If you can only attend one event at the 2013 International Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration (i4C), you need to make it the Cool Chardonnay World Tour Tasting.
When i4C began three years ago the idea was to bring like-minded cool climate winemakers to Ontario and showcase to the wine world that cool climate Chardonnay is one of the most compelling wines you can enjoy. So organisers centred everything around this signature event. Although i4C continues to evolve, the idea of bringing everyone together to explore the wonderfully varied world of cool climate Chardonnay at a grand tasting remains just as strong today. That's something Ontario oenophiles and Chardonnay lovers around the world should continue to get excited about because the Cool Chardonnay World Tour Tasting brings together 120 cool climate Chardonnays representing 16 wine regions and 64 wineries from around the globe.
Not only is it a phenomenal line-up, it's also an astonishing value too. Assembling a global cast of quality cool climate Chardonnay even a tenth this size would cost easily five to ten times the ticket price and take weeks of sourcing and paperwork. Instead, for about cost of a couple great bottles of Chardonnay, you have an opportunity to experience one of the finest wine tastings you'll encounter in Ontario this summer. Best of all, the people who crafted those wines will be pouring them for you.
That easy going nature is one of the most compelling aspects of the World Tour Tasting. With a summer evening setting on the lush greens of the Vineland Research and Innovation Centre, guests are free to casually walk around from booth to booth and taste and talk as they please. This is not a pretentious tasting in a cramped stuffy hall where you feel like you need a secret code get the uninterested pourer to give you a taste of the right bottle. The winemakers are excited to be there and elated to start a conversation about themselves, their wine and their little corner of the cool climate Chardonnay nation.
But if there's one major challenge to having all this great Chardonnay in one spot, it's getting to try everything you want during the tasting. Luckily, we've gathered a bit of experience at i4C and have few tips on how the get the most out of the World Tour Tasting.
The first thing to remember is that a tasting isn't a race or contest. Even if you're doing all the right things (staying hydrated, spitting, focusing and pacing yourself) you simply can't, won't and shouldn't attempt to try every wine. However, if you do it right you will come away having: tried many great wines, discovered new producers, made new friends and enjoyed the entire experience.
Now you don't need a plan to achieve this. You can simply walk from booth-to-both randomly tasting at your own pace and have a brilliant time. But like much in life it certainly helps to follow the good advice of the Boy Scouts/Girl Guides and be prepared. In this case that means doing a bit of research. The i4C site makes that easy with a complete list of wineries and the regions they're from. Use it to make list, taking note of familiar favourites, wineries you recognise but haven't had the opportunity to try and some intriguing new ones. After that you'll have a handful or two of must tries and the makings of a fantastic evening.
Another great approach is to personalise your World Tour Tasting by choosing a theme. You could do a comparative tasting and home in on the classic cool climate Chardonnay region of Burgundy for the first half and then spend the second tasting from upstart regions like Chile, Argentina, BC, New Zealand and Ontario. Afterward you can compare favourites and notes with friends and fellow guests.
If you're going with a group of wine-loving friends but are new to the world of wine or cool climate Chardonnay consider a deconstructed theme by asking all winemakers how they made their wines. After tasting it, take a quick note in the event booklet indicating whether you liked it, as well as a brief note on how it was made (traditional method sparkling, unoaked/stainless steel aged, barrel fermented, oaked-aged with lees stirring/bâtonnage, malolactic fermentation, natural or wild yeast fermentation, etc.). After you're done take a look through your booklet for patterns. For instance, you might find you really liked unoaked Chardonnay from all over the world. The next time you're at a restaurant, winery or liquor store and there's a choice of Chardonnays you can share that with staff and they'll be able to guide you towards a new wine you might like.
But whether you let your palate and a whim be your guide or follow an itinerary to the letter, you'll probably find two hour tasting moves fast. The last thing you want to feel is rushed while you're in the middle of an engaging conversation and tasting with a winemaker, friend or fellow attendee. One of the easiest ways to extend your tasting is to opt to do the dinner afterwards.
Last year brought an exciting modification to i4C's signature event and introduced a great casual dinner option post-tasting. Local winemakers worked alongside a chef producing Chardonnay-friendly dishes, which guests could enjoy at their leisure amongst attendees and i4C winemakers at tables throughout the tree-lined grounds. But just because the tasting was over, didn't mean the Chardonnay stopped flowing. Winemakers took their unfinished bottles and brought them to tables for guests to enjoy with their food making it the perfect opportunity to try a couple new wines. There was also an oyster bar and selection of Blanc de Blanc sparkling wines (a.k.a Chardonnay bubblies) for guests to enjoy while watching watching the sun set over Niagara wine country or dancing late into the evening. This year i4C built upon that winning formula bringing back the oyster and sparkling bars and inviting acclaimed Vancouver chef Vikram Vij to team-up with Canadian Food & Wine Institute chef Bruce Worden to create a selection of dishes that will pair beautifully with Chardonnay. If the thought of enjoying some of Vij's Indian cuisine is intriguing, he will also be cooking at i4C event prior to the World Tour Tasting. Aside from being one of Canada's best chefs, Vij is a trained sommelier, and will be working with 13th Street Winery's Peter Bodnar-Rod demonstrating how Indian cuisine can be a beautiful parter to cool climate Chardonnay.
If you're looking for a bit of guidance on who to include on your list of must tries for the World Tour Tasting there are a few visiting wineries who made a strong impression and are returning to i4C. The first is Flowers of California's Sonoma Coast, which is winery with high elevation vineyards a few miles from the northern California coast line. Grapes are farmed using biodynamic methods and the resulting Chardonnay is like an artistic gymnast—powerful and concentrated, but elegant and expressive in its performance. Another refreshing and unique producer is Caves Jean Bourdy from France's Jura region, which uses a winemaking method similar to Sherry. The wine is allowed to age in barrel for an extended period of time and it slowly evaporates while a protective layer of yeast forms between the wine and the air space in the barrel. The Chardonnay they poured last year had herbal, dry honey and agave flavours that were reminiscent of an añejo tequila. A returning winery from the original cool climate Chardonnay region, Burgundy, is Emmanuel Giboulot. At the tasting his Chardonnays stood out with melon rind, fresh lime zest, pithy grapefruit and crushed limestone minerality. Lastly, making its first visit to i4C, but not to Ontario, is Staete Landt. You may have seen this fine New Zealand winery, which is represented by wine importer Lifford, at tastings and restaurants. Its Chardonnays exhibit beautiful lush stone fruit notes, intriguing nuttiness, wonderful texture and lasting character. While you're tasting these and the other visiting wineries don't forget to try the brilliant Chardonnays from the hosting Ontario i4C wineries. If there's one thing that i4C has confirmed the past two years it's that local Chardonnay more than holds its own amongst these world class cool climate Chardonnays from around the world.
Cool Chardonnay World Tour Tasting and Dinner
Location:Vineland Research and Innovation Centre
Price: $150 for tasting and dinner ($ 75 for the tasting only) available online (tasting and dinner or tasting only)
Date: Saturday July 20th 5:30-11:30pm (5:30-7:30pm for Tasting portion)
An Afternoon with Vikram Vij
Date: Saturday July 20th 4-5:30pm
Location: Vineland Research and Innovation Centre – Main stage
Price: $75 available online
International Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration (I4C)