8 Perfectly balanced chardonnays for the winter

Great lineup of mid-weight chardonnays with a bit of oak

It’s sunny, about 1 C in Calgary, and the perfect sort of winter day one hopes for living anywhere in Canada.

It also seems like the sort of day that chardonnay is made for: relatively warm without being hot, it’s the sort of day for a mid-weight white wine with maybe a little oak.

Chardonnay is the king of white grapes. While some swear off it (the ABCs or Anything But Chardonnay), its flavour profile and the quality of wines it can produce along with its proclivity to be planted almost everywhere wine is made mean that you often aren’t too far from chardonnay.

At some of its finest, in places like Chablis, it doesn’t see a lot of oak flavours, but on the other end of the spectrum in places like Australia and the U.S., it can see a lot of oak, becoming a vanilla bean, movie-style buttered popcorn wine monster. Thankfully, this broad brush was retired some time ago, and all around the world, chardonnays are being made with a delicate and balanced hand for oak.

Chardonnay is the number two white grape in British Columbia, with about 900 acres planted with it, and I’m grateful to say that most producers are taking a restrained hand with the barrel and making some interesting and tasty wines.

Bench 1775 2012 Chardonnay, Okanagan Valley

Relatively new to the Alberta market, this was a pretty impressive bottle. Crushed lime, macadamia nut, and apple fruits on the nose with a rich, no-oak flavour profile. Supple, creamy, with a bit of acid kick on the finish. Should be a good friend to poultry dishes or even some seared scallops.

$23 at the winery.

Quails’ Gate 2014 Chardonnay, Okanagan Valley

Decidedly tropical on the nose with bright pineapple and lemon aromas and the “right” amount of oak throughout (50/50 stainless and barrel) there is plenty of acid zing as well. which makes up for a little reductive or matchstick character on the fore-palate. Breaded chicken or something with birds with a rich sauce would work here.

$20 in B.C., QC, $22 in SK and AB, $23 in NB and ON.

Bartier Bros. 2013 Unoaked Chardonnay (Cerqueira Vineyard), Okanagan Valley

Lots of interesting things going on in this glass. Apparently, no oak is harmed in making this one, but plenty of lees contact and stirring brings some toasted nut aromas to the front. Fairly spicy with sourdough flavours and bright apple, and a mild caramel or oxidative character on the finish. It’s aging a little and I’m interested to see where it goes. In the meantime, lobster, rich chowders, or a beef tenderloin would be fine and dandy with this.

$20 at the winery, $25 in AB.

Township 7 2014 Chardonnay, Okanagan Valley

Made with 50/50 stainless and oak (French and American, 18 per cent new), it’s bright and easy-going on the nose, perhaps aimed towards the crowd that likes fruit-driven whites. Flavours are light and clean with fresh apples and pears, finishing with a slightly waxy lime fruit. Should pair nicely with pork (something with apples on the side).

About $19 at the winery.

CedarCreek 2013 Chardonnay, Okanagan Valley

Fermented in oak, stainless steel and partially aged in a 2250-litre barrel called a foudre to bring a little balance without adding a lot of oak flavour, the nose is pretty muted, but still nuanced and appropriate. In the mouth, strikes a good point between oaky and steely. Very good from start to finish, and perhaps a little underpriced too.

$17 at the winery, about $20 in AB and QC.

Spierhead 2013 Chardonnay, Okanagan Valley

Made with 20 per cent new oak barrels, with the rest in stainless for 10 months, the nose here is a bit reductive and sulphur-y over apple skin and pear fruit. Much better on the palate, the fruits are pretty solid, but it doesn’t quite shake the reductive nose. Sorry kids.

$20 at the winery.


CedarCreek 2013 Platinum “Block 5” Chardonnay, Okanagan Valley

Sold out, with a few floating around in liquor stores, the Platinum series from CedarCreek is pretty solid. The 5th block is right at the winery, at the front porch of the winemaker, giving no excuse if these grapes aren’t perfectly ripe at harvest. Fully present oak characters lend the right amount of support to strong varietal fruits of baked apple and floral tones. Perfect, drinkable chardonnay that will cellar well or be ready to roll when salmon or lobster tails are on the menu.

About $26 when available at the winery. $36 in AB.

JoieFarm 2012 “En Famille” Reserve Chardonnay, Okanagan Valley

The sort of pale gold in the glass that just sets your heart aflutter, this wine is all about barriques, lees, and fruit selection. Creamy, toasty, citrus-y on the nose with a vague oiliness and caramel toned on the nose. Flavour-wise, it’s packing it all in. The rich, buttery tones, sourdough crust, and lemon zest with great acids poking out along the way. Seafood all the way here. Sold out at the winery, but it’s still possible to find at the retail level.

Plan on spending about $30-$40, depending on if you are in AB or B.C.