The KING of white grapes! Chardonnay can be disguised using a few different labels: Chablis, Champagne, and Bourgogne Blanc, AKA White Burgundy.
If you’ve seen a Chablis in the French section of your liquor store, that’s a Chardonnay with slim-to-no oak, and commands a high price - it is pretty good stuff!
Champagne is sparkling wine that uses three different grapes and one of them being Chardonnay, and can be 100% Chardonnay (Blanc de Blancs) if the winery so desires.
Bourgogne Blanc is what’s referred to as White Burgundy, the staple white grape grown in Burgundy, France, which almost all Chardonnays are compared to and is the gold standard.
Our Okanagan Chardonnays are done in many different styles, from unoaked to oaked, and you’ve probably already heard some of the local wineries coining their Chardonnay as Chablis or French style to showcase their unoaked version. I personally prefer my Chardonnay slightly oaked, but I also enjoy it unoaked, it just depends on the weather and what I plan on pairing with it.
To oak or not to oak?
If you like a rounder mouthfeel, spice, a bit of smoke integrated with your wine, then an oaked Chardonnays is the way to go. If you're looking for the expression of the grape and a lighter mouthfeel, minus those complex flavours then the “French Style or Chablis Style” will be more up your alley. I always suggest starting with a lightly oaked wine if you’re trying Chardonnay for the first time, so you can experience its impact in minimal amounts. You’ll find that you either like it, are intrigued by it, or not interested. Keep trying it though, because it can be an acquired taste. You may go from not really liking it, to semi-liking it, to becoming a Chardonnay lover. It doesn’t take much.
For our Chardonnay blind tasting we used the picnic area at Spearhead in East Kelowna. It was a perfect day, mid-to-late teens, a slight breeze in the air, and we were surrounded by grapes -another perfect day to taste wine.
A big thank you to Jennifer from Spearhead for letting us do our tasting here. They have a great location and patio for sipping wine. We really enjoyed our visit to the tasting room after!
We had two guest judges: Jeremy and Ron.
Ron is what I like to call a Chardonnay geek. Yes, he’s still our average Joe, however he does come with an extensive Chardonnay palette. When I was spit-balling the idea of battle of the Okanagan, he immediately asked to be one of the judges for the Chardonnay category. Done!
Jeremy has been our go-to professional photographer for our tasting events and also a big Chardonnay fan, so it was great to have him tasting with us instead of being behind the camera.
We had eight wines to go through - talk about a marathon! Most of these wines we have tasted before and there were a few new to us. Vintages were all over the map, and so were the price points.
We tasted, rated and scored each of these Chardonnays blind. This post will provide you with a description of each bottle, who won, and what the winners’ score was.
In no particular order…
#1 Sandhill Wines Terroir Driven Wine
Colour: Pale Lemon
Aroma: Medium intensity, blossom, pear, apples, citrus, vanilla, cream, fruity
Taste: Medium intensity, high acidity, light to medium body (feels light in your mouth) bone dry, spicy, flat, boozy, subtle oak, and burnt caramel
Finish: Unbalanced, short, not much there
Comments: “A good entry level Chard if you’re looking to take the plunge”
#2 Moraine Estate
Vintage: 2018 (Price based on 2017)
Region: Naramata Bench
Colour: Medium Lemon
Aroma: Medium intensity, almonds, swimming pool, wet wool, flint, wet stone, vanilla cream, light pineapple.
Taste: Medium intensity, high acid, dry, medium body, stern minerality, textured, baking spice, citrus, sharp, thin, grippy, flinty, nutty.
Finish: Texture sits on your tongue, burnt sugar, short, lingering nuttiness
Comments: “Not perfect, but give it time to show you personality”. “Young with some potential”. “Integrates well at higher temperature”. “Still new and needs time”.
#3 Tantalus Estate
Colour: Pale Gold.
Aroma: Pronounced intensity, orchard fruits, pear, apple, peach, pineapple, melon, citrus, saline, salty, hint of petrol, slate, cashew, floral, clove.
Taste: Intense, high acidity, dry, butterscotch, graphite, textural, brown sugar, apricot, peach cobbler, vanilla, butter, brazil nuts, starts fruity and shifts to nutty.
Finish: Long, nutty and minerals, brazil nut, toast, lingers quite nicely.
Comments: “Love it!”. “Revolving layers”. “Balanced, long, and changing as we drink”. “Beautiful and complex, would love this with apricot tarts on a shady afternoon patio”
#4 50th Parallel
Region: Lake Country
Colour: Light Gold.
Aroma: Shy, boozy, brown sugar, new oak, sour apple, buttery, apricot, ketchup chips, watermelon, pleasant.
