Winery Profile: Le Clos Jordanne
My relationship to Canadian wine is both similar and dissimilar to most Canadians. It is similar because I have great pride for my country, as many Canadians do. It is dissimilar because for me pride translates into expectations. I would like my country to be famous for more than just ice hockey and doughnuts, and I demand excellence from Canada because I know we can live up to that standard. When we don’t, I feel disappointed but I never give up my search for the exceptional. While sitting at a table surrounded by other Vancouver bloggers and social media types and five glasses of wine I discovered excellence in Canadian wine, for the first time. Le Clos Jordanne has, for me, broken the threshold of quality that I have been searching for in Canadian wine for years. And, I am proud that we finally managed to do it. That Le Clos Jordanne is from Ontario does not bug me as a recently minted BC resident. I think our regionalism detracts from our nation, and I think that we should all be proud of what Canadians are doing no matter where they are from.
Le Clos Jordanne is a joint venture between Vincor and Domaine Boisset from Burgundy. The idea was to start a winery completely from scratch to capture the ‘terroir’ of a particular area of the Niagara Pininsula in Ontario around the village of Jordan. The Niagara Escarpment, on which the Niagara wine region of Ontario is located, has a limestone base deposited by the Glacier that carved out the Escarpment so many years ago. The Escarpment, combined with the cooling influence of Lake Ontario, provides the region with enough warm air to allow wine grapes to ripen properly, even given the extreme climate and, accordingly, frost and short growing season concerns.
Viticulture Manager Thomas Bachelder explained that the aim to produce wines with a sense of place was a decision to take the lessons of Burgundy seriously and to treat the terroir with respect rather than simply copying certain methods. Whereas California became giddy with malo-lactic fermentation and heavy French oak treatment despite the fact that their terroir was nothing like Mersault, Le Clos Jordanne aims to produce wines whose oak and fermentation process compliment the climate, soil, and growing conditions of the grapes. I think they have learned these lessons well (likely because Thomas spent time learning to make wine in Burgundy), and I am hugely impressed with the various wines’ ability to remain distinct from each other, despite very similar treatment in the cellar.
Recently in Montreal a group of wine experts set up a remake of the famous judgment of Paris tasting of 1976 that saw California wines beat French wines in a blind tasting. The idea was to pit France vs. America again, although this time with different wines. However, unbenknownst to the experts, a Le Clos Jordanne Claystone Chardonnay was snuck into the lineup and, amazingly, won top honours in the Chardonnay category. And, just so you have a sense which producers the wine was competing against, consider the likes of Jean-Claude Boisset, Joseph Drouhin, Mer Soleil, Sonoma-Cutrer, and Chateau Montelena, amongst others. These are serious competitors who are well respected and garner high scores from all sorts of media. As much as such tastings must be taken with a grain of salt, I think that this achievement is significant.
So, with that in mind, let’s take a look at the wines. In a non-traditional move we were encouraged to begin with the Pinot Noirs before moving on to the Chardonnays. The first wine was the basic ‘village wine’ Village Reserve Pinot Noir 2006, which retails here in BC for $30. This was very forward and fruity, with a nose of spice, and medium bodied cherry. While simple, the palate is also really enjoyable with its dense but grippy medium body, hint of caramel and spice, and fantastic density and delineation. Very Good+.
I next moved on to one of the single vineyard offerings, the Claystone Pinot Noir 2006, retailing at $45. This was a big step up in terms of structure from the basic village wine. It had a softer, stonier nose, with a decidedly twiggy element. The palate was again soft, but also fruit driven and very elegant. Its grippy dry texture is austere but also draws into a lengthy and wonderful mineral finish. Very Good+ to Excellent.
The last red, the Grand Clos Pinot Noir 2006, was a selection of the best parts of the vineyards, and is a big very complex wine that is still very young. The nose had fantastic layering even as it was difficult to derive all the aromas just yet. Its red berry fruit was, as Thomas said, distinct from many New World Pinot Noirs, which often tend towards darker, richer fruits. The palate had a touch of grapefruit, some eucalyptus, and a spicy mid-palate. The great mid-palate structure will allow this to sit a while and develop more significant separation of all the complex layers. This is very likeable, but also reserved. Excelent. $70.
And, now on to the whites, beginning with the Claystone Chardonnay 2006 (the winner of the Montreal tasting). These chardonnays are unlike anything else being done with the grape in Canada that I’ve tasted so far, and are certainly vastly superior to most every BC chardonnay I’ve tasted. In fact, these are almost dead ringers for very tasty Burgundy wines, even while still having a sense of place. Is it distinctly Ontarian? Well, that will probably take some time to tell, but this is a great start. The nose is rich and has pineapple, banana and licorice. But this is not a flabby or buttery chardonnay. No, this has great acidity, is very clean and highlights its citrus flavours while offering hints of opulence with its banana and caramel. The long, minerally finish brings the palate back down to earth and keeps the opulence in check. A very good chard. Very Good+.
The last wine, a Grand Clos Chardonnay 2006, was my wine of the tasting. It is still reserved and I can understand why some would prefer the Claystone right now, but for me this kind of chardonnay is what you would see in a young Premier or Grand Cru chablis – tightness, almost reticence, but with the promise of greatness. The palate doesn’t give a lot up yet, but is dense and very complex. The texture is rich and wonderful – very rounded and even more opulent than the Claystone – but the structure is outstanding. This is real chardonnay, built for food, and could one day rival an excellent wine from Burgundy. Excellent.
In conclusion, these are the first wines from Canada that I’ve given an excellent rating to, and they well deserved it. For me, they broke the quality threshold that I’ve been longing for all these years. My only hope is that as many of you as possible can get the chance to taste these. Right now they are in very limited supply (I believe some are at 39th and Cambie), but if you want to taste great Canadian wine, these are absolutely worth seeking out. Colour me extremely impressed.
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