Quality Canadian made Rosé is more diverse and complex than ever before. That’s great news for consumers
The 2019 WineAlign National Wine Awards of Canada were a huge success with 1,815 entries from 259 different wineries from six different provinces. The ‘Nationals’ are Canada’s largest wine awards and each year are held them in a different Canadian wine region. This year’s were hosted in Ontario’s bucolic Prince Edward County.
For we the 21 judges it was an intense week in assessment of more than 1,800 entries for wines made coast to coast, albeit surrounded by the beauty and the serenity of Prince Edward County at the 2019 WineAlign National Wine Awards of Canada. It seems most apropos to open the results vault with the winners of the Rosé category, first because it’s one of life’s great apéritif wines, second because we tasted some lovely examples in PEC and third, quality was on full display at this year’s awards.
There were 44 medals awarded, six Gold, six Silver and 32 Bronze. British Columbian Rosé took home two thirds or 32 of those 48 medals in it’s strongest showing to date. Origins aside if a clearcut notion has emerged from out the Rosé category results at the 2019 Nationals it’s one that encourages both the asking and answering of a new question. Who needs only light, southern French styled Rosé when you can also have full fruit, plenty of colour and a healthy dose of personality. In many cases the nearly pale and vin gris examples still persist and excite but at the top of the judges’ heap are also those bled and rendered, heavily hued and teeming with fruit. Canadian made Rosé is more diverse, complex and multifarious than ever before. In terms of working for the consumer that means more choice and that’s a beautiful thing.
A wonderful exercise would be to purchase and taste (as a line-up) the six Gold Medal winning Rosés from this competition. Five out of six hail from British Columbia so the playing field is as level as it’s going to get and the assessment would be a highly credible one. When you look at the six you’ll note the variance and heterogeneity of distinction, tenor and design. All of them, save for the great outlier from Quebec are raised within close geographical range and each fit to sing of their own singular merit and character. Yet they too show local variegation in representation, for the Okanagan Valley, Skaha Lake and Vancouver Island. Further proof that Rosé’s multiplicity is steeped in varietal, style and also place.
The variance of grapes employed in these top awarded wines are perhaps what stands out as the most obvious point of wide attack. One of the top wines is Sperling Vineyards Organic Pinot Noir Rosé, lithe, earthy, authentic and so varietally obvious. Another is Stag’s Hollow Syrah which uses a Rosé-dedicated block at Amalia Vineyard for a pale yet expressive, pure antithetical expectation. The combinative winemaking skills separate it from the pack, part light crushed, soaked and pressed plus part saignée method off of a syrah/viognier co-ferment. Skaha Rosé is whole cluster pressed, 100 percent, high acidity-led merlot while Blue Grouse Quill Rosé is entirely Cowichan Valley gamay, harvested over three days and fermented on its skins for 18 hours before pressing. Then along comes a terrific pinot gris example in Harper’s Trail Rosé. Gris can deliver citrus both yellow and red and a little added bit of red juice goes a long way for a current of currant and sweet red pepper. The stand apart or alone Gold Medal winner is the esteemed representative from Quebec, La Cantina Vallee D’Oka Rosé Du Calvaire. This was the sole blend in the mix of six, a chardonnay and pinot noir raised in the heart of the Basses-Laurentides which “perfectly accompanies the trout, the salmon, the bites with seafood, the sunny salads and the cheeses of Quebec.” A balanced Rosé, low in sugar, proper in high acidity and congratulations to La Cantina for the much deserved recognition.
Whether you are making yours to be a crowd pleaser with a heathy dose of residual sugar or dry as the desert, the unequivocal voice of necessary conscience will always whisper “balance in Rosé is key.” Sweetness sells, that much we know, not in the once popular White Zinfandel way but in the “hidden style,” in wines where enough acidity remains to make it feel like the overall sensation is a drier one than what is really in the bottle. There is nothing wrong with making Rosé with an equal quotient of 6.0 g/L of sugar and acidity, provided the free-run of fruit juice and the retention of optimum freshness are equally exercised to task. The six Silver Medal winners all took a page out of that balancing act book.
A low alcohol (under 12 per cent) and high acidity (above 8 g/L TA) style is typified by a producer like Singletree out of Naramata in the Okanagan Valley while another like Trius gathers gamay noir, pinot noir, syrah and a pinch of pinot meunier for their effective and efficient Niagara Peninsula Rosé. The same might be said about Mission Hill‘s single-vineyard, Okanagan Valley blush “meritage” but where that wine shines is on behalf of merlot as the lead dancer in a talented ensemble. As noted above, British Columbia also has a way with using pinot gris in Rosé and when just a fourteenth or so of a red grape like cabernet franc is blended in you get both hue and style. Not that colour matters so much but a lovely lithe salmon pink hue can double down to match the personality of a pretty wine.
Spearhead Pinot Noir Rosé from the Okanagan Valley is a poster child for asking that new age question, who needs light, southern French Rosé when you can have this? Less so but in a similar vein and noted by David Lawrason from “the pale but bright sunset pink” is made by Tantalus with young vine pinot noir and some pinot meunier. Another Silver Medal winner is one wholly generous, fruit-equipped and settled of the finest balance, that being the CedarCreek Estate Pinot Noir Rosé.
Then there is the consideration of what can be possible out of Nova Scotia. Much in the way that province is able to make high quality Sparkling wine, so can they do yeoman’s work with Rosé. Sure the truth is such that the climate gives cold temperatures, wind, precipitation and the world’s greatest fluctuating ocean tides but it also breeds a long, phenolic ripening season from which growers are often able to extend grapes into late October and November for making wines that need much earlier picking everywhere else. Acidities are easily maintained in the Annapolis Valley and the skins of grapes imbued by many hues (white, green, orange, yellow, pink and red) can combine to Rosé it up in the most elegant and stylish ways. Luckett Vineyards joins the likes of Benjamin Bridge and Lightfoot & Wolfville to craft just such an example and to lead the way.
There too are examples made so much like red wines you might need a round table discussion to set the blending of categories straight. The fully hued pinot noir made by O’Rourke’s Peak Cellars is but one that straddles the line and breaches the twain while Leaning Post from Winona on the Niagara Peninsula shows off what can be done in a salty-strawberry vein when choosing the mixed varietal route. What we are not finding and thankful for it is the “dextrinization” of Rosé, meaning the sort of manipulations that change colour, but also aroma and flavour. Methodologies are mixed so light crush/press and saignée are both valid and fitting means to different Rosé ends, but the days of make-up and “blushing” it up seem to be fading well into the rear-view mirror. Congratulations to all the winners and the producers who are making proper, honest, quality and crushable Rosé in every corner of the country. The consumer thanks you, as do we, the judges. When it comes to purchasing choices it has never been clearer where to look. Canada knows Rosé.
Good to go!