Taste: Medium intensity, high acid, dry, bold body, rich residual sugar, spice, clove, grilled pineapple, honey, fruit forward, powerful.
Finish: Long and light, difficult to pick out flavour, oak lingers.
Comments: “Not too boozy or unbalanced”.
#5 Little Engine Wines Silver
Colour: Medium gold with tawny hue.
Aroma: Pronounced, ripe pear, melon, green apple, fresh cut hay, pie crust, burnt caramelized sugar, white flower, chalk, lemon, stone fruit.
Taste: Pronounced intensity, dry, high acid, medium body, buttery, fresh, textural, minerality, spicy, honey crisp apple, lees, flor, toasty, butterscotch, oats.
Finish: Spicy, medium, tart, grapefruit rind, grassy.
Comments: “Consistent throughout”. “Enjoyable”. “Expression is consistent from nose to finish”. “Has that initial wow factor when you first taste it” .
#6 Cedar Creek Estate
Colour: Medium lemon.
Aroma: Medium + intensity, caramel, sweet onions, honeysuckle, sweet apple, hints of peach.
Taste: Medium intensity, off-dry, high acid, medium body, lots of oak, planky, molasses, rich sweetness, peach, red apples, alcohol forward.
Finish: Short, acidic, and flat, oak’s there but not strong.
Comments: “Struggle to pick out the actual flavours”. ““Easy drinking without thinking”. “Doesn’t disappoint but won’t make you happy”. “Nothing wrong but nothing right”.
#7 Spearhead Clone 95
Region: East Kelowna
Colour: Medium gold.
Aroma: Pronounced intensity, herbaceous, walnut, toasted almond, tart citrus, green pepper, buttery, herbs, stone fruit, light, cloves, pear, fresh cut grass.
Taste: Pronounced, dry, high acid, great round mouthfeel, stone fruit, tropical fruit, ripe and rich, oak, lemon, grapefruit, white pepper, liquorish, minerality, buttered toast, green apple, saline, saltiness, clean and really good.
Finish: Medium finish, more texture than flavor, blast of fruit and a lingering minerality, smooth.
Comments: “Balanced, complex, yummy”. “This one!”
#8 The Hatch - Black Swift, Oak Street Vineyard
Region: West Kelowna
Colour: Deep gold Aroma: Pronounced intensity, floral, baked goods, cream, liquorish, exotic fruit, caramel, salted butter, hint of dried cured meats, fruit, hay, funky, dried fruit, buttered pears and toast.
Taste: Pronounced intensity, high acid, delicate and refined, medium body, medium acid, expressive, complex, buttered popcorn, fresh cut lumber, smoked meats, deep, marmalade, saltiness, oak, so damn tasty!
Finish: Rich and oaky, medium, caramel, nice and soft, buttery on the tongue
Comments: “Just pour me more!”. “Crazy complex-so much happening”. “Keep it or drink it, it’ll only get better, but so good now”. “Cellar this!”
-THE HIGHEST SCORE-
Most people tend to have a love or hate relationship with Chardonnay and that’s because of what I like to call the “oak monster”. However, as I sit here sipping on what’s left of the winner's bottle, I’m reminded of how amazing a wine can be with the right amount of oak. This is the first competition where we had barely any variation on our scores, so there wasn’t much debate on the winner.
And the winner is.......
#8 - 2016 The Hatch -
Black Swift, Oak Street Vineyard
with an average score of 13.8/15 (our new highest score!)
The moment we all had a sip of this, well, let's say it’s exactly what we were waiting for. Throughout this competition, that seems to be the staple experience, we enjoy all the wines, but then there’s one that makes you say “WOW”, or something else more vulgar, and that very same thing happened.
The Hatch is a winery like no-other, at least from my perspective. It has that laid-back Okanagan vibe, not pretentious, and at the same time doing wine that’s top quality. I took my cousins there a few years ago and everyone remembers the experience like it was yesterday – it's so unique and fun in such a way that it’s hard to forget.
This was my first kick at the Hatch’s Oak Street Chardonnay. I’ve never tried it at the winery, and honestly, it’s worth every cent. Yes, it’s the highest priced wine in the Chardonnay category, but not by much, it’s also the oldest out of all of them, which could contribute to all those complex flavours, but it was up to the winery to submit a Chardonnay – lower priced, expensive, old or young.
As wines get old, even a year older, they can start to take on new amazing flavours – marmalade, honey, dried fruit, caramel, toast, crème brulee...among others. All of those flavours were found in this Chardonnay and it smelt amazing and tasted even better.
Congrats to The Hatch! Now that I’m done writing this article, I’m going to buy a bottle or two.