Twenty-two Canadian wines that rocked in 2022

Godello taking in the spirit of Grimsby Hillside Vineyard

I am a forager. I forage in the natural world, for plants in their season, pulled from the soil, from earth to pan, for medicinal teas, to preserve by drying or pickling, whatever the most appropriate case may be. Wild herbs, allium and beneficial greens are prized but mostly I use my mycological senses by looking for signs beneath my feet as to where the mycelium below will choose to fruit as fungi above. I look for the saprobic and the decomposer but also the mushroom that works through symbiosis, to aid and abet other species while receiving something beneficial in return.

Laetiporus Sulphureus, aka Chicken of the Woods

I am a forager of wines as well, perhaps not in the same spiritual or personal way, but as I do with the forest I try my best to listen and become one with the vine, to imagine what it will beget, that being quality grapes and eventually honest wine. Vinifera success in Canadian vineyards is a recent phenomenon and there are plants more suited and native to our land but we should and will continue to pursue both realities.  This is not a manifesto about natural wine, no far from it, but it is a confession. I love great wine, well made wine, wine in balance. I am open to all wines and like the fungi I choose to eat or to ignore, I can’t be sickened by something I choose not to taste. I taste what I trust and drink what I must. Most often it take years of research and seeing the same fruiting body appear in the same location with consistent markings to make the decision to eat that mushroom. That is why wines of history, pedigree and consistency are the greatest and most exciting. They have earned the recognition. Others gain reputation much quicker and they too deserve the kudos but the choice comes down to the individual. I just want the wines I choose to rock. Canadian wines, yeah they rock.

Hypomyces Lactifluorum, the Lobster Mushroom

Nova Scotia wines at Obladee Wine Bar in Halifax

Related – Twenty-one Canadian wines that rocked in 2021

The full scale return to not only tasting but rallying around Canadian wine began in earnest back in June of 2022. In a span of less than 30 days there were judges’ panel assessments and events during the WineAlign National Wine Awards of Canada, To July and 10 days spent in Nova Scotia wine country followed by a glorious weekend in Niagara for the i4c Canadian Cool Climate Celebration. Get back to Cool Chardonnay was the impetus and the reminder how much we Canadian wine folk respect one another and truly enjoy each other’s company. How great was it to interact once again, to taste with and experience the verities of vignerons and winemakers? To gather Insights, illuminations and incidentals from illustrious voices. To enter discourse with thought provocateurs who question sense of place, who consider vines and their relationship with the land. To reconnect with old friends forging new directions, seek flights of fancy and return to places always familiar, like coming home. The road ahead may still be uncertain but onward we will go.

Godello and Pender

Related – Twenty Canadian wines that rocked in 2020

Devastating news and especially the loss of a friend takes time to process. At the time I did not know what to do but suddenly the words poured forth, in one take and so in February I penned The Walrus is Paul. I miss Paul Pender. He was not my closest bud nor was I his but there will always be a hole in our lives without him. The thing about sadness is that it never goes away, but the trick is to remember the people we loved in a way that helps us through another day. “Paul Pender humanized everything in his life and all that he touched. He never expressed any dismay at comments I may have made about wines not being perfect, nor did he exalt in high scores or praise for wines about which I may have gushed or waxed rhapsodic. He was always zen, even-keeled, grounded and humble. Paul was the personification of gravitational constant, THE universal gravitational constant, a constant of gravitation. His presence and being related force to mass and distance, and he lived his life within the law of gravitation. I hope he taught everyone to be this way and that we can all go forward with his wise, sage and calm demeanour, safely tucked into our own lives. Thank you Paul. I love you, man. You are the walrus.”

Seafood by Godello, Kejimkujik National Park, Nova Scotia

Related – Nineteen Canadian wines that rocked in 2019

This might just be the 10th annual list and another spot is in fact added each year but the process just keeps getting tougher to complete. According to WineAlign I reviewed more than 3,000 wines in 2022, which means I tasted at least 3,500, if not more. The number of Canadian wines is likely one third, say 1,500 examples tasted this past year, in great part because at least one-third of that number is tasted at the Nationals. The process of nailing down this summary comes out of a shortlist of 100-plus that were what would be considered exciting. The exercise must be one that filters, fines and refines again and again so that every wine is reviewed and re-considered on repeat. I find it near impossible to make final decisions these days and yet somehow feel compelled to continue the discipline.  Thank you to all; associates, colleagues, wine professionals and especially friends who poured, for every sip and taste, with heartfelt thanks. Especially to the WineAlign Crü; David Lawrason, John Szabo M.S., Sara d’Amato, Steve Thurlow, Megha Jandhyala, Bryan McCaw, Sarah Goddard, Miho Yamamoto, Carol-Ann Jessiman and Heather Riley. Godello gives you 22 Canadian wines that rocked in 2022.

