as seen on WineAlign – Red Blends, White Blends and Sauvignon Blanc – Medal Winners from NWAC 2019
The catchall collection funnelled into flights titled “White Blend” continue their ascent upwards into the essential echelon of categories at the National Wine Awards of Canada. These compound varietal meet and greets do so with increasing calm, cool and collected demeanour, a.k.a balance to offer up some of this country’s most pleasing and in very special cases, most age-worthy white wines. Another year later the judges are finding the quality of the wines to be at their best yet, perceptible and discernible beyond reproach from coast to coast.
The 52 strong medal count from the 2019 awards is a testament to the masters of assemblage known as winemakers in British Columbia, Ontario, Quebec and Nova Scotia. In fact five of the medals were awarded to Tidal Bay, the maritime appellative blend creation so apt-scripted and terroir specific to vineyards and estates in Nova Scotia. Tidal Bay is a model of consistency, progress and marketing genius. It hasn’t happened yet but the day will come when Ontario and British Columbia will become woke to the economic success of the great East Coast appellative party.
Where do Canadian winemakers look for inspiration when it comes to designing their white blends? The obvious pioneers are unequivocally Bordeaux and the Rhône Valley, the former being a matter of a sauvignon blanc-sémillon coupling and the latter a relationship between grape varieties that include grenache blanc, marsanne, roussanne and viognier. Other and lesser varieties employed are ugni blanc, clairette, bourboulenc, picpoul and rolle (vermentino). Many are grown and matched up in Canada but in 2019 it is Nk’mip Cellars White Meritage Merriym 2017 that we find standing alone at the peak of white blend success. The Bordeaux inspiration is an antithetical one at that with a two to one ratio of sémillon to sauvignon blanc and what one judge sees as a blend of “power and accuracy.”
Last year we noted that the white blends made with sauvignon blanc from out of the Okanagan Valley relied on higher percentages of sémillon than their sistren and brethren in Ontario. B.C.’s vineyards are not subjugated to the same winter kill that Ontario’s winters are often wont to inflict and so the vulnerable sémillon is planted and used to much greater quantity and effect out west. Ripeness and style are also great reasons why B.C.’s über rich and fat sauvignon blanc loves for sémillon to help out. The varietal mitigation and third party injection from barrel aging often leads to examples of flinty-smoky-mineral white blends of freshness, pizzazz, texture and style.
The Mission Hill Terroir Collection Sauvignon Blanc Sémillon 2018 is such an animal, taken from Jagged Rock Vineyard nearing 400m in elevation and the sém portion is 40 percent. Tightrope Sauvignon Blanc Semillon 2018 is another though it may just be one of closest Bordeaux ringers made anywhere in Canada. The Pentâge Roussanne Marsanne Viognier 2013 is the most singular Gold Medal winner in 2019, first because it does the Rhône varietal two-step and second because of its age. That it caught the palates of so many judges is a testament to its balance and also its structure.
The 2018 Tidal Bays from Lightfoot & Wolfville, Jost Vineyards, Planters Ridge and Gaspereau Vineyards were Nova Scotia’s one Silver plus three Bronze category medallists. These Bay of Fundy/Minas Basin east coast wonders are true Canadian wines of quality and efficiency. Tidal Bay pioneers Peter Gamble and Benjamin Bridge Vineyards tell us that In 2010 Nova Scotia launched this wine appellation with a purpose “to showcase a vibrant and refreshing white wine compatible with our coastal terroir along the Bay of Fundy, a vast expanse of seawater that is home to the highest tides in the world. An independent technical committee ensures that only the wines displaying the region’s distinct characteristics and meeting a rigorous set of standards are approved to wear the appellation seal.” The blends are most often filled with the likes of l’acadie, geisenheim, chardonnay, riesling and vidal.
Two Ontario white blends joined the 11 B.C. Silver winners. In terms of Bronze, six from Ontario and one each out of Nova Scotia and Quebec were winners alongside 23 from B.C. Yes it is increasingly true that appellative blends are more than a going concern, in fact they have become some of our Canadian winemaker’s greatest preoccupations. At this rate we can certainly imagine a future filled with bright white lights and structured blends to rival some of the world’s best.
Good to go!