The WineAlign National Wine Awards of Canada are a complex, multifarious and many-splendored thing. The Nationals bring unity, cross-provincial comity and international variety to the Canadian wine scene. That’s more than can be said about the commerce side of things. It requires a whole lot more than good will to make this most important Canadian competition happen. It takes 1,500+ unique wines, algorithms, logistics, space, time and people.
My fourth Nationals in the books and the apogee of perquisite function is reached. That’s how it feels, in retrospect. The overture of function and the apex of wine journalism culminates at the vertices of colleague and responsibility. To find the profound wrapped up in the membrane of gifted opportunity allows a wine writer to make a valid and justifiable contribution. It affords a conclusion written in vouchsafe doling, where medals are heaped upon the best wines produced in Canada. It’s an avail of satisfaction, a community distraction and a labour of love.
Congratulations to Tawse Winery. In his WineAlign report David writes, “winery owner Moray Tawse and winemaker Paul Pender have harvested Winery of the Year honours at Canada’s largest wine competition again this year, the fourth time since 2010. Tawse Winery is on a roll, with five gold medals in this year’s showdown, plus eight silver and eight bronze medals.”
The people at the forefront are the judges, women and men from across the country (representing seven provinces) as well as international guests, from the U.K. and America. Not just any America, mind you, but native America, from California (by way of Alaska). The judges rule but they are not the most integral cog in the NWAC machine. It is the wine fairies that run the engine and they need naming. Head wineaux Bryan McCaw. Logistics and administrative gurus Sarah Goddard and Carol-Ann Jessiman. Statistics bordering on actuarial science sabermetrics specialist Earl Paxton. Photographer Jason Dziver. Head judges Anthony Gismondi and David Lawrason. Volunteers. Lifters, carriers, movers, pourers and judge-doting servers. These are the heroes.
In his WineAlign report, Anthony Gismondi writes “this year’s National Wine Awards was the most inclusive yet, with 230 wineries entering over 1,500 wines from across the country. The numbers only make the achievement of Lake Breeze as Canada’s 2016 Best Performing Small Winery of Year all that more impressive.”
I would like to make it clear that I write all of my tasting notes for The Nationals solely based on the notes scribbled during the competition. Though I am fully aware of the wines in question when composing the final copy, the transcribing process remains 100 per cent pure and loyal to the original notes. Nothing is added. No acidification, chaptalization, fining or filtering.
“There was a dazzling array of top quality Canadian wines at this year’s 16th WineAlign National Wine Awards of Canada with over 1,500 entries from 230 wineries in six provinces. There were 16 coveted Platinum medals spread over 14 wineries, and seven different wine categories.”
My top 40 are not necessarily the best I tasted but rather the best of a cross-section that insists on being inclusive for as many categories across the compendium. Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Gamay and Riesling are disproportionately represented and for good reason, but there are thirds, fourths and fifths exceptional examples that are not celebrated on this versatile and ubiquitous list.
Treve Ring made it clear that “no matter what shade, it’s pretty obvious that more folks are thinking pink. And with fresh results from the 2016 National Wine Awards of Canada held in Penticton, BC last month, Canadian winemakers are stepping up with terrific offerings.”
Related – Canada Thinks Pink, Drinks Pink
The notable exception and varietal inconsequence comes at the hands of Cabernet Franc, a grape that I’ve come to herald over the past two years, especially from out of the auspices of Niagara gatherings and master classes, along with other Canadian competitions I’ve judged at. Franc has shown well at the Ontario Wine Awards, at Gold Medal Plates and at comparative varietal get togethers. When we convened at Peller Estates in the spring of 2015 during a CAPS Best Canadian Sommelier competition, the Cabernet Franc flights were revelatory. At the 2015 and 2016 Ontario Wine Awards the varietal shone in Icewine meanderings. At NWAC 2016 its promise stagnated and receded into wooden shadows.
Why is this? The simple answer could be examined as too many quality CFs made by many good vignerons were not entered. Another view sees a rapid return tho excess barrel aging in less than stellar vintages, namely 2013 and 2014. The last concern is a heavily weighted Okanagan participation. The sage and dry desert impart mixed with wood clouds many B.C. renditions. It’s not that they are poor wines by any stretch, but they tend to blend in as one, especially when eight or more are tasted side by side by each.
