Wine Review: 2009 Laughing Stock Chardonnay

11 07 2011

In case my constant compulsive pumping of Riesling didn’t already tell you this about me, I’m not much of a Chardonnay guy.  I’m not an active hater, but I can generally take it or leave it, and it’s definitely not where my eyes go on a white wine list.  I find most oak-aged Chardonnays to be a bit of a blunt instrument, tasering the taste buds into submission with a lumberyard of wood (often accompanied by crazy high alcohol) and overwhelming the sense of delicacy that I think the best white wines possess.  Conversely, I find most unoaked Chardonnays to be, well, extraordinarily boring:  Chardonnay is a fairly neutral grape by itself, without any intense flavours, and with no oak providing backup vocals it can lack the layer of intrigue that it sorely needs.  Of course, this dreary portrait doesn’t apply to all Chards out there (Burgundy fans, put down your pitchforks — I can’t afford your wines anyway), but it covers more of them than it should.

Great bottle, great marketing, great wine.

But leave it to my (now official) favourite Canadian producer to walk that difficult middle ground between extreme oakiness and mind-numbing neutrality.  Coming off the extremely strong showing of their signature red blend Portfolio back in May, the Okanagan’s Laughing Stock Vineyards kept the PnP love fest going with their 2009 Chardonnay, which struck a perfect balance.  The LS label info alone gave me high hopes, for two reasons.  First, the alcohol level was only 13.2%, not a percent and a half higher like some New World Chardonnays; since all the alcohol in wine comes from the sugars in ripe grapes, this non-astronomical alcohol level means that the grapes weren’t crazily overripe when they were fermented, which in turn means that the resulting wine likely won’t be overly full and will likely retain some much-needed acidity.  Second, instead of being aged in small oak barrels for a long period of time (usually a year or more), the LS Chardonnay was actually fermented in oak and then aged in larger oak barrels called puncheons (the bigger the barrel, the less surface area contact with the wine and the less flavour imparted) for only 5 months.  As compared to strictly aging in oak, barrel fermentation generally results in more controlled, better integrated and softer oak flavours being imparted into the wine, all good things for someone easing their way into oaky whites.  This is why more information on wine labels is always better than less!

Stelvin Rating: 2/10 (The LS Portfolio had an actual cork...what gives? Don't mind the screwtop, but plain black? Not cool.)

Once I successfully broke away from reading the bottle and actually poured the wine, I was surprised that it wasn’t as deep and darkly golden as most Chardonnays I’m used to seeing; instead, it was a medium straw colour, another indication of only moderate oak treatment.  But there was no mistaking the oak influence on the nose, which featured toast, butterscotch, vanilla and some char at the forefront (all oaky notes), leaving the aromas of the grape itself (red apple, white flower) more in the background.  On the palate, everything melded seamlessly together into a body that was full and creamy and yet not at all heavy.  The oak presence was more restrained than on the nose but still definitely on display, and there was a ton going on in the flavour department, as evidenced by this rolodex of tasting notes:  butter, popcorn, creme brulee, pear, apple, honeydew melon, some nuttiness and a slight medicinal/linament taste.  Yet the thing that made this whole wine tick was its amazing acidity, crisp and alive, which permeated the whole palate and kept the LS energetic and light on its feet.  This acid spine carried the wine to an extended, harmonious finish.  (Note to Laughing Stock:  I just went to your website to find out the price on this wine and noticed that you described its finish as “long lasting and harmonious”.  I swear I wrote the previous sentence before reading that and am not plagiarizing you…at least not intentionally.)

If you have given up on North American Chardonnay as being an assortment of unsophisticated oak bombs, give this one a try.  If you don’t like Chardonnay at all, go buy a Riesling…or give the Laughing Stock a shot to see what good Chardonnay is supposed to taste like, and THEN go buy a Riesling.  This is another great showing from the best Canadian winery I’ve come across to date.

91+ points

$25 to $30 CDN

P.S.   I see from their website that Laughing Stock also makes a Syrah…that sound you hear is my palate exploding with delight.  Calgary wine folks, does anyone know if the LS Syrah is sold anywhere in the city?  If anyone knows, leave a comment and tell me…it is definitely on my wish list.  Thanks!

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