Earlier this week I was fortunate enough to join Thomas Bachelder and his wife Mary Delaney for dinner in Ottawa at Steve Beckta's new joint, Gezellig. They had just finished of day of restaurant visits with my colleague Vanessa Nisbet showing off their new releases to the city's sommeliers when we met for what turned out to be an excellent dinner.
For those of you who don't know the name Thomas Bachelder, he's the man who brought fame to Niagara's Le Clos Jordanne as a top Ontario producer specializing in Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. A couple years ago Thomas decided to leave Le Clos to start his own boutique pan-continental Chardonnay brand; a really interesting terroir project making organic Chardonnay in Oregon, Niagara and Burgundy, letting each place and vintage speak for itself. Throughout his past years as the winemaker at Lemelson Vineyards in Oregon followed by launching Vincor's flagship brand 'Le Clos Jordanne' in Niagara, Thomas has built quite a Rolodex of top winemakers and grapegrowers. This is incredibly important to the quality aspect of such an international boutique brand, because if you're not in the vineyard on a day-to-day basis, you better know the best people who are. And he does. Thomas and his wife Mary have used these relationships to rent space inside local wineries and to source all of the very best organically grown grapes, which can be difficult to procure for an outsider. So by making use of all his own winemaking experience as well as great contacts and resources in Niagara, Oregon and Burgundy he's been able to start what looks to be a very very promising venture.
We began dinner at Gezellig with a blind tasting for myself and Grayson McDiarmid, Wine Director at Gezellig. The wine was white, so one would assume Chardonnay considering Thomas' gig. But the colour wasn't dark enough and the nose wasn't quite rich enough to be Chardonnay from any of the three regions they produce in. Chablis crossed my mind, but the palate wasn't quite plump enough either. It was fresh, quite complex, had a lot of depth and minerality, but didn't have the fattness of Chardonnay but definitely smelt like it could be Burgundian. Half jokingly I guessed Aligote, and Grayson agreed. Surprised by our guess, Thomas then asked "...Aligote from where?" - "Burgundy?" we responded. Puligny-Montrachet was the more specific answer!
To get some of the top organic Chardonnay grapes Thomas was trying to buy, he needed to buy some Aligote as well. This is often the case with grape growers, to get X parcel of amazing grapes you also need to buy Y. And in this case, whats cooler than Chardonnay's little brother from Puligny?? In Burgundy the vignerons drink Aligote in the fields (their version of Beer O'clock, I suppose), as aperitifs or as starters with oysters--As pictured below in its most legitimate form: in magnum at Joe Beef in Montreal. Thats right, magnums of Aligote...That's how Joe Beef rolls.
But if you think the Aligote is cool, that's just the sideshow. Thomas' stable of Chardonnays are an inspiring exercise in terroir. I joined them for a tasting at the Wellington Gastropub the following day to taste through the entire lineup: Niagara VQA, then single vineyard versions of Wismer and Saunders Vineyards in Niagara. The difference in these 3 Chards was clear, but also very interesting similarities when tasted side-by-side. Then when you line them up next to Oregon then Beaune the contrasts and similarities were drawn out even further. I think right off the bat Oregon was my preference as it seems the most middle of the road to me, but Beaune had such a linear acidity with almost salty minerality I kept going back to it. The Niagara wines were surely the richest, but with subtle and balanced oak integration...definitely some of the best that I've tasted recently from the area.
There is a good reason Thomas is one of Ontario's most celebrated winemakers, and there's far too much I could say about each of these outstanding wines, so you should just run out and try them yourself. Several are released in Vintages right now, but they won't last long, last year they sold out immediately. Click here for tech sheets from Niagara and Oregon. Visit their website for more details at http://thomasbachelder.com/ and follow them on Twitter @Bachelder_Wines