Speaking on behalf of the entire WineAlign/Chacun son Vin crew might be a slight over-reaching opinionated bit of creative license but judging these awards ranks amongst the most important things we do as wine journalists. These wines are in our hands and we pay attention to every detail, on a playing field set as level as there can be in the pantheon of wine competitions. Nothing is taken for granted and the collective palate works towards the most just conclusions possible. These Top 40 wines are what I spent the most energy on. All deserving of their accolades.
A two-varietal conjoin of chardonnay (80 per cent) and seyval blanc (20) opined with the sort of high level of acidity that stakes territorial claim out of what is surely the coolest climate in the competition. The sharp drift leans to shale and flint. Great glade energy and piercing phenolics are superb. Oak is not even a twinkle in its eye, nor negative reduction neither. Directly solid phenolics, tart and angling to greenery. Lemons all over and lime too. Such zing. Drink 2016-2018. Tasted blind at #NWAC16, June 2016 @ @
Maple syrup as maple syrup, reduced, syrupy, caramelized, rich, buttery (brown) and with direct acidity. Mostly in balance. Roasted nuts and even some fig. Roasted chestnuts off the Portuguese cart. Marmite and umami. The return of the sherry semblance that speaks an Oloroso vernacular, the nutty Solera professor, dried apricot beauty. The maple is so in, so reduced and perfectly realized. Tasted blind at #NWAC16, June 2016
Desrochers D Cuvée De La Diable Vin De Miel, Quebec (Winery, 375ml, $20.00, WineAlign)
Just amazing honey wine, all beeswax but here without as much funk and so stressed in lemon citrus with savour, not balm. Like sweet sherry, envisaged in the vein of say Montilla-Moriles Pedro Ximenez, from 100 per cent honey. Really haute-fashion acidity. Pine resin and forest floor. Quite complex and irrefragable into its long finish. Honey buttered toast, sour and so good. Really well made, balanced and ethereal. Tasted blind at #NWAC16, June 2016
From honey (87 per cent) and black currant (13) together for a wonderfully lactic, chalky, saccharine mess. There are moments of simple sour and insipid tartness but the up and downs bring about structure. And then the lifted florals. Drink 2016-2017. Tasted blind at #NWAC16, June 2016 @
Simply the simplest white blend in the flight, for good reason and measure. Languid and salty, bittersweet. Not much fruit of texture but the acidity is zesty and orange juicy. A bit funky and prickling. Leaves behind a green mango paste in the mouth made piquant by lime. Ça marche. Tasted blind at #NWAC16, June 2016 @
Ontario – Niagara Peninsula
Much ripeness in style, juicy mango and a note of Kenyan pineapple. Palate offers balance returning back west into stone fruit and a shot of metal moonshine. It comes so easy. This is cracker soul. “Come and party with your spirit guide.” The winemaker and the vigneron walk their walk and talk their talk. Drink 2016-2018. Tasted blind at #NWAC16, June 2016
An adroit poster child for the battle cry of #gogamaygo, this is deliciously and devilishly dark fruit crusted with rusticity. It is also bright, volatile within every threshold of the ideal and tart with cru proportions. Possessive of the relentless ongoingness of gamay syntax, from sour black cherry to ascendant and structurally lean. Well done. Drink 2016-2020. Tasted blind at NWAC16, June 2016 @
Beautiful variegation is noticed on the leesy, creamy and somewhat reductive nose. Certainly already into the beeswax, this is weighted but lifted chardonnay. Flinty, smoky too. All this before a taste. Good harmony into the texture where palate and tannin meet at the proverbial chardonnay crossroads. No semantic crimps, lexical distresses or syntactical trials. Big and beautiful. Full to the long finish. Drink 2016-2020. Tasted blind at NWAC16, June 2016 @
Who would fail to comply with the memo for giving it up and appreciating the mineral sauvignon blanc, down along the cove where “I spied my little bundle of joy.” Platinum pear and white peach, sprinkled with maldon, bobbing for rocks, “walking hand in hand.” Direct, white tannic, dry extracted, low pH SB, direct, with purpose and just a wee bit of harmonica. Drink 2016-2020. Tasted blind at #NWAC16, June 2016
Here the complete deal is limestone-mineral, old vines, relative altitude and low tonnage. Variegated layering on the palate. The Germanic one, all in, slope driven and dry with citrus compression. This is most excellent, mouth-watering riesling. “This is really, warden in my back, goose all in my gut.” A wine that stretches and turns back on itself. Under the Pressure. Drink 2016-2025. Tasted blind at NWAC16, June 2016 @ @
