A few weeks back the lovely folks behind i4C sent me a couple of sample bottles to assist in the writing of a piece about International Chardonnay Day. Unfortunately due to the logistics of getting anything delivered to our place way out in the bucolic Beaver Valley, I didn’t receive said bottles until after the day in question (May 21st), and so it was actually a few weeks later that I got around to opening them up side by side for a comparative tasting.

It was a warmer evening after an extremely long and stressful day (aren’t they all in these most difficult of times?), and so the prospect of cracking open a couple of very different Ontario cool climate Chardonnays was a most welcome one, and if the truth be told I had been daydreaming about it all day.

Every i4C I’m delighted to rediscover once again the myriad pleasures of cool climate Chardonnays, from both Ontario and elsewhere in the world, and as I sat back on my deck that night, looking over the explosion of green that was our backyard, tasting the 2019 Ravine Unoaked and the 2017 Thirty Bench Small Lot I went through that wonderful process of rediscovery and palate realignment once again.

I regularly taste a fair bit of Chardonnay, but it’s rarely I examine multiple bottles at home, appreciating their similarities and contrasting their differences; upon that particular night with those two wines I somehow managed to achieve a level of internal serenity that had been missing from my life since the beginning of the pandemic. I’d go as far as stating that it was almost a spiritual thing.

I found myself vividly recalling what it was like back-in-the-days BC (Before COVID-19) to taste and drink alongside fellow Sommeliers, Writers, Winemakers, and Winelovers. Such tastings seem as if they happened a decade ago, when in reality it was only five months past I was sharing in the enjoyment of exploring wines with my peers. Time certainly doesn’t fly during a lockdown, that’s for sure.

Thinking deeper upon this topic, I came to realise that there was a certain visceral thrill that I was longing for, something that the online Zoom-delivered tasting simply didn’t come anywhere close to providing.

It’s something to do with a yearning for the voluntary and involuntary mannerisms that make us inherently social animals, all of those immensely complex unspoken interactions, the sideways glances, the eye rolls, the observations of satisfaction/revulsion on the faces of fellow tasters, perhaps even the interpretations of pheromonal emissions as a group collectively sip, spit, and swallow.

As I sat out there that evening under the gentle warmth of the slowly setting sun, I closed my eyes and took a small mouthful of the not-too-cold/not-too-warm Ravine Unoaked Chardonnay, relishing the ripe purity of fruit and admiring its unadorned vinous beauty.

I imagined myself seated in a classroom-style room with Malcolm Jolley, Sara D’Amato, Michael Godel, John Szabo, Christopher Sealy, Veronique Rivest, and all the rest of the gorgeous cabal of talent and eccentricity that make working in the line of work I do so very enjoyable; and yes, even Dean Tudor was there, propping up the buffet, replete with sandwich crumbs and cream cheese in his beard. It was simply blissful to be back where I belonged. 

Reaching for the Thirty Bench Small Lot, I brought the second glass to my nose, breathing in its cerebral complexities, relishing the almost ritualistic academic deconstruction of its olfactory enjoyments. As I raised it to my lips, I exchange a knowing nod and wry smile with Chris Wilton, seated on the far left of the room, a signal of our mutual appreciation of the wine in question, and the subtle bonds between our palates.

Oh man, the satiating texture on Emma Garner’s Chardonnays is always to die for. I shake my head and grin, overwhelmed by the sheer thrill of what’s in the glass in front of me. All is good in the world…

I opened my eyes, and SNAP, I was back to my lockdown reality, sitting alone (bar some scurrying squirrels) in the pastoral tranquility of rural Ontario. 

Looking at our current situation rationally, it’s going to be a hell of a long time until things return to anything approaching normality, particularly when it comes to tastings.

Until that distant moment in time, I’m going to sit on my back deck, sip some Ontario Chardonnay and dream a little…

Edinburgh-born/Toronto-based Sommelier, consultant, writer, judge, and educator Jamie Drummond is the Director of Programs/Editor of Good Food Revolution… And he’s really feeling the lockdown love for Ontario Chardonnay right now.