It may or not need clarifying but the single white varietal category does not include chardonnay, riesling, pinot gris/grigio and sauvignon blanc. In terms of medal winners it does include albariño, arneis, bacchus, chenin blanc, coronet, gewüztraminer, grüner veltliner, marsanne, muscat, obrigado, pinot blanc, roussanne, sémillon, sauvignette, siegerrebe, sovereign opal, trebbiano, unicus, viognier and white pinot noir. The total medal count for single white varietal wines in 2019 was 70, an unprecedented number awarded for this competition covering 20 grape varieties. Can you guess which was the most celebrated? If you said gewüztraminer you would be correct at 21 total medals, with viognier a close second at 17.
There is little surprise that these French vinifera grapes make up more than half of the awarded wines because their acreage, vine age and their winemaker’s acumen in crafting quality goes back a generation or two, or even three. That 10 percent are pinot blanc is truly encouraging, as are the multiple medals doled out to grapes with great potential on Canadian soils, including grüner veltliner, albariño and chenin blanc. This will encourage more plantings and pioneering work backed up by post-modern viticultural theory, while also ensuring biologically genetic and varietal diversity. Most surprising is that two of the top wines made from marsanne and roussanne represent two of only three medals awarded to wines from these classic and exceptional Rhône Valley grapes. If two can be great, why not others and why not grow more?
Congratulations to the Road 13 Marsanne 2017 out of the exceedingly promising Similkameen Valley. There can be no denying the effect of ripe fruit and the richness of developed sugar into proportionally knowing phenols in this beautifully integrated wine. Black Hills Roussanne 2017, Blasted Church Small Blessings Sémillon 2017, Thirty Bench Small Lot Gewürztraminer 2017 and Road 13 Viognier 2017 round out the judges top picks from the competition.
The question truly begging to be answered is with 20-plus different grape varieties represented and being assessed side by side how do the judges separate the apples and oranges to figure out which wines stand apart as being more impressive than the rest. It may sound cliché and redundant to hear but balance is the key to our single white varietal hearts. If acidity matches, supports and elevates sugar than all will fall into place and if the wine is a dry example it will likely be flesh, mouthfeel and texture that work to elevate its status. Proportion, seamlessness and length are all essential tenets of quality single whites, as are energy, drive and spirit.
Plain and simple, single white varietal wines are able to succeed because of their inherent ability to express their varietal selves, provided they are planted in the right location and their handlers allow them to speak on their own behalf. Quality single white varietals display attributes of confidence and are anything but insecure. No roommates required.
I’ve also tasted some more single white varietal wines as of late and all would certainly qualify for medal consideration in this category. These are the three.
Mission Hill Family Estate Viognier Reserve 2018, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia ($19.99, WineAlign)
Perfectly lovely, archetypal, required varietal sipping viognier here from Mission Hill. Yet another notch on the Okanagan Valley pioneer’s impressive climb to forging wines moving from strength to strength. There is nothing over the top about the the florals, the texture or the flavours. Fruit east to west, from the B.C. orchards to the south Asian trees is graced by a dreamy and creamy marzipan texture and finished with low and slow rendered spice. Just what viognier can be for one and for all. Drink 2019-2021. Tasted July 2019
Harwood Estate Gewürztraminer 2017, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario $20.00, WineAlign)
The 2016 was made from Niagara (Four Mile Creek) grapes and vinified in Prince Edward County but the estate 2007 plantings have now matured so this 2017 marks a new era for gewürztraminer grown in the disapora. It’s one of extreme aridity, lightning quick reflexes, focused and intense. Quite the singular style of expression for Ontario. Drink 2019-2021. Tasted June 2019
CedarCreek Platinum Block 9 Ehrenfelser 2018, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia ($29.99, WineAlign)
Ehrenfelser is the German crossing of riesling and sylvaner, kept alive on slopes like CedarCreek’s lakeshore vineyard in semi-mimic of those cresting on great angles above the river Rhine. There’s a notable juicy sweetness to this from 13-16 year-old, low yielding vines in a very concentrated mandarin orange way. That sweetness yields to many other pronounced attributes like tropical fruit skins as well as creamy orchard fruit under a squeeze of lime. The acidity is ripping and there’s some potential for a bit of flinty, lit paraffin smoulder to emerge in a year’s time. The fun quotient runs high in this unique white wine and it offers up moments of both crushable and cerebral. Good on CedarCreek to keep the dream alive. Drink 2019-2021. Tasted July 2019
Good to go!