Tawse Winery Riesling Quarry Road Vineyard 2014, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Ontario (198853, $23.95, WineAlign)
Compression and a slight bend to oxidation are hallmarks of the 2014 Niagara Riesling season and yet the QRV manages to buck the trend. The oscillations of tannin, extract and off-dry flavours are all wrapped up in greater acidity than some previous vintages have seen. This is one of the more striking 2014 Niagara Rieslings with some credit surely do to the cool Vinemount Ridge site. The rest of can be credited to winemaking and good luck. The sour in this Quarry Road is of a sumptuous kind, laying August stone fruit over layers of fractured limestone. Drink 2016-2020. Tasted April 2016 @ @
Really effective actuality, from barrel for couverture and bite, through texture by lees and with inhalant because of the mineral play. This has it all going on. The middle palate is so beautifully filled in, the spice and smokiness just a mild, intoxicating smoulder. Lovely stuff and terrific length. Drink 2016-2021. Tasted blind at #NWAC16, June 2016 @ @
Red raspberry and a posy of green quintessence filled by oak in a merlot (50 per cent) with equal addendum from two cabernets. There are moments that are somewhat downy soft and mocha-creamy but the brain gladly socializes with the cappuccino bordeaux blend. What ultimately matters is how this soft serve is the least astringent and most silky wine in the flight. Just as your guard lets down the tannins storm the castle. Intriguing blend with cellaring structure. Drink 2017-2022. Tasted blind at #NWAC16, June 2016 @ @
Intensely reductive and so very fresh chardonnay with serious cool-climate excitability. A minor dishy aroma might detract for some but its the phenolics talking, not yet rendering the porcine baby fat, looking for integration, speaking in tart, chalky (liquid) tones. Like fresh pasta dough in a warm kitchen. Complex wine not yet understood. Drink 2017-2022. Tasted blind at #NWAC16, June 2016 @ @
Love the cool feel, the apricot aspic glaze and the herbs underneath the sweet surface. Really tangy fruits and great acidity. This has balance and vitality. Actually causes a bit of mouth watering with clean, clear, crisp and precise riesling character. Drink 2016-2025. Tasted blind at #NWAC16, June 2016 @ @
The top-tier Pinot Noir is quite fruit intense, but also sappy and uttered in soft, indecipherable if almost resolved words. That said the length traipses to somewhere distant, to a boundary no other Queylus Pinot Noir has yet made. As it is thought on, this wine climbs to that far away peak that can’t really be imagined. The wine lingers longer than the pen and like the sword, pierces with svelte pinpoint accuracy. The flavour profile is indescribable, neither fruit nor mineral dominant and not exactly earthbound either. The abstruse profile persists but can’t be named so like language, must go on and on. Time heeds no dissipation. The wine lingers forever. Drink 2017-2025. Tasted June 2015 @
Ontario – Prince Edward County
Rich cabernet franc, extracted and with some big, but beneficial wood. Quite aromatic stuff here of black cherry with vanilla and lavender accents. Savoury and leathery palate with juicy, sumptuous elevations. Really lively stuff with nary a chocolate or a mocha moment and no bitters. None. Brilliant. Drink 2016-2020. Tasted blind at #NWAC16, June 2016 @
Nothing can be so considered as leaning to an oxidative style until you imagine this in a flight of nine and take in its old-school on par with Method Cap Classique like charm. Or Jura. Great acidity circulates and like tribunates protects the sparkling rights from arbitrary acts of reduction. With flavours recalling mandarin, lemon and then an aromatic return to exotic, in lemongrass and galangal. Length is excellent. Drink 2016-2022. Tasted blind at NWAC16, June 2016 @
Ontario – Lake Erie North Shore
Pelee Island Vinedressers Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Lake Erie North Shore, Ontario (Winery, $19.95, WineAlign)
Dark, muted and tannic, of bitter chocolate, this unforgiving cabernet sauvignon is blessed with high savour and underlying brine. This is an oak monster but not creamy. It’s all bitter chocolate but not astringent. Not mean. Gotta see past the demanding attitude because it’s really quite balanced within the conceit of it’s largesse. Ultimately elegant, floral and complex. Drink 2017-2022. Tasted blind at NWAC16, June 2016 @
