#2 TOP FIVE OF THE LAST FIVE

#2: Norman Hardie 2008 County Chardonnay, Prince Edward County, Ontario $37

If Bierzo is building a rebirth and Niagara is leaving adolescence for adulthood, then Prince Edward County is an infant. Too new to anticipate its succees or even survival, we catch glimpses of a promising prodigy. The County sits on a peninsula of limestone that juts south into Lake Ontario just west of Kingston and
is a notoriously difficult place to grow grapes. Temperatures get so cold that cordons need to be buried in clay each winter to provide the extra insulation necessary to salvage as many buds as possible before the spring comes. And when the spring does arrive, the vineyard workers must remove the earth by hand, for mechanizing this process can sever the cordons themselves.

   

But it is all about the limestone which is said to be more ancient than the heralded limestones of Burgundy. The best sites are in Hillier, in the south western corner of the peninsula where the vineyards gently slope toward the lake and the topsoil is mere inches deep. It is here that we find Norman Hardie Winery.



Norm has worked in some of the world's finest Pinot Noir and Chardonnay regions if Oregon, Central Otago and Burgundy count. With the requisite eccentricity and cavalier spirit of an inspired and accomplished winegrower/maker, Norm's activities seem to dare his contemporaries to doubt him. Tasting from his barrels is a lesson in Ontario terroir, as the wines from different parts of the County and the province* show crystalline differences. When he puts them together in an off-the-cuff blend, each component contributes its worth yet none jockey for position.



His County Chardonnay is entirely unique in character, yet unmistakably familiar to the white Burgundy lover.
If you have tasted the wines of Anne-Claude Leflaive of Domaine Leflaive in Puligny-Montrachet (not to be confused with the negociant Olivier Leflaive) then you have an idea. Once again it comes back to soil. The dominant flinty, mineral quality is enveloped by grapefruit pith, orange rind, mild melon, green apple and a slight char, as though someone lit a match then squeezed a citrus peel into the flame (though in this case it is natural soil expression rather than heavy-handed sulphur dioxide). On the palate you may find the bracing acidity arresting at first sip, but the freshness of the citrus and green apple flavours quickly catches up, then leads to a silt-flavoured finish of barely burnt crust. The wine is jarringly individual, unquestionably intriguing and definitively delicious.

I first tasted this wine with Norm at his winery on my honeymoon, so my memories are padded with positive context. Though I would not insist that everyone fall over this wine with the same enthusiasm as I have, Matt Kramer of the Wine Spectator mentioned it first in his list of 'Wines of the Year'  for 2011. Like it or not, one cannot deny it is truly a distinctive bottling that gazes toward a great future.

-Matt Browman

 *Most, if not all, PEC wineries source fruit and wine from Niagara, just to have enough produce to keep their businesses viable.

 

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