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Cool climate viticulture can generate an awful lot of hot air among wine people. It has become the go-to descriptor for any trendy Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Syrah, Riesling and much else besides. Perhaps inevitably, the term can be bandied about indiscriminately. Anyway, low temperatures alone do not a fine wine make. Doubtless the delegates at this week's International Cool Climate Wine Symposium are discussing all this and more.
Having to bury your vines in winter to prevent them from freezing to death is a pretty good indication of cool climate. So is producing Pinot Noir and Chardonnay that doesn't even reach 11.5% alcohol. But the most important thing about Norman Hardie's wines from Ontario are that they are absolutely, utterly, profoundly delicious.
I first tasted them at the International Pinot Noir Celebration in Oregon in 2013, at which they were some of my most memorable bottles. I encountered them again at a tasting run by The Wine Society and was similarly impressed. Then at a recent generic Canadian tasting in London, I tasted across the range for the first time and was thrilled by them all.
That's why I haven't recommended any particular cuvée; all five of the Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs I tasted are equally meritorious, albeit with differences in style and price.
The County Unfiltered Chardonnay 2013 from Prince Edward County is a masterclass in balancing smoky, struck-match aromas with apple fruit, the clarity of which seems an especially indicative trait of cool climate wines. Achieving such extreme but controlled flavour concentration at only 11.4% alcohol seems to defy nature – but is in fact a direct reflection of it. The Unfiltered Chardonnay 2013 from the Niagara Peninsula was a richer style, though with equal mineral essence – if the former is Puligny-Montrachet, then this is more Meursault.
Then came the Cuvée L Chardonnay 2012, a cross-regional blend only made in the best vintages, which was staggeringly good – more buttery and honeyed than the 2013s, and topping out at a positively heady 12.4% alcohol, but retaining the same precision balance of acid and body, with a long, exotic fragrance on the finish. Compared to its siblings, it may look expensive at nearly 70 Canadian dollars; compared to grand cru burgundy, it is grossly underpriced.
Two reds followed: County Unfiltered Pinot Noir 2014 and Unfiltered Pinot Noir 2014 (from Prince Edward County and the Niagara Peninsula respectively, as per the Chardonnays). In both, the red-fruit flavours are rendered with sublime freshness and purity. The County bottling is perfumed and fragrant (like Volnay, I thought), while its counterpart is more earthy and chewy. Both are packed with flavour and yet tip the scales at gravities of only 10.9% and 11.4% respectively – just remarkable.
I cannot enthuse about these wines enough. They are none of them cheap, nor should they be. Even so, the quality and complexity of flavour on offer makes them superb value for money (especially in the world of Pinot Noir). What's more, they are in structure and style the most honest representation of a cool climate that anyone could possibly hope for.
Find these wines (In the UK, The Wine Society is expecting more Pinot Noir to arrive imminently, I am told; in the meantime, Wine-Searcher reveals several other stockists).