Looking to Western Canada for Chardonnay

I know we’re in the depths of winter here in Ontario – coming out of one of the worst snowstorms in more than a decade… which is why I thought it best to look ahead to the warm days of spring – or at least talk about wines that’ll put you in a warmish frame of mind.

I was at a British Columbia wine tasting in January and, although many of us think of BC as Canada’s place for powerhouse reds, white wines from that blessed province are pretty good too… now when I was in BC a few years ago, I saw Gewürztraminer and Pinot Blanc as their big strengths in the white department, but two fairly new wines that have come into the LCBO show that BC can also produce other white varieties too… namely Chardonnay.


Starting with the Gray Monk 2011 Unwooded Chardonnay ($19.95 – #303743)… “unwooded” means without oak,which is a growing segment with Chardonnay fans these days who are tired of the Château Two-by-Four days of Australia and the United States.  This version is all fruit: tangerine with some tropical notes, nice acidity and quite easy drinking (****).

Those who like oak, but like it subtle, should check out the Sandhill 2010 Chardonnay ($17.95 – #157982). This wine is split 50/50 between barrel and stainless steel, which means it has hints of oak along with hints of fruit… balance is the key to this one, knowing the right amount of oak to season that lovely fresh fruit – and winemaker Howard Soon seems to have achieved that balance with this vintage. The oaked part sees only nine months’ oak and the barrels are both new and one year old, and that can import quite a bit into the wine if you’re not careful. This was an irregular vintage in BC with cooler-than-normal temperatures that seem to have benefited white grapes like Chardonnay. Vanilla creaminess with notes of fresh apple, peach and pineapple – plus there’s that great balancing act between the oak and stainless. The price is pretty respectable too, especially when compared to other BC wines in our market. This one is a relative steal for those who like their oak as a seasoning instead of as the “star of the show” (****).

Gray Monk 2011 Unwooded Chardonnay – $19.95, #303743 (**** = very good)

Sandhill 2010 Chardonnay – $17.95, #157982 (**** = very good)