Feature photo: ANGELA FAULKNER PHOTO – Lubomyr Luciuk savouring a Prince Edward County chardonnay.
Canadian showdown at Judgement of Kingston
Article by: Lubomyr Luciuk
It’s one of the most-widely distributed and most-popular grapes on earth. Yet some say they hate it. Just the other day, as I was telling a friend about this year’s Judgement of Kingston, she told me all her friends love wine but observe an “ABC” absolute – “Anything But Chardonnay!”
I wasn’t entirely surprised. Those of us old enough (me!) to remember the 1990s recall the worldwide craze for big, buttery, over-oaked and over-ripe chardonnays. I admit I liked that style, back then. Many others did too. It sold well. And so a grape found mainly in the Burgundy and Champagne regions of France in the 1970s was soon being grown just about everywhere, becoming the most planted grape in both California and Australia within a decade or so. But, as we all know, styles change. That applies in the wine world too.
I first tried a chardonnay from The County around 2005. A small group of Royal Military College professors had come together in 1992 with a shared interest in learning about wines and enjoying them in good company. Not surprisingly, we called ourselves The Royal Winers. Queen’s University colleagues and other wine enthusiasts soon joined us. We still meet regularly, over a quarter century later. It was in this fellowship that I heard about a local winery called Closson Chase, and its remarkable woman winemaker, Deborah Paskus. Rumour had it she was making small lots of exceptionally good but very hard-to-get chardonnay. Frankly, I was sceptical. I just didn’t believe good wines could be produced down the road from Kingston. I don’t remember how but I somehow got a bottle. The wine was terrific and utterly unlike any chardonnay I had tried before.
So what do good County chardonnays taste like now? Not at all like the “ABC” folks think. But don’t take my word for it. Let me quote a few professional critics who assessed Closson Chase’s 2009 Chardonnay. David Lawrason gave this wine a 91/100, describing it as “very complete, stylish… medium-full bodied, rich and perfectly poised on the palate with considerable richness, fine acidity and excellent length…expect stony, chalky County minerality on the finish.” His colleague at winealign.com, the master sommelier, John Szabo, scored it even higher, a 92: “Here’s a terrific expression of Prince Edward County chardonnay: steely, nervy, chalk full of green fruit, wet stone, citrus and some more ‘traditional’ nutty-leesy flavours. This is eerily reminiscent of very good traditional Chablis, which is a very good thing in my view and exactly what the County can excel at. The palate is crisp and very dry, beautifully lean, yet concentrated in flavour with long finish – a rare combination achievable in only a few known spots on the planet.” And, Sara d’Amato, one of our judges at the first Judgement of Kingston, observed: “An intense, nervy Chardonnay reminiscent of traditional Chablis. Sharp as a whip, focused and mineral driven, the oak takes a backseat to the vibrant citrus flavours in this compelling Chardonnay…Finish is exceptionally long and exhibits notes of butter and pastry crust alongside grapefruit, cool herbal notes and mouth-watering acidity.” If you want a more general comment on cool-climate chardonnays consider what Kristen Eppich wrote in a 2016 House and Home article: “The flavors: Green apple, ripe peach, mango, fresh citrus, tropical fruit and ripe pear. The characteristics: rich, robust, fresh, vibrant, and elegant. Cool climate wines are not associated with being creamy or buttery.”
Of course, every vintage is different and every winemaker has her or his own style so what you try at this year’s Judgement may not be exactly like what you’ve just read. Yet just about all of The County’s winemakers strive to ensure their wines reflect the region’s distinctive terroir. In other words you will be drinking some really good wines. That the County’s winemakers are succeeding is, I might add, not just a personal opinion. Under the title “The 21st Century’s Best New World Chardonnays Are From Ontario,” the acclaimed American wine critic, Elin McCoy, observed in Bloomberg News/The Washington Post “cool climate chardonnay [is] in” and reported those she tasted were “brilliant: light and crisp, with spiky acidity, succulent layers of lemon-lime and stony flavors, and a flinty elegance missing from the California wines…” reminding her “of premiers crus white Burgundies – at a much cheaper price.”
This year we’re comparing some of the best County chardonnays against some fine wines from British Columbia’s Okanagan valley. I predict those who join us will leave at the end of the afternoon not only having had fun learning about how to taste good wines but also feeling satisfied about helping to raise money for a good local cause. And, I dare say, more than a few will be thinking “ABC” really means “A Beautiful Chardonnay.”
Article first appeared in the Kingston Whig Standard – 20 Oct 2018
Lubomyr Luciuk is a professor at RMC; volunteer with the Judgement of Kingston. Proceeds from this annual wine-comparision event are donated to the Cancer Centre of Southeastern Ontario through the University Hospitals Kingston Foundation. Tickets now available online at judgementofkingston.ca