Last week, I had the opportunity to attend the International Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration in Ontario’s Niagara wine region, the irony being that the event’s setting featured temperatures well above 30 degrees Celsius each day, well into the evenings. The annual event, casually dubbed i4C, offers many a seminar, tasting, dinner, and party where both consumers and the wine trade revel in delicious Chardonnays from an array of cool-climate regions around the world.
Now, unlike terms like organic and biodynamic, the term cool climate isn’t something that’s regulated or certified in the world of wine. It undoubtedly appears cheeky when we refer to a region as “cool-climate” when, to use British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley as an example, some wines are literally growing in a desert with temperatures that can hit the early 40s. It requires a step back to (loosely) define a cool-climate region, looking at the broader picture. Sticking with the Okanagan as our illustration: while those days can be ultra-hot, the nights can be quite chilly; that diurnal temperature shift can be upward of 30 degrees on some days. This allows the grapes on the vine to cool down during the night, which keeps them from ripening too quickly, preserving natural acidity in the process. That preservation is also kept in check by where we’re sitting latitude-wise, and the resulting short growing season. Acidity keeps wines fresh and lifted on the palate, and is a hallmark of wines we refer to as “cool-climate”.
The original cool-climate Chardonnay region is Chablis in France, an area that has far less heat accumulation over a growing season than we do here in the Okanagan Valley. It’s certainly not a place we expect Chardonnays to be overripe, heavy, or lacking in all-important acidity. If we look at a wine like Garnier & Fils 2014 Chablis ($37.99, Everything Wine, North Vancouver), it carries an elegance, with white floral notes, a flurry of citrus notes like grapefruit, pomelo, and Meyer lemon, and then a nice little stoniness toward the finish. It’s light on its feet, lifted all the way through with that key acidity.
As mentioned, though, it’s indeed possible to have cool-climate Chardonnays come from hotter parts of the world, like right here in B.C. Here are four recommended examples, listed from lightest to heaviest, that’ll settle into midsummer with ease.
Township 7 2015 Unoaked Chardonnay
I find tropical fruit notes are generally abundant in heavier Chardonnays, so I’ve found myself a little taken aback but pleasantly charmed by this lively and crisp serving of papaya, mango, and young pineapple, with just the slightest hint of sage. Winemaker Mary McDermott only came to the Okanagan from Niagara a little under two years ago, but the wines she’s crafted in that short amount of time have been showing she has a firm handle on the lay of the land.
Tantalus 2015 Juveniles Chardonnay
From the younger Chardonnay vines on Tantalus’s Kelowna property comes this pristine take on the grape, bursting with Granny Smith apple, guava, and Asian pear, with a light graham-wafer note rounding things out wonderfully. Everyone loves to go bananas over the Rieslings from Tantalus, and rightly so, but winemaker David Paterson’s Chardonnays are always damn delicious and worth seeking out.
CedarCreek 2014 Platinum “Block 5” Single Vineyard Chardonnay
A drop-dead gorgeous Chardonnay laden with Ambrosia apples and lemon pith, and gleaming with minerality; it’s well-woven, with a light lashing of French oak and an incredibly long finish. This wine has been nabbing plenty of awards, both at home and abroad. It’s easy to see why.
Poplar Grove 2015 Chardonnay
This is the “biggest” wine of this week’s selections, a sturdy, broad-shouldered version of Chardonnay that has become the classic style of the long-respected Okanagan winery. With 80 percent of its fruit from down in the Osoyoos desert and 20 percent hailing from the winery’s home in Naramata, it was harvested over five different days to guarantee optimum ripeness and balance of acidity of each vineyard block, and then mostly vinified in stainless steel, with 20 percent fermented in new French oak. It’s complex, with a multilayered richness; the first thing that popped into mind as I swirled, sniffed, and sipped was pineapple upside-down cake, perhaps with a little Honeycrisp apple and quince in tow. This wine is appealing, and with its quite-ripe character, it certainly ain’t shy. What I like best is its cool-climate nature, which brings a nice lift of juicy acidity, preventing it from being too cloying or heavy.