With The Thinker, Jean-Benoit Déslauriers, Benjamin Bridge Vineyards

Benjamin Bridge Glooscap First Nation X Rosé 2021, Nova Scotia

Benjamin Bridge Glooscap First Nation X Rosé is first a wine. A lithe, 10 percent alcohol and bone-dry vision in pale pink hue, described by thinker Jean-Benoit Déslauriers as blessed “with a softness from within.” My family and I taste along and become privy to why this project means so much more. The Rosé marks a turning point for Benjamin Bridge and is crafted neither for reconciliation nor to undue the past. Instead the path leads forward, for mutualism, cooperation and respect. A harbinger towards a more balanced future. Meaning is gleaned for the team after a decade-plus of grape growing now widened to include 13,000 years of sustainable and synergetic preservation of an ecosystem. Twenty years ago the BB understanding was of vineyards producing grapes exclusively focused on the sensory profile of wines, how they reflected the terroir and stacked up against Europe. Yet the Mi’kmaq have lived in balance within this unique ecosystem for millennium and the goal is to return to this symbiosis. It may take another 13,000 years and while subsequent generations will not be obligated to complete the work, neither are they free to desist from it. This Rosé establishes a “Ni’tap,” a relationship as ally-ship and friendship between Benjamin Bridge’s McConnell-Gordon family and Glooscap First Nation; Elder Lorraine Whitman, President of the Native Women’s Association of Canada and Advocate for the rights of Indigenous women, girls & gender-diverse people; her daughter Zabrina Whitman and Chief Sidney Peters. Glooscap First Nation X Rosé is a direct product of climate change with no need to soften the sear of acidity by backsliding into residual sugar. Do not forget the effect created by the air pump that is the Bay of Fundy that allows the vines to always take their time and manage a slowly gained phenolic development. The Bay means Rosé can indeed be forged this way. Dry and bright, aligning ortega, gamay and riesling in such a pointed and profound aromatic Sikunme’katik (Gaspereau) Valley way. The connection to Nova Scotia is real but very much a singular notion. The fact that modern agriculture has erased what really happened in this valley, as it pertains to vines and this terroir it is the kind of commentary that is “by definition profoundly inaccurate.” This is the charge of Déslauriers and all who take this path forward. Indigenous plants were in fact replaced with European plants so BB makes a clear point. How can it be said that these wines capture the essence of this terroir? The argument is compelling and will eventually change again, after 13 or 13,000 more years, or perhaps somewhere in between. In any case the wine is grand and the prospects even greater. Bravo all around. Drink 2022-2025.  Tasted July 2022

Mackenzie Brisbois, Trail Estate

Trail Estate ‘Oh Julius’ Skin Fermented White 2021, VQA Ontario

A plus or minus 10 days skin contact for 59 per cent riesling, (35) gewürztraminer and (5) muscat that drinks with full submission, symbiotically speaking. The wine gives and our palates lay down, receive this effortless elixir and allow it to pass on through, no questions asked, no wondering why. Something like 550 cases are made of this wild-fermented, Benchlands (Wismer) fruit-sourced quencher, aka refreshing drink. Easy enough in the tart citrus vein, no lacking for energy and in turn, our interest. Weird? No not really. Cool? Ticks all the boxes for what the kids are all making these days, but this is more a case of being made by and for kids at heart who are adults with kids of their own. At 10.4 per cent alcohol, no acetic meanderings nor cider-y complications neither. Well that just about wraps it up in a big natural bow and guarantees a good time. Drink 2022-2023.  Tasted June 2022

Canoe Trip cooking

Blue Mountain Blanc De Blancs R.D. 2013, VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia

The research tells us chardonnay and time conspire for beauty while development reminds how years upon years upon lees directs a Blue Mountain R.D. into sublimity and profundity. A vintage to recall, reflect upon and surely celebrate, to mull over its integrated and subtle spices, controlled energy and slow time release of responsibility. A sparkling wine of nature that has become one of nurture, now a perfectly posit tug between edginess and oxidation, tension and generosity. They call this the sweet spot. Raise a glass to recently disgorged. Drink 2022-2026.  Tasted November 2022

WineAlign judges at Stratus Vineyards

Stratus X Trials Blanc De Blancs 2012, VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario

Looking back two years the bar was set so very high as noted when we first began tasting the culmination of years put in towards this Sparkling program. Far be it for Stratus to regress or work in reverse but they are now grooving further back in lees cumulative time and out there comes a chardonnay spent what must be nearly 10 years on those lovely yeasts. Trials they were and fruition they have become. It’s not so much the toasty and beautifully oxidative-fino nutty character. The impression digs deeper than green olives in brine and sweet pear compote, it grabs us by the emotive heartstrings and holds us close. In fact it’s not unusual for B de Bs ’12 X Trials to be loved by anyone. There’s just something about the subtleties and the open invitation, to love and be loved. “Whoa oh, oh whoa, oh oh, oh oh!” Drink 2022-2026.  Tasted November 2022

Sunset over The Twenty Mile and Beamsville Bench

Flat Rock Cellars Nadja’s Vineyard Riesling 2020, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario

