Judge’s Picks from the National Wine Awards of Canada
The West Weighs In
Each week between now and the announcement of the results of the NWACs after Labour Day, WineAlign will feature each of the 18 judges, their thoughts on Canadian wine, and their personal favourite wine of the competition. Selection of a wine does not necessarily mean it was a top medal winner, and the scores (if given) reflect the opinion of the judge, not its final mark in the competition.
Treve Ring, Victoria
Treve Ring is a wine writer, editor, judge and consultant based on Vancouver Island. She is the DRINK Editor for EAT Magazine, BC Regional Editor for SIP Northwest Magazine, Director of Liquid Assets for Edible Canada and founding partner of Cru Consultancy. Most recently, Treve joined WineAlign as a critic, posting both local and international reviews. Treve received her Sommelier Diploma from the International Sommelier Guild and Diploma from the Wine & Spirit Education Trust. Along the way she has become a French Wine Scholar, certified Sherry Educator, Wine Location Specialist with the Center of Wine Origins (Champagne & Port), and is currently completing certification with the Society of Wine Educators. She was a contributing author for the award-winning book, “Island Wineries of British Columbia”, published in early 2011 (revised 2013) and one of the consulting contributors to Maclean’s Wine In Canada annual, alongside WineAlign colleagues John Szabo MS and Rhys Pender MW.
Treve seeks out characterful wines that have a sense of place, honestly reflect origin and can shift preconceived perceptions. She is currently working her way through visiting every wine growing region worldwide – a seemingly (and fortuitously) endless goal.
Treve’s Thoughts on Canadian Wine
Judging Canada’s national wine awards is one of the most rewarding things I do in this industry. It’s tremendous to see what wine growers and vintners are accomplishing literally coast to coast. Having closely followed BC’s local wine industry for the past dozen years, I am acutely aware of what producers in my home province are capable of, but it’s fantastic to see and taste such high quality products that don’t regularly cross our boarders – from Quebec, Ontario and Nova Scotia. It’s evident that our strengths are only increasing in prominence and confidence; riesling and chardonnay were fantastic overall, as was gently-handled pinot noir. I am happy to see that grapes and styles that have shown exemplary aptitude in the past are continuing to step up. Cabernet franc and syrah are exciting flights to judge, as are the sparkling wine flights. It seems to me that each year more winemakers settle in to what is working for their specific site, and not try to force something for popularity or familiarity (some cabernet sauvignon and pinot gris flights were a little painful).
What was really exciting to see this year, however, were adventuresome winemakers embracing the freedom of our relatively young wine regions and producing interesting wines from uncommon grapes. For black grapes, gamay is rising in prevalence (#GoGamayGo!) and there was a smattering of zweigelt, malbec and petit verdot of interest. For whites, viognier continues to impress, while roussanne, marsanne and semillon are encouraging and welcome. To that end, my judge’s picks include two grapes not commonly seen in Canadian winemaking. Kudos to Road 13 for not ripping out something unfashionable, and props to Moon Curser for putting in something unfashionable. Quality should not be a popularity contest.
Road 13 Vineyards 2009 Home Vineyard Sparkling Chenin Blanc
Okanagan Valley, BC $35.00
Wow. Simply stunning. Old vines from 1948 (!) yield this stellar chenin, opening with an intense nose of key lime and grapefruit. The lively palate is positively shimmering with green apple, quince and chalky minerality. The racy acidity is in perfect harmony with the low-yield, sun-sweetened fruit from the winery’s Home Vineyard on the Golden Mile Bench. Lovely crisp lemon pith lingers on the lengthy finish.
Moon Curser Vineyards 2011 Touriga Nacional
Okanagan Valley, BC $39.00
Taking Portugal’s king of the Douro, touriga nacional, and transplanting it in Osoyoos is a bold move, but really, what else would you expect from the Moon Curser family? This intensely fragrant, highly tannic and low-yielding grape seems to be adapting to the southern Okanagan’s desert-like conditions just fine. Addictive savoury cured meats and cassis on the nose lead to a massive palate of juicy black cherry, herbed cassis and big spice. Massive tannins here, as expected, so prepare the grill today or prepare to lay it down for a few years.
