People often ask what is Canada’s most successful wine type.
I reply, without hesitation, chardonnay. You might think with a country the size of ours, and distances spanning thousands of kilometres from BC’s Pacific lashed Wine Islands to Nova Scotia’s bracing Atlantic, no one grape could be suitable, let alone excel. But you’d be wrong. Chardonnay, the most famous and transplanted white grape globally, is particularly well suited to our diverse latitudes, climates, soils, and thankfully in recent years, our maturing winemaking.
Inevitably the follow-up question is ‘where is the top chardonnay grown?’ which in my opinion launches an easy reply: Ontario. Yes, there are fantastic chardonnays out of BC (keep an eye on those Wine Islands) and Nova Scotia. But the limestone-laced soils of Ontario are where the grape achieves its greatest heights. Of course, terroir is only part of the complexities of outstanding wines. Ontario winemakers have focused on chardonnay clones, rootstocks, site, farming, winemaking, and elevage over the last decade+, raising the tide for the entire industry. Top winemakers are making world-class examples, age-worthy and structured, yet with a limestone lightness of being and grounding in cool climate terroir firmly Ontario. Whereas BC chardonnay is more fresh fruit and wood-framed, the well-handled reduction is impressive in Ontario chardonnay, coming only through maturity of working with the grape. VQA chardonnay is the top wine variety produced in the province, accounting for 13.1% of total VQA wine production by volume.
The annual International Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration (i4c) in Niagara is now one of the events of the year on the international circuit, drawing widespread attention. The last two years have been virtual, with this year’s celebration happening this weekend, combining a mix of virtual presentations as well as in-person dining events.
Here is a Top 10 look of recently tasted Ontario chardonnay, all of which will require a visit east to find although the BC borders are open to Ontario wines so online buying is an option, something the province of Ontario has steadfastly denied BC wine producers. Of course, top producers like Thomas Bachelder, and Hidden Bench, could easily fill an entire Top 10 list themselves. Still, I’ve chosen a selection of producers, regions, and styles, all very worthy of seeking out.