Distinct mineral and petrol aromatic riesling rising, up into the stratosphere. in no hurry to come back down. Cracker citrus and acidity, tart and fuelled by intensity with no boundaries nor atmospheric pressures or deadlines neither. Sugars and structure are one in the same, seamlessness is the result and everything falls into its right place. The poster child, educator and pioneer. Drink 2023-2027.  Tasted blind at NWAC2022, June 2022

Felseck Vineyard

Hidden Bench Riesling Felseck Vineyard 2017, VQA Beamsville Bench

Not quite but just about 20 year-old vines as of this stellar 2017 vintage and a benchmark Bench riesling of all that has been developed, given, remains and jazz. A stoic propellant and scintillant of fineness, fruit in ample preserve, acids convergent and power releasing ever so slowly in perfect pace. Pitch is spot on, balance ideal and direction effortlessly forward. The Mario Lemieux of riesling. Drink 2023-2032.  Tasted February 2022

The family with Josh Horton and Rachel Lightfoot, Wolfville, Nova Scotia

Lightfoot & Wolfville Chardonnay Small Lots Oak Knoll Vineyard Stainless Steel 2020, Nova Scotia, Canada

“People have always said we need to make a stainless steel version,” says winemaker Josh Horton, to lighten the room and the mood. This being the first go at it, protocol kept very similar to the oaked (Ancienne), by wild ferment, aka “brown” maceration. Gone to bottle quicker (eight months after pick) and this will be slowed down in the future. Absolute tightness and freshness, purity of chardonnay as expressed in a juiced lemon and almost no reduction. A chardonnay of isolated terroir, specificity and one helluva beautiful experiment. Drink 2022-2024.  Tasted July 2022

Thirty Bench Small Lot Chardonnay 2020, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario

Really quite primary, an undisclosed while pleasingly reticent chardonnay from Emma Garner of gratitude and grace. The first because it thanks the Beamsville terroir and the second because it does so with soft spoken respect. A mélange of different fermentation batches, each small and precise come together for the final sumptuous and restrained blend. The tenets of fruit, acid and what ties them together is just about as seamless and easily layered as any of a Bench ilk and idiom. Not a chardonnay of style but instead stylish, not chic but surely sung with notes held, seemingly forever. Drink 2023-2028.  Tasted July 2022

Grimsby Hillside Vineyard

Ilya and Nadia Senchuk, Leaning Post Wines

Leaning Post Chardonnay Grimsby Hillside Vineyard 2019, VQA Lincoln Lakeshore, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario

Delicate, bright and efficacious wine from a north facing nook of the Escarpment vineyard in the narrowest spit of land between the rock face and the lake. Once the viticultural labrusca home of Parkdale Wines and now owned by the Franciosa family. A special wine occupying a place in my family’s history and heart. Apposite to Wismer in that there are more piques and peaks in and out, up and down, hither and thither in this singularly focused chardonnay. Pay attention to nuance, to barrel as well as it speaks in extra density because the terroir encourages the ambition. Remarkable structure despite how short a relationship there has been between maker and farm. The instant brilliance creates an effective and then profound buzz, a desired effect and the future is WIDE open. Drink 2022-2027.  Tasted June 2022

Melissa Marotta-Paolicelli, winemaker Adam Pearce and Angela Marotta

Two Sisters Chardonnay 2020, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario

With part in part thanks and a nod to the experimental minds and vineyard management acumen at (then) Parkdale Wines, back in 1959 Bill Lenko took a flyer on vinifera in the form of chardonnay. Today Two Sisters is the primary beneficiary of Niagara’s oldest chardonnay vines and this primo vintage extolls the virtues of those wise plants and their concentrated fruit. Still showing balance and tenderness, never mind the barrel beauty, bullocks or beast, in fact it all comes together in seamless fashion because the fruit is indefatigably remarkable. Winemaker Adam Pearce heeds the directive, does nothing to get in the way and what is delivered comes away with such a sheen and energetic burst it just may blow your mind. This is the finest result to date, a lightly reductive, subtly lees inflected, full fruit captured chardonnay. All of its lines run parallel, incline up the same slope, coextend in collateral company and with time will eventually relent for the great transversal. The fruit will cross over both acidity and backbone, resulting in the ultimate complex equation. Drink 2023-2028.  Tasted August 2022

The fishy work of Ryan Crawford (Ruffino’s and Bar Bea), Raoul Duke of Chefs

 

Bachelder Hill Of Wingfield Chardonnay 2020, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario

Hill of Wingfield, as opposed to the flatter portions of the large chardonnay expanse and one can’t help but conjure up vineyard monikers like “Hill of” Corton, or even Grace. Ancient and modern tracts can be descried by farmers and writers so with Thomas Bachelder as the guide we too can play this game, by extension and in a most semi-serious way. Everything is derivative and by association anyway so Hill of Wingfield it is. Same lush, luxe and top of the pops richness as Wismer-Wingfield yet here with some reduction and an almost candied shell of protection. Nearly impossible and yet every reason to believe that vintage, grape, block and maker can combine to execute such a phenomenon of chardonnay. No understatement or restraint here, nor were any grapes harmed in the due process. My goodness what gumption, ambition and monkified execution. You gotta believe in the truth! Drink 2023-2028.  Tasted December 2022