British Columbia – Okanagan Valley
Beautifully microbial, beeswax-scenting, wild ferment riesling. Needs agitation to shed its bacterial baby fat. Quite viscous and grippy mouthfeel. Transports the fundamental factors from vine, fruit and fermentation in a suitcase of natural love. The acidity is texturally palpable, essential, extended gainfully from low pH. There is some residual but so much sink your teeth into it stuffing to carry it forward. Most excellent less than off-dry palate and with the drive to finish with impression over the next 10 years. Drink 2016-2026. Tasted blind at NWAC16, June 2016 @
So floral, with orange peel, white rose potpourri, a bit of funky humidity, cool and viscous. Great mouthfeel, tart, frozen-gelid acidity. Sweetness never causes any suffering. Great finish. Miles ahead of the field in off the beaten path varietal gambolling. Tasted blind at #NWAC16, June 2016 @
Beautiful atmosphere with hopes and dreams to climb high into the stratosphere. The terpene that lurks is just a prop, a step-ladder for the more purposed realities to use and get up there with the airs and the stones and to thank the terpenes for their unselfish ways. Very concentrated and purposed riesling with compressed bitters. Princess in high tops. Drink 2016-2022. Tasted blind at NWAC16, June 2016 @
Oranges, peaches and apricots. In pinot noir. Strawberries, cherries and raspberries. So much fruit. Turns earthy and spicy on the palate. It’s a very good characterful expression that walks straight down a line. So much character and then tannic, sharp and acerbic on the finale. The tannins hang around the fruit like a clever. Drink 2017-2021. Tasted blind at NWAC16, June 2016 @
Love the early note of minor volatility to check and balance for soft and downy, simple and into pleasure. Smells like unripe pickled strawberry. Though some decent salinity and brine offer up a rosé reality there lacks a bit of ingratiating 100 per cent pinot noir charm. Improves and brings out some pinosity by good bitters, gin and tonic, orange zest and some spice. In the end it’s actually more than quite good. Drink 2016-2018. Tasted blind at #NWAC16, June 2016 @
Just a moment of skin contact renders to immediate complexity. Great rust, scraped stone and wild citrus. Lots of white grapefruit on the palate and pith, but not too much. Very persistent. Tasted blind at #NWAC16, June 2016 @
Really earthy 100 per cent gamay Rosé. Good mineral in here. This was made with a purpose. “Now everybody’s gonna tell you it’s not worth it. Everybody’s gotta show you their own thing.” There is balance and ballad ease. This is just so drinkable. “Is this the past or the future that is calling.” Gamay, I love the times you’ve come. Drink 2016-2018. Tasted blind at #NWAC16, June 2016 @ @
A gamay with global explorations that is so inimitable it founds it’s own, toute de suite, self-dissolving genre. This really sweats and wicks away the umami of gamay. It has the notion, sumptuous spice, tight, circular winds and biggest stage presence. Such a mineral palate, density and the gumption to pour with unwavering varietal swagger. Best in show. Drink 2016-2021. Tasted blind at NWAC16, June 2016 @ @
Beautifully fragrant cabernet franc, unhindered and unencumbered by obnoxious, noxious barrel plenitude. Red currants, liquorice and plenty of summer savour. Pencil lead to graphite and cool climate attitude. Rustic in all the right ways, like Rioja Gran Reserva meets the Loire. So natural and charcuterie cured. Spicy all over the finish. Just a bit bitter perhaps. Tasted blind at #NWAC16, June 2016 @
Cooler and more Mediterranean savoury. Tart and direct, taut and full of miles away imaginings. There seems to be some elegance to temper the gambling and cajoling in the big chamber. Like a self-correcting shake-up, as if something were veritably being worked out. Give it some time and some love. Drink 2018-2023. Tasted blind at NWAC16, June 2016 @
An effete, in effect style of grenache, pretty, pure and elegant. She resists the trappings of overripeness, over-extraction and over-pressing. She is conceived with great purpose and with pelucid substance. Her palate is silken, with fresh berries and then the sort of grand structure that rolls into ambient endings. One of Canada’s great grenache triumphs. Drink 2016-2020. Tasted June 2016 @
So much beeswax and honey wine attribution. Porcine, delicate and quite elegant for the statement. Plenty of acidity and even more relish. Why not give a little Grauburgunder love to the winemaker for giving the style a shot, and succeeding. Tasted blind at #NWAC16, June 2016.