Tom Firth, Calgary
Tom Firth started in the wine business in 1996 in some of the best wine shops and boutiques in Calgary where he had the opportunity to travel and learn about wine from passionate people in Alberta’s dynamic privatized liquor market. Joining Wine Access Magazine in 2006 as the Events and Promotions Manager he managed the logistics of the Wine Access Competitions and managed the Savour Wine and Food Festival in Calgary. In 2008, he joined the Wine Access Tasting Panel as one of the reviewers and regular contributors for the magazine which he continued to do until 2013.
Tom has judged wine at domestic and international wine competitions including the International Value Wine Awards, the Canadian Wine Awards, and the National Wine Awards of Canada and has judged at Concours Mondial de Brussels, the Argentina Wine Awards and been a grand jurist at the Portuguese Wine Challenge. He has presented on wine for a number of consumer and trade events and master classes. Although he takes wine seriously, he refuses to take it ‘too’ seriously, believing wine to be enjoyed for what it is – a pleasure. His formal wine training includes certification with the Wines & Spirits Education Trust and the International Sommelier Guild. More recently, he was one of the inaugural graduates of the Wine Location Specialist program sponsored by the Comite Interprofessionnel du Vin de Champagne (CIVC) and the Instituto dos Vinhos do Douro e Porto (IVDP). Tom is a frequent contributor to Avenue Magazine, Up! Magazine, City Palate, and Culinaire Magazine where he also serves as the contributing drinks editor. In addition he contributes to a number of online projects including Alberta Winestein, Wine Collective, and Eat North. He tweets under the handle @cowtownwine.
Tinhorn Creek 2010 Cabernet Franc
Okanagan Valley, British Columbia
Tinhorn Creek has always had a strong commitment to cabernet franc, but in recent years, I’ve been enjoying these spicy and balanced wines more than ever. Plenty of juicy red berry fruits with just the right amount of peppery spice, graphite, and a touch of herbaciousness, yet with no hard-edged green tannins to detract from the joy that is good cabernet franc. Drink now, and revel in great wine at a great price.
Tom’s Thoughts on Canadian Wine
I’ve been tasting Canadian wine on a regular basis for a long time now and being based in Alberta, I find I am not really beholden to champion either of Canada’s 2 primary wine regions. With liquor privatization now 20 years past, we have around 17000 options for wine, beer, and spirits on Alberta shelves, meaning the best in the world is already right at our fingertips. For a long time one almost felt apologetic recommending Canadian wine, but in recent years, it has gotten so good, that I believe Canadian wine can compete with some of the best in the world – at a certain price of course.
Canadian wine is expensive and frankly doesn’t fight well for your dollar below $15. Many other countries produce much better wine at that price than we ever can hope to. If your budget is around $20 or $25 the gap narrows and plenty of proudly made, excellent Canadian wines are out there. If $40 and above is in your comfort zone, I would happily recommend Canada over wines from other countries.
I found this year, during the blind tasting, that it was harder than ever to identify which province the wines were from – but the quality was so good, I didn’t care. As always, riesling and chardonnay continue to impress, while pinot gris and gewürztraminer didn’t capture my interest this year. However, I am still stunned by the power and elegance of the red blends and our love affair with Canadian syrah continues. A category I really enjoyed this year was the cabernet franc, sample after sample impressed me and I would happily enjoy almost every one of them at home with a bit of cheese or charcuterie.
The sweet spot for my enjoyment at home when it comes to Canadian wine has to be at around 5 years of age for the good reds when I find them losing the bloom of youth, but just starting to get a few gray hairs. For the whites, I love riesling, and they never last too long at my house.
Photo credits from NWAC: Jason Dziver Photography