With Shiraz Mottiar and the uni, I mean photo bomber Anthony Gismondi

Malivoire Gamay Courtney 2020, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario

Youthful is the understatement when coming at this 2020 Courtney but my how juicy, meaty and pinpointed a gamay it truly is. There have been serious and fully formed Courtneys before but never have the assets in fruit, mouthfeel and acid-tannin structural interplay grabbed attention like this young and in charge ’20. Adds up to big, boisterous, ripe to the hilt, of zero austerity and so much possibility. Drink 2023-2027.  Tasted April 2022

Meyer Pinot Noir McLean Creek Road Vineyard Old Block 2020, BC VQA Okanagan Falls, British Columbia

Plenty of substance fills the aromatic glass in this immortality jam of substance, acid and textural intensity. Good red fruit if turning to act youthfully grainy in its unresolved structural demand, especially as it lands on and then scrapes over the palate. Dutifully solid wine, nothing to some and to others a pearl needing time. High arcing, a factor of indefinite continuation for pinot noir existence and “he who forgets will be destined to remember.” For such a delicate (aromatic) and working (palate) pinot noir it carries more than ample finishing strength, energy and power. “And I wish to hold on, too, but saw the trapdoor in the sun.” Drink 2023-2028.  Tasted blind at NWAC2022, June 2022

Closson Chase Pinot Noir South Clos 2020, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario

As a reminder the South Clos Vineyard is six hectares of Prince Edward County Hillier clay loam and shallow crumbled limestone overlying fractured limestone. A top site (within the limit of vinifera capability) where chardonnay and pinot noir present as viable as any combo in Canada. Bring on a warm gift of a vintage like 2020 and the possibilities suddenly become endless. The site is always a place of high pH and allowable root penetration but 2020 just tops the show. The intensities are boundless in a most youthful and exuberant South Clos pinot noir that clearly act as the embodiment of one for the ages. Never before have acids tasted so sweet and tannins wept such tears of joy. South Clos is the culmination of decades put in, torches passed, hard work and experimentation. A victory for the 2020 season and perhaps the beginning of a Keith Tyers’ led dynasty. Drink 2024-2032.  Tasted November 2022

With Chef Michael Olson

Bachelder Pinot Noir Wismer Parke “Wild West End” 2020, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario

Wismer-Parke’s western section on Victoria Avenue just up from Highway 8 is planted to what Thomas Bachelder refers to as a mystery clone of pinot noir “whose identity is lost to the mists of time.” Twenty-one years to be exact at the meter of this vintage yet in nostalgic ways that kind of statement feels like something dating back to the 1950s or ’60s. Either way it’s long enough to make one wonder and wonder why. There’s a whole lot of “duh duh dun dun dun dah,” and “bah ah bah ah dun dun dun bah” then “beh do beh do,” followed by “bah doo doo bah,” and finally “wop, wop, wop, wop, wop” in this pinot noir. Why? Because this beast of the east is so strong-willed, immoveable and timeless with unparalleled layering and nuance. Doo Wop tannins in total control, winning out over dark fruit in black olive, fennel and tarry tones playing second fiddle. Why is there more oomph and grip to this savoury flavoured pinot noir of scrub and scorrevole across the palate?” The answer my friend is blowing in those mists and in the time you must give to see this wine come to its fruition. Wismer-Parke Wild West End may not necessarily save your soul, but it will make your soul worth saving! Drink 2024-2029.  Tasted December 2022

PEC wines

Rosehall Run Pinot Noir St. Cindy Unfiltered 2020, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario

In 2004 and 2005 the first County Rosehall Run vineyards pinot noir fruit were given the name Cindy but between ’06 and ’19 the name JCR defined the estate’s best fruit. With a vintage as great as 2020 in vessel Cindy was anointed once again as saint of the top pinot noir. The ripeness and extract here are in fact the finest ever from these PEC lands so the choice was and remains perfectly clear. What the JCR misses in terms of tension is here fully trenchant and oblique, angles run in slants, musculature neither parallel nor perpendicular to the long axis of structure or bones. This is fascinating wine geometry and anatomy, clearly regimented yet offset and in the end, simply wondrous. Drink 2024-2030.  Tasted October 2022

Le Vieux Pin Syrah Cuvée Violette 2015, BC VQA Okanagan Valley

Five years after first tasting Cuvée Violette blind the opportunity arises for an up front and centre moment with bottle, label and glass. Though this syrah would have been more than satisfying before it must be said that its peak performance is in fact NOW. Takes an aromatic leap of faith and suspends at that Black Sage Bench/Dead Man Lake syrah apex where violets and pepper drip their eau de parfum down upon dark varietal fruit. There are many a more expensive Okanagan syrah but there are none as benchmark to combine age-worthiness with price as this Severine Pinte stunner. I for one am thankful to taste this vintage again and at its best.  Last tasted December 2022

