2022 The Long Way Home Chardonnay, Beamsville Bench VQA, Ontario, Canada (Alcohol 13.5%, Residual Sugar 2.5 g/l) Niagara Custom Crush Website $48 (750ml bottle)

This wine has long been a dream of Ontario/South Africa winemaker Marlize Byers. Taking her experience with skin-ferment whites in South Africa, she chose to make this highly aromatic and textured Chardonnay from Ontario fruit. Now, this wine isn’t made from any old Ontario fruit, but from some of the younger vines in Hidden Bench’s highly regarded Felseck vineyard, a Beamsville Bench fruit source that Byers greatly admires, having worked making wines with vigneron Harald Thiel for so many years. This hallowed fruit source already brings considerable phenolics and structure to the party, but Byers feels that often when making whites in Ontario, the juice is separated from the skins way too soon, and so here 40% of the fruit sees a cold skin ferment with the rest being whole bunch pressed. The wine is then barrel-aged for 10 months in French cooperage, of which only 20% is new.

The resultant wine is a true delight, and here in its first vintage, it shows such potential for becoming one of the real stars of the Ontario Chardonnay scene.

On the gorgeously perfumed bouquet, one will find orchard fruits (pear/apple), citrus (lemon/mandarin), orange blossom, honeycomb and warm wood spice. The medium-weight palate is creamy and mouthfilling, but with an nervy acid profile typical of the Beamsville Bench soils ( a mix of gravel, sand, silt, and clay layered in dolomitic limestone) that certainly makes one sit up and take notice. I find that much of this wine’s structural charm comes from this elusive balance of ripe fruit and crisp, flinty minerality. There’s also a lovely savoury aspect to this wine that I found utterly irresistible; my scribbled tasting notes are testament to this: “like biting into a savoury beeswax”. This savoury element extends out into the persistently flinty finish. It’s a real delight to drink.

The label by artist Rohan Etsebeth of Archival is certainly worthy of a closer inspection. Based upon one of Byer’s photographs taken when walking her dog along a section of the Bruce Trail near her home in Hamilton, there’s an Easter egg hidden on the third tree on the right. Here, one will find likenesses of Marlize, her husband, their two children, an utterly charming addition to a remarkably stylish wine label.

With the burgeoning demand for Hidden Bench wines, Byers has had to adjust her fruit sourcing for the 2023 vintage, instead utilising grapes from the Malivoire Estate vineyard courtesy of her good friend Shiraz Mottiar. I’m very much looking forward to tasting that when it is finally released

(Four and a half out of a possible five apples)