine, Le Clos hired Quebec-born Thomas Bachelder, a former wine writer who decided in the early 1990s to become a winemaker. He worked in both Burgundy and Oregon, got a winemaking diploma in Beaune, and had a decade of experience by the time he joined Le Clos in 2003.

He is one of the most intensely focussed winemakers in Ontario. “Pinot Noir and Chardonnay … are my working lifeblood, my passion, my avocation,” he is quoted in Le Clos’s literature. “I simply don’t want to do anything else.”

The wines have been very well received. At a big Montreal tasting last year that pitted Le Clos wines against international wines, a Le Clos Chardonnay was judged best in the tasting.

Late in January, he presided at the first Vancouver tasting of his wines, primarily to an audience of restaurateurs and wine store buyers. Safe to say, it was an eye-opener on Ontario wines for most people.

Here are my notes.

Talon Ridge Village Reserve Chardonnay 2006 ($35-$40). Elegant and well-balanced, with aromas and flavours of citrus and tropical fruits and with refreshing tang on the finish. 90.

Claystone Terrace Vineyard Chardonnay 2006 ($40-$45). This vineyard delivers a wine with richer aromas and flavours – citrus, apricot, spice, toast. The wine is beautifully focussed and complex, in the style of a finessed white Burgundy. 92-94.

Le Clos Jordanne Vineyard Chardonnay 2006 ($40-$45). Another complex white, with a touch of truffles along with the aromas and flavours of citrus fruits and a backbone of minerals and acidity. 92.

Le Grand Clos Chardonnay 2006 ($55-$65). Compared with the previous three, this wine just has a bit more of everything. The aromas and flavours are more concentrated and the structure will support cellaring this wine. 95.

Talon Ridge Village Reserve Pinot Noir 2006 ($35-$40). A lovely red, with aromas and flavours that reminded me both of cherries and of a very fine marmalade. Those flavours were somewhat unexpected but so very tasty. 90.

La Petite Vineyard Pinot Noir 2006 ($40-45). Even the vineyard name suggests it. This is a delicate feminine wine with a floral perfume on the nose, cherry flavours and a sensual texture. 92.

Claystone Terrace Vineyard Pinot Noir 2006 ($40-$45). This is a full-bodied, even gamey Pinot with a touch of black cherry and chocolate and a rich palate feel. 92-94.

Le Grand Clos Pinot Noir 2006 ($60-$70). This is an appealing, cerebral Pinot with spectacular elegance. The aroma is restrained … but this is still a very young Pinot that will be drinking well for many years. At this stage, the fruit flavours are sweet cherries and other red berries. A wonderful wine. 95.

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