Let’s put up our hands so we know who we are, we who expect three P’s in syrah; perfume, pepper and pulchritude. This syrah is possessive of all three. It’s quite the dark purple beauty but also savoury, reeking of black olive and brushy garrigue. The wood is exercised with admirable restraint and then there is this fineness of tannin. A very pretty, seamless and structured syrah of great length. Drink 2018-2023.  Tasted blind at #NWAC17, June 2017

Creekside Broken Press Syrah Reserve Queenston Road Vineyard 2016, VQA St. David’s Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario

Good years have got behind this syrah with a touch of viognier so that five-plus in there’s an open window through which to find the heart of this wine. A democratic vintage, fruit at peak, elongated and built to last, last longer than anyone who knows not what capability is in store for this wine. The tannins are just beginning to wane and with great acumen they have melted into the karst of what is truly a special BP vintage. A minimum five years remains and quite possibly 10. Drink 2022-2028.  Tasted April 2022

CedarCreek Winemaker Taylor Whelan

CedarCreek Syrah Platinum Jagged Rock 2020, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia

Inky and cimmerian, full syrah extraction, maceration, skin contact fermentation and finally, thankfully and for the win, concentration. All adds up to as big as it gets, with iodine, soy and yet this amazing floral indemnity that tells the whole story, but also one that celebrates a truly special site. Yes the tannins are omnipresent but they are reasonable, metered, mattering and real. So very polished. Drink 2025-2029.  Tasted blind at NWAC2022, June 2022

Vines in the Similkameen

Corcelettes Talus 2020, BC VQA Similkameen Valley, British Columbia

Talus makes balanced work of all fine main Bordeaux varieties, led by merlot (40 per cent) and cabernet franc (35), with (20) cabernet sauvignon, (3) malbec and (2) petit verdot. The names refers to the Talus “slides” that accentuate each mountainous side of the Similkameen Valley and the wine slides across the palate in equal, opposing and proportionate waves. Mostly a precise ripeness of fruit but also some passionate acids and truly purposed tannins. The merlot does seem to stand out with its verdant, creamy and downy character as it pertains to soaking up some barrel. There is a notable amount of quality dark chocolate here and still all parts just seem to synch up. Proper Meritage indeed. Drink 2024-2028.  Tasted September 2022

Black Hills Nota Bene 2020, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia

The blend for the Black Hills flagship red in 2020 is 42 percent cabernet franc, (33) cabernet sauvignon, 24 (merlot) and (1) petit verdot. Merlot fared very well in 2020 and yet the team chose franc as the anchor, why, well it seems for structure over beauty and longevity over immediacy. This vintage is quite a remarkable example because all of these aspects show up, repeat, shuffle, reorganize and collectively speak a Black Sage Bench truth. Hard to imagine a more seamless set of red blend circumstances or astrological linearity. The stars do in fact align for this bright constellation of an Okanagan wine. Drink 2024-2030.  Tasted November 2022

Phantom Creek Phantom Creek Vineyard Cuvée #24 2019, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia

At the top of the heap and pops for Phantom Creek is the red blend cuvée from the homestead vineyard and a wine denied absolutely nothing. The finest of the best is grown, nurtured and gathered with equally prized vessels providing the nurturing environment. There are some silky, suave and stylish red wines in this portfolio but nothing compares to the desire in Cuvée #24. These are the richest fruit sets, sweetest acids and silkiest tannins, none more important than the other and all working towards a common goal. That being beauty and longevity which the wine surely boasts. The only question is cost and a decision to be made to decide if the extra $60-100 dollars buys more wine and age-ability. The answer is yes, it surely does but is this “perfect” style the kind you like, want, need or deserve. Only you can be the judge of these things. Drink 2024-2035.  Tasted November 2022

Good to go!

godello

Godello surveys Grimsby Hillside Vineyard

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WineAlign

WineAlign Nationals meet the Iconic Wineries of B.C.

Judging Rosé at the 2021 WineAligjn National Wine Awards of Canada – Photo (c) WineAlign

Back in the first week of October a special anniversary took place in Penticton, British Columbia. Special because it was the 20th running of Canada’s greatest wine show on wheels, now and for the past 10 years known as the WineAlign National Wine Awards of Canada. Remarkable because the week of judging Canada’s finest wines and ciders brought together a group of erudite and beautiful people for the first time in nearly 28 months. It was in June of 2019 the last time a 50-plus strong NWAC gaggle assembled, of back room volunteers, behind the scenes technical wizards, scoring junkies and FOH judging professionals. The 2021 results are beginning to roll out, including the first four categories last week; Sparkling, Gamay, Pinot Gris and Rosé. Today you can read up on chardonnay and pinot noir. I was entrusted the Rosé category write-up and you can view it here:

Related – A record medal haul for Canadian Rosé

A record-setting number of wines were entered from coast to coast. The two-decade journey has been worth every moment for this most respected and important Canadian wine competition. I have been at these judging tables since 2013, to capture this most essential snapshot of Canadian wine and by now have witnessed a great change and evolution, as have mentors Anthony Gismondi and David Lawrason over two decades. The inaugural competition in 2001 drew 528 wines from 71 wineries and in 2021, 26 judges tasted 2,075 entries from more than 260 wineries.

