I loved Chardonnay even when Chardonnay wasn't cool. And the coolest of the uncool? Ontario Chardonnay.
That's why I spent the weekend in Niagara at the International Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration. This is the fourth year for this international event that draws together more than two thousand other lovers of the world's most planted -- and often, maligned -- grape, Chardonnay.
Maligned? Oh yes! Chardonnay even has a movement and an acronym against it: Anything But Chardonnay (ABC). These detractors believe the grape is over-planted, fat, bland, heavily oaked, inexpensive jug wine. Warm climates such as California and Chile have perpetuated that stereotype.
A subtitle of this event is "The Rebirth of Cool." Chardonnay is getting more than a little love on this weekend; it's a re-branding makeover. The organizers of The International Cool Climate Celebration (i4c) are passionate about breaking nasty stereotypes and spreading the word about just how versatile and complex attributes of Chardonnay can be when grown in a cool climate.
What is a cool climate Chardonnay? As they say, it's all about location, location, location. While there are no strict definitions of what a cool climate Chardonnay is, it's agreed that it's one or several factors influencing the vines: latitude, coastal influence and high altitude.
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Niagara is one of the most iconic producers of cool climate Chardonnay with vineyards nestled between the Niagara Escarpment and the Great Lakes Erie and Ontario. This creates a protective and nurturing micro-climate. Limestone and galactic soils add minerality and expression to characteristic Ontario Chardonnay. The Chardonnay grape grows well here.
Niagara also happens to share the same latitude as Burgundy, France, often considered the benchmark for Chardonnay, and where the internationally recognized Chablis is crafted. Chablis is both the name of the region in Northern Burgundy as well as the wine but it's made from Chardonnay grapes.
Both Niagara and Burgundy have cool continental climate in common. The difference between the regions might be perception. Chablis just seems refined. Classic. Like a little black dress.
Cool climate Chardonnay characteristics tend to be elegant, higher in acidity, lower in alcohol, with notes of tree fruit, stone fruit, stony minerality and citrus, making it very food friendly since it doesn't overwhelm most dishes, from salads to seafood, to chicken.
Warm climate Chardonnay is generally full-bodied,creamy, lower acidity, higher alcohol, with notes of
tropical fruit, oak, vanilla and butter. The range of food pairings tends to be more limited because the wine is hefty and so the dish too needs to be more robust like pork chops.
To make those differences come alive in the glass, 58 cool climate winemakers from around the world, as well as top chefs and oeno-celebrities, host a series of tastings, lectures and workshops.
I was one of 187 volunteers at this year's celebration, helping set up and pour wine for the attendees. They enjoyed sipping, strolling and chatting on the sprawling lawns beside rows of vineyards that reach out to touch the horizon.
As the white tents got set up and the glasses came out and wine got poured, the ABC movement was MIA.
International Cool Climate Celebration 2014
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