From my earlier note of January 2016:
Ann Sperling is not merely fussing about with natural ferments, skin-contact macerations and non-sulphured, self-preservations. She is learning about winemaking, opening doors to perception and interested in doing things in different ways. Her second go ’round with a natural Amber Pinot Gris furthers the non-plussed discussion and the understanding. While pouring the inaugural 2014 from keg on tap last year at Vancouver’s Belgard Kitchen, it was Sommelier David Stansfield who so succinctly noted “this wine is a raw expression of vineyard, grape, and time.” This gets right to the heart and the crux of the Orange matter, especially within the context of a North American account. Sperling has many supporters in her corner, including husband-winemaker-consultant Peter Gamble, the folks at the Casorso-Sperling Kelowna Farm and Bill Redelmeier at Southbrook Vineyards in Niagara. This 2015 is a veritable pink cloud, anti-orange, still so very musty, funky, tanky, with great Sperling acidity and pierce. There is so much exuviation to evanescence and back again flavour. There is feigned sweetness that purposes towards and with gearing second wind into length. How much pleasure is this from and for Pinot Gris? Drink 2016-2017
Anti-Rosé Vin Gris pinot noir, light of blush and leaning to terpene. While lost in a nether land between the categories of hue, the appeal is wrought by the wine’s refusal to be unclassified. And it need not be. I think I get what the attempt was here; lithe, light, easy free-run with nearly no hue inducing skin contact and it travels the path akin a fruit wine realm; ever so slightly sweet and very tangy, like currant pureé. Prejudices and preconceptions are cast aside. Such a rare occasion affords a taster assessing blind to know so little and enjoy so much. Drink 2016-2018. Tasted blind at #NWAC16, June 2016 @ @
Really beautifully reductive, ranging to all chardonnay fronts, from expectation and into results. Terrific integration, multiplicity and circulation. Chardonnay flush with fabric and forged by framework. Enjoy it now and over five more glowing years. Drink 2016-2020. Tasted blind at #NWAC16, June 2016 @
Burrowing Owl Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (73098, $44.95, WineAlign)
Rich, dried fruit and a welling tension inflates and rehydrates this cabernet sauvignon with cool, savoury, bluff sage and piquant nettle garrigue notions. It has an intelligent and characteristic taste. Tending to write the cabernet sauvignon personality book, this desert play is full of varietal notion and somehow typical. Drink 2018-2024. Tasted blind at NWAC16, June 2016 @ @
Serious syrah and tannat split. Deep cimmerian demi-glacé, rich and chocolatey, somewhat sweet but full of fruit and mineral. Syrah getting together with tannat of augmentation, opulence, concentration, of getting more in. Long and lingering. Drink 2016-2021. Tasted blind at NWAC16, June 2016 @
A very amenable and mostly, fully, completely copacetic pinot noir with tonic and beneficial bitters managing the fruit. Fruit that is directly up front and neither garrigue nor barrel spice makes cause for any distraction. No mental gymnastics are required to understand this wine. Great leave it be pinot noir. Drink 2016-2020. Tasted blind at NWAC16, June 2016 @
British Columbia – Naramata Bench
A bit stinky and reductive but on the precipice and so purposeful. Pear, platinum pipe and graphite. Good viscosity and slightly off-dry to the point where savour and spice take over. Better balance here. The reduction blew away with ease. Spicy finish. Drink 2016-2019. Tasted blind at NWAC16, June 2016 @
Quite a dense albarino with plenty of metal in its back pocket and salinity “singing to an ocean.” Gobs of fruit play along with the sea air. I like the acidity and the zeppelin zest, the citrus led with a full twist. Tart and close to sour with some sulphur but “it’s a real fine way to start,” even if it doesn’t quite blow my mind. Drink 2016-2019. Tasted blind at #NWAC16, June 2016 @
Here syrah plays a floral song while doused in perfume of roses in the tar sands. Less oak driven and fresher than the compatriots in its flight. Give credit where it’s due. Syrah buoyed, lifted and blessed by five per cent viognier. Tasted blind at #NWAC16, June 2016 @
British Columbia – Similkameen Valley
Bruised pear leads this spot on cider with a cool whiff of concrete tank and a minor pear puree, of sauce spiked by cinnamon. Quite dry and saline within terrific acidity. Umami makes the salivator glands work overtime. Drink 2016-2018. Tasted blind at NWAC16, June 2016 @
A rich juicy malbec of all in red fruit, tom foolery fun things and life affirming positives. Just the malbec with creamy american vanilla anglaise. “Sidewalk sundae strawberry surprise.” A bit of a malbec ice cream cone but that’s more than OK because the ice cream man, one man band will be “good to you yeah, good to you, I’ll be good to you, I’ll be good to you.” No need to hold off because malbec so inviting waits for no one. Drink 2016-2019. Tasted blind at NWAC16, June 2016 @
Good to go!