Backroom at NWAC2021, photo (c) WineAlign

I have now published more than 270 wines tasted at the competition that can be viewed on WineAlign. Most have only been tasted the one time, that being during blind varietal and stylistic flights in Penticton and those reviews have only been edited for spelling, grammar, syntax and in a few instances musical reference fact checking. No information, estate history, principals’ stories or winemaking data have been added to those notes. In cases where wines had been previously reviewed or tasted in Kelowna just prior to the awards then the blind notes are added in.

Day one judging @winealign #NWAC2021 ~ With the inimitable @trevering and @bryantmao ~ Only 2,000 more to go ~ #canadianwine #winejudging #thenationals #wineawards

Upon arrival in the Okanagan on the eve of day one at the awards we were privileged to be guests at a walk-around tasting hosted by Anthony Von Mandl’s Iconic Wineries of British Columbia at Checkmate Artisanal Winery in Oliver. All seven estates were present and pouring some of their top tier bottles; CedarCreek Estate Winery (Kelowna), Checkmate (Oliver), Liquidity Wines (Okanagan Falls), Martin’s Lane Winery (Kelowna), Mission Hill Family Estate Winery (West Kelowna), Red Barn Winery (Oliver) and Road 13 Vineyards (Oliver). The following 19 tasting notes are from the bottles poured by all seven members of the IWBC.

CedarCreek Platinum Block 3 Riesling 2020, BC VQA Okanagan Valley

From the Kelowna home vineyard and the oldest block of riesling vines at 30 years of age. A wild ferment, kept on the skins for 12 hours and aged half in stainless, half in German oak (not to be confused with the 1970s prog. rock/psychedelic band). “It’s very easy to make lime juice from this block,” is a reminder from winemaker Taylor Whelan to take great care, find focus and another gear. “We’re aiming for GG (Grosses Gewächs) numbers,” here emerging at 8 g/L RS, but the intensity and grip make the wine seem much drier. No detention or detection of wood whatsoever in a currently bracing riesling but one set up for a readied future of full embrace. Drink 2022-2028.  Tasted October 2021

Cedar Creek Platinum Jagged Rock Vineyard Chardonnay 2020, BC VQA Okanagan Valley

A 100 per cent wild and in barrel though with truncated malolactic fermentation, “because we’re CedarCreek, not Checkmate,” quips winemaker Taylor Whelan. Some banana emits in this moment of estimable youth and we both admit the wine is “not yet quite ready.” From the vineyard down in the valley below Checkmate Winery, a contributor to the freshness in a chardonnay straddling the line between reduction and flesh, flintiness and splendored expression. Tropical fruit hints, nary a creamy plasticity and zero gratuity, but plenty of gravitas. To say they are on to something would be a gross understatement in this a vintage readying to unroll later on in 2022. Drink 2022-2026.  Tasted October 2021

CedarCreek Winemaker Taylor Whelan

CedarCreek Platinum Simes Vineyard Natural Pinot Noir 2020, BC VQA Okanagan Valley

Dark as a syrah night, pressed, full on violet to balsamic, rich beyond the pinot pale and fully into a film noir genre. A bit Wagner north, with gritty tannins and hidden greens.  Last tasted blind at NWAC2021, October 2021

Approximately 55 per cent (Clone 115) whole bunch concrete fermentation. A crunchy red in the guise of Beaujolais and the reference point is not such a stretch. Recently planted gamay vines will do the same or take the torch when they come to their fruition. Some pretty serious pitch and tannin, a cru on steroids, wild man, far from reductive and big. Drink 2022-2027.  Tasted October 2021

Looking out from Checkmate Winery

Checkmate Queen Taken Chardonnay 2018, BC VQA Golden Mile Bench

From the unknown 1975 planted clone, same one used by Mission Hill going back to 1994 with a musqué intonation. The Vineyard is called Dekleva, coolish spot on the Golden Mile Bench. Lower slope soils are patch sandy, with fragmented rocks aboard a fluvial fan. The 2018 is a preview of what the vintage can be for chardonnay or perhaps better described in prologue as to what it has already shown to be. Layers upon layers, alternating chew and crunch, great freshness matching the buttery croissant and if you drop your guard this chardonnay will crush you. It has the game. Drink 2021-2027.  Tasted October 2021

Checkmate Opening Gambit Merlot 2017, BC VQA Okanagan Valley

From the Osoyoos Bench with 100 per cent merlot, a wild ferment and 21 months in new wood. Truly, ostensibly varietal Okanagan realism. Could be nothing but and anything at all, a merlot so cured, verdantly specialized and toasty because the growth cycle and viticultural handling all lead down a path where grape and place walk cane and shoot. Bramble, fully loaded spice masala, a modicum of intensity fleshing out the layers of brush, underbrush and ultimately a silken merlot style. Structured but not overtly so, best in the mid term though it will linger well into the latter stages of the decade. Drink 2022-2027.  Tasted October 2021

