Someone who has a head for this sort of thing—and an overabundance of free time—could probably come up with a set of numbers. Surely there are still dozens, might we say hundreds, of new Chardonnays arriving in government and private stores here each year. Our thirst for the trendy and tasty white grape knows no limits. It might even be safe to say that if I only gave you tasting notes on new-arrival Chardonnays—what with new labels and wineries, as well as annual vintages—I could fill a full calendar of columns every year.
But man cannot live by Chardonnay alone—at least not this man—so after today, I promise to lay off for a spell and look at some other varieties, trends, brands, regions, food matches, and the like.
But first this batch of newcomers from Australia, B.C., California, and Chile to source, chill, and sip slowly (or gulp quickly, depending on your style and budget), so long as the sun’s still out. They have to be ranked somehow, so how about in ascending order of price?
Wolf Blass Bilyara Reserve Chardonnay 2007 ($13.86) Just in time for the upcoming 40th anniversary of the winery, a quick dip into the massive pool of WB labels available across the country, more than 50 grouped into nine price-driven tiers. Resolutely at the budget end is this line—bilyara means “eaglehawk” in an Aboriginal language—screw-capped and in the plastic bottle. Tough ecocall that, isn’t it? Cheaper in terms of shipping, et cetera, but it is plastic. Anyway, until someone explains the numbers of that little scenario to me, I like this package. If you like your Chardonnay luscious and full of those “classic melon and peach” elements, here’s the one. Nothing serious or requiring a lot of purple prose, but it sure goes down good! Don’t quibble with my grammar; I’m quoting Mr. Pibb.
Glass Mountain Chardonnay 2005 ($14.99) New-in-town Californian (from an established winery, Markham), this is a nice and bright little dinner wine with lots more fruit than we’re accustomed to getting from California at this price point. Very good with Hon’s takeout, especially the braised rock cod with bean curd and pork. Uncomplicated and tasty, it only screeches to a halt at the back label’s “tasty nutmeg scented oak plays smoothly with the distinct butterscotch finish” greeting-card prose. Really? Um, okay, if you have to!
Inniskillin Okanagan Reserve Chardonnay 2006 ($14.99) One of the many good-value Okanagan Chardonnays, this shows its French-oak breeding right off the nose. “Apple, roasted almonds, hints of citrus”—all agreed. It’s fresh, clean, a bit creamy in the finish, and right at the price.
Tinhorn Creek Chardonnay 2007 ($17.99) The always-reliable South Okanagan producer continues to please its legion of fans with this sturdy, lemon-fresh, slightly bitter-finished version of the classic grape. You won’t find a better on-your-tongue definition of food friendly; serve it with anything cool and light and summery, and make sure there’s a backup bottle.
Inniskillin Okanagan Dark Horse Estate Vineyard Chardonnay 2005 ($19.99) I’m surprised this vintage is still hanging around three years on. It’s a gorgeous, rich wine with lots of tropical-fruit flavours; a very rich, round texture; plenty of complexity; and a lovely, lengthy finish.
Concha y Toro Marques de Casa Concha Chardonnay 2005 ($22.95) Even older than the Dark Horse (they do them half a season earlier in Chile, as you know), this starts with a heavy-oak aroma and a big vanilla hit for the front of the palate. It then morphs into big Tahitian fruit with a very long finish that’s hampered only—and really only a tiny little bit—by some roastiness from the 14 percent alcohol. But if you like ’em massive and in your face, this is for you.
Orofino Canadian Oak Chardonnay 2007 ($24.90) First time out for this style of Chardonnay from the enterprising Similkameen winery that continues to dazzle palates with each new vintage. This one’s so new it isn’t even officially here yet. But it is scheduled for release in a couple of months, and let me warn you now, they only did 90 cases, so get your name on a list—you won’t be disappointed. At 14.1 percent, this one’s fairly high in alcohol, but handles it with remarkable aplomb. A fresh, fruity, light nose with a tiny touch of butterscotch and some of that Meyer lemon thing; luscious, but in no way fat or unctuous, striking a perfect balance between well-ripened fruit and easy oak. Canadian, eh? Impressive, master-class Chardonnay that isn’t for all palates but definitely tickles mine. They’ve got my number up there, near Keremeos. Give them yours, and they’ll reserve a box for you too.
Laughing Stock Chardonnay 2007 ($26) The cheeky label with the can’t-miss portfolio has put its Chard under screw cap too (ditto Orofino, above), and this only makes it more readily accessible (no searching for a corkscrew) and longer lasting. (The heel goes in the fridge door till tomorrow, but who ever heard of not finishing a bottle of Laughing Stock? I’m not even sure it’s legal!) It begins with giant citrus aromas that capture the nose and stroke the palate; when the oak flavours enter, they’re just beautiful and so restrained. The total taste package is as stylish and mellow as you could imagine. If this was the one that cost a hundred bucks (as discussed here a couple of weeks ago), I might even consider shelling it out; at $26, it’s got to be a deal. You get what you pay for, as your aunt would say, and I’m paying, just so long as I’m getting. Supplies of this label always sell out quickly, so consider this your three-minute call.