Ontario wines shock and amaze British critics

17 winemakers fly to Britain for an exclusive tasting at Canada House in Trafalgar Square

IT ALL BEGAN when Bill Redelmeier, proprietor of Southbrook Vineyards, heard an interview on CBC radio.

A Montreal wine writer, Marc Chapleau, had put on a blind tasting of fine white Burgundies versus top California Chardonnays and had slipped in a bottle of Ontario’s Le Clos Jordanne Claystone Vineyard Chardonnay 2005 as a ringer. The tasters put this Ontario wine in first place.

On air Le Clos Jordanne’s winemaker Thomas Bachelder said, self-deprecatingly, that any one of 10 Ontario Chardonnays could have produced the same result. The light went on for Redelmeier: why not take the top Ontario Chardonnays to London and have them tasted by the world’s most exacting wine critics?

Redelmeier invited eight local wine writers to taste blind some 60 Chardonnays to choose the top wines to take across the Atlantic. In the end, 40 wines from 22 producers made the cut.

The tasting was held in Canada House in Trafalgar Square and the date, May 17, was judiciously chosen. It happened to be the 50th anniversary of the Circle of Wine Writers in the U.K. and one day before the opening of the London Wine Fair. This meant that attendance from the notoriously picky wine press would be good.

And 17 of the winemakers had flown over to London to pour their wines and explain them to the invited writers.

Billed as Ontario Chardonnay: Seriously Cool, the event echoed a seminal tasting organized in Paris by Steven Spurrier. As a brash young English wine merchant in 1976, he pitted California’s best Chardonnays and Cabernet Sauvignons against top Burgundys and Bordeaux in a blind tasting.

The tasters were all French experts, and when the dust settled, they had placed California top in both white and red categories — much to their collective chagrin.

Spurrier himself, the hero of the movie Bottle Shock, was on hand that day in London to sample the Ontario wines.

“I was amazed,” he commented, following his tasting tour of the room. “There was not a single poor wine here. They all have an individual personality. They’re all brilliantly well made. I’m very impressed.”

Jancis Robinson, the doyenne of British wine writers, was more qualified in her praise. “There were some really, really nice wines, varied, but not me-too products,” she said. “Certainly this variety is well suited to Canada.”

Naturally, it was Ms. Robinson whose verdict was most awaited by the participating winery proprietors. On her blog she reviewed all the Chardonnays she tasted, singling out her favourites, such as Huff Estates South Bay Vineyard Chardonnay 2007, South Brook Triopmphe Chardonnay 2008 and Malivoire Mottiar Chardonnay Vineyard 2007.

Bill Redelmeier was justifiably elated by the reaction.

“Everyone’s got big smiles on their faces. We had a wonderful response from the press, and it should do us a world of good as far as putting Ontario on the map.”


Article exclusive to STREETS OF TORONTO