Liquidity Reserve Chardonnay 2019, BC VQA Okanagan Valley

Poured by winemaker Amy Paynter, a Reserve chardonnay so aptly named as it submits to the ease with which assets of fruit and structural security are converted into ready to drink pleasure, without affecting cost, value or age worthiness. No searching for richness, nor unction neither, not to mention mille-feuille layering. Chewy enough, fleshy for certain and textural throughout, but always this ease of transitions, conversions and fluidity. Drink 2021-2025.  Tasted October 2021

Liquidity winemaker Amy Paynter

Liquidity Viognier 2020, BC VQA Okanagan Valley

Golden hue, ripeness at the top, surely only B.C. can effect. Not nearly as unctuous as expected yet there is some sweetness and spice to be sure. Spicy too, tart, tincture of tang and all the while circumstantially evident.  Last tasted blind at NWAC2021, October 2021

Part estate with fruit from Oliver and Osoyoos. Very apricot in a chanterelle way so it’s scents is like the idea of a mushroom that smells like the memory of a ripe apricot. What else does one need. Drink 2021-2024.  Tasted October 2021

Liquidity Estate Pinot Noir 2019, BC VQA Okanagan Valley

Made with one hundred per cent Okanagan Falls fruit, picked in lots, each small batch fermented, 14-15 months in (25 per cent new) wood. The decision as to what qualifies as Reserve is made at the time of bottling. A true OK Falls Liquidity Reserve in such regard, much in the way sangiovese is dealt with in Chianti Classico or Montalcino. But this is pinot noir, an animal all to itself, fickle and choosy, hard to get and yet Liquidity has their fruit down with proof right in this glass. Smooth, supple, strong and sure, a confident if simply delicious pinot noir of balance, harmony and grace. Tasted with incumbent winemaker Amy Paynter who’s first full vintage will be 2021 and look for her work ethic (and measured risks) to take this wine to a whole new level. Drink 2021-2023.  Tasted October 2021

Martin’s Lane Riesling Fritzi’s Vineyard 2018, BC VQA Okanagan Valley

Shane Munn’s riesling from the volcanic, clay and white quarts Fritzi’s Vineyard continues to get better, all the while with a wine he seems to do less and less to try and control. Must be the place and the fruit from this 21 year-old block (as of this 2018 vintage) seeks a 48 hour skin-contact for oxidatively handled juice. Pressed once, lightly and so softly treated, then transferred to German casks where it stays for up to eight months. Just bloody delicious, hard to not conjure a frothie for this freshest of phenolic rieslings, which incidentally was only sulphured once, four months into the trek. Walks about from grippy to lovely and back again, with silk stops along the way. Will shine brightest two years from now. Drink 2023-2029.  Tasted October 2021

Martin’s Lane Riesling Fritzi’s Vineyard 2017, BC VQA Okanagan Valley

Fritzi’s Vineyard on Mission Hill Road is a volcanic block on dry yet rich clay, with white quartz below, planted in 1997. The winemaking is consistent from year to year and as time passes forward what’s done to this wine “is very little, less and less” tells Shane Munn. Such a phenolic riesling and irrefutably circulating in a floating balloon of immaculate freshness. Yes there is some creamy richness but it can’t hold a candle to the level of “frische und enger” in a riesling interfacing the land at the base of Boucherie. Fritzbox and very cool cat. Drink 2022-2028.  Tasted October 2021

Martin’s Lane Pinot Noir Fritzi’s Vineyard Missing Ear 2018, BC VQA Okanagan Valley

Some changes in 2018, nothing earth shattering but alterations nonetheless. This time around a 70 per cent whole bunch natural ferment for 42 days (and nearly Piedmontese cappello sommerso as such). No punch-downs nor pump-overs neither, instead a “semi-délestage,” notes winemaker Shane Munn, a fanning over the cap two or three times a day, to polymerize the tannins. Call this the Munn manifesto, unique to pinot noir, Fritzi’s Vineyard and the Okanagan, an infusion rather than a maceration. Fanning acts out so very gently, allowing for an elegant transfer of fruit through structure all the while in retention of some of the noble elements found in the skins. Surely an old-school reference point, a consciousness at the very least and a way to make a big but not dense wine, fulsome yet far from heavy, with great finesse and emotive wakefulness. Munn’s pinot noir is alert and at the ready, as should we all be, from the get go and with the slow moving current that will see aging take place over a six to eight year period. Drink 2024-2029.  Tasted October 2021

Martin’s Lane Pinot Noir Fritzi’s Vineyard Missing Ear 2017, BC VQA Okanagan Valley

Tasted with winemaker Shane Munn, a 50 per cent whole bunch natural fermentation in concrete for 32 days, in this vintage quicker to resolve (five to seven days earlier) than the average. Polymers culminated, “melted” and melded with the richness of tannic volcanic thrush. The optimum if classic Fritzi’s pinot noir fruit at first precipitously gliding down so easy but the stem inclusion thankfully graduates the incline and slows the consumption process down to a much necessitated trickle. Also keeps the wine from lunging or lurching into its immediate future, ahead of promise and proper compulsion for brilliance. No comeuppance or envy here, only pinot mercy and possibility. Log life ahead, breezes in sails, drifts and finally, sandy shores. Drink 2022-2028.  Tasted October 2021

Mission Hill Perpetua 2019, BC VQA Okanagan Valley

Top of the flinty pops, super reductive and oh so tight, taut and implosive. The fruit rolls on through, states a territorial claim and give thanks for all the right reasons. The includes a high level of quality salt, pepper and wood seasoning, which it submits to and willfully accepts. Fine work in chardonnay all around. Drink 2021-2025.  Tasted October 2021

Mission Hill Terroir Collection Vista’s Edge Cabernet Franc 2019, BC VQA Okanagan Valley

Tasted with Graham Nordin, General Manager for Iconic Wineries of B.C. and a man passionate for cabernet franc, especially this fifth vintage of Vista’s Edge for Mission Hill. A wine that began in 2015 after winemaker Darryl Brooker took over from John Simes and the first full vintage for Aussie Ben Bryant who in 2018 succeeded Brooker as chief winemaker. The vineyard can be seen looking out from Checkmate Winery and just past Phantom Creek. The 2019 cabernet franc was fermented in concrete and then aged in Bourgogne wood. My this packs a punch, of fruit so primary, succulent acids secondary and bones tertiary, the latter only because so much flesh and antioxidant donation hangs upon the very backbone of the wine. A cabernet construct like this is neither common nor fully understood in such youth. Will exude charm and captivate to the fullest in two to three years time. Drink 2023-2028.  Tasted October 2021

Red Barn Jagged Rock Vineyard Lost Art Sémillon 2020, BC VQA Okanagan Valley

Red Barn is the newest Black Sage Bench project for Anthony Von Mandl’s Iconic Wineries of British Columbia (IWBC). The seventh member joins Mission Hill, Cedar Creek, CheckMate, Road 13, Liquidity and Martin’s Lane. The winery should be ready to open its doors in 2022. The sèmillon is raised in both stainless steel and concrete, coming across with esteemed richness of fruit so very tropical, nearing a stylistic that usually comes from Okanagan viognier. Viscous with a lovely salt line running through, keeping the varietal faith and boding well for future renditions of this wine. Drink 2021-2023.  Tasted October 2021

Red Barn Jagged Rock Vineyard Silent Partner Cabernet Franc 2019, BC VQA Okanagan Valley

The newest kid on the Black Sage Bench for the Iconic Wineries of B.C. is Red Barn and this cabernet franc from Jagged Rock Vineyard of 30 per cent whole bunch fermentation was aged in concrete. Only 165 cases were produced for an all in, full varietal monty of great transparency, wonderful red fruit and perfect simplicity. A terrific entry point for vineyard and new order outfit. “I know, you know, we believe in a land of love,” that being this institution of an Okanagan bench, a pleasure zone for fun, ripe fruit and the sun’s perfect kiss. All the distractions are kept at bay in a cabernet franc well on its way. Drink 2021-2024.  Tasted October 2021

Road 13 Vineyards Sparkling Chenin Blanc 2017, BC VQA Golden Mile Bench, Okanagan Valley

Lots of fun here, funk too, western richness, sunshine and fulsome palate flavours and texture. Lots of lees and layers.  Last tasted blind at NWAC2021, October 2021

From some of the oldest chenin planting in the Okanagan (1968) and North America for that matter, used exclusively for the sparkling wine program. Vinous yet sleek, rich and intense. Mineral fascination in bubble form, loaded with character. Spent 36 months on the secondary lees. Drink 2021-2025.  Tasted October 2021

Road 13 Winemaker Barclay Robinson

Road 13 Vineyards Sparkling Chenin Blanc 2012, BC VQA Golden Mile Bench, Okanagan Valley

Spent eight years on the lees, still now vibrant and acting as a solemn totem to what distance and time can do for chenin blanc in sparkling significance. Now a wine of fully developed character at the peak of complexities possible. Will linger in this lovely suspended state for a few more years. Drink 2021-2024.  Tasted October 2021

Road 13 5th Element Jackpot 2019, BC VQA Okanagan Valley

The intensity of blue fruit is something to behold, with imminent proposal and one’s imagination trends towards a high percentage of petit verdot (when in fact the number is only in the three to five range). Winemaker Barclay Robinson smiles a wry smile because he knows he’s onto something great and perhaps he too imagines a jackpot at the end of this rainbow. The merlot and malbec offer up interwoven waves of red and black fruit, all the while bespoken to chocolate and goji berry. Then the perfume hits, violet and hibiscus, followed by a return of that beautiful blue fruit. Onto something indeed. Drink 2022-2026.  Tasted October 2021

Good to go!

godello

Judging Rosé at the 2021 WineAligjn National Wine Awards of Canada

Twitter: @mgodello

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