Final Blend : National Hopes Soar
by Anthony Gismondi
As I write this from the Post Hotel in Lake Louise awaiting the start of this year’s Wine Summit, the final weeks in the run off to The National Wine Awards of Canada are counting down. There is a certain symmetry in the two events that celebrate excellence in wine in Canada. Both are focused on high quality wine. At The Post Hotel the participants, year in and year out, are the who’s who of the international wine world, while at The Nationals we will spend an entire week looking for the who‘s who of Canadian wine.
This year The Nationals are being held in Niagara Falls, high above the rushing waters of the Niagara River just before it spills over the escarpment enroute to Lake Ontario. I grew up two blocks from the same escarpment in West Hamilton and spent countless hours climbing what in those days I thought was the mountain. Sitting in the Canadian Rocky Mountains today I have a better understanding of big hills and mountains.
Speaking of hills to climb, the National Wine Awards of Canada has done its share over the past fourteen years. I’m sure if you were to ask David Lawrason or me if we ever thought ‘The Nationals’ would come to what they are today we would say yes, except we thought it would happen in the first year. Back then just under 800 wines showed up in Toronto. It’s grown on average by about 50 wines a year.
In those days wine competitions were few and far between and getting the attention of struggling Canadian wineries was tough. It seemed winning a gold medal in Bulgaria, or New York State was more important than winning anything at home. We learned early on that we would have to prove ourselves long before any wineries would.
Today we believe we have the finest competition on the continent, something we have come to know because most of our judges have worked elsewhere in the wine world and tell us so. Englishman and scientist Dr. Jamie Goode, a much sought after international judge, asked us if he could return after his first experience at ‘The Nationals’ in the Okanagan Valley last year. Goode characterised the judging team as “highly competent and well-travelled, and it was painless judging with them. The organization of these wine awards, which involved opening over 4,000 bottles, pouring flights for each judge, and then collating the results in real time, was superb. Which means that judges can get on with the process of judging wine.”
No one enjoyed those remarks more than David Lawrason and I. Dr. Goode went on to say “the process was thorough, and every wine was given respect and time to show its best.” We couldn’t have asked for a better recommendation. Oh, and yes, he will be with us again this year in Niagara.
Today we just surpassed the total pinot noir entries of last year and will surely set a record in 2015 for total entries. It’s part of a subtle change we see across all the entries. More red blends (with a higher percentage of merlot in the mix), more pinot noir, less cabernet sauvignon, more Rhone style blends both red and white. Strangely we get less and less icewine entries despite our image as THE icewine producers. Riesling now rivals chardonnay and pinot gris for the best white wine we make.
Canadian winemakers are stretching their legs in different directions as their experience grows and with confidence comes wines that make more sense than ever. This spring I have been impressed by several new labels including a grüner veltliner, a marsanne, a Super Tuscan style blend, a true white Bordeaux style blend, a pair of natural wines, several biodynamic and organic labels and a sparkling made using an ancient sparkling wine method. It’s the creativity and experimentation we have craved for years and its appearance can only bode well for the future.
Much has been written about wine awards lately so let’s be clear. We have never been about giving out a mess of medals. In fact we are probably too stingy. What we are about is sorting out the best from the rest. Imagine you are one of the 100 pinot noirs that get tasted in June; you will have to be excellent to get out of the first flight as likely only two or three at most, will make it to the final rounds. Again, winning your next flight against the best is an enormous challenge but being a part of that round, typically no more than 25 percent of the pool and exclusively silver and gold rated, means you have made it.
Our strategy is to give something back to you and our readers who can now access all the results indefinitely, online. We even virtually display your medal for you year round on the WineAlign website. I would like to tell you more but I’m kind of busy organising 1500 wines into appropriate flights, herding the judges into cohesive panels and getting the back room ready to run like a clock. We do all that (our entire team) with only one goal in mind – so our judges can get on with the process of finding out who is making the best wines in the country.
In the meantime, to stay sharp and global and ready for whatever may come out of Canadian wine country I’m spending three days at the Wine Summit Lake Louise 2015. Krug Champagne will be presenting, reminding me that we can make wines with that acidity in our sleep. Mollydooker will suggest you can come from nowhere to capture the world’s attention. Domaine Faiveley and Pichon Lalande will remind us that place matters. Turley Wines will tell a story of old vines, one we have yet to embrace for obvious reasons, while Tenuta di Biserno reminds us to be adaptable no matter how long you have been in the business.
It’s the kind of perspective we expect all our judges to bring to Niagara Falls next month and it’s one that serves the interest of every wine entered in the competition. You can follow us live from the tasting room at #NWAC15 and we welcome your questions and thoughts.
The National Wine Awards of Canada
The National Wine Awards of Canada (NWAC), held annually in June, is only open to wines grown and produced in Canada. The goal of ‘The Nationals’ is to expose Canadian wine drinkers to the best in Canadian wines. There is no restriction on price, leaving each winery the opportunity to compete with and against the best wines in the country. More importantly, as barriers to ship wines across the country come down, the combination of winning recognition at The Nationals and WineAlign’s ability to display the results alongside your key retail outlets, from the winery direct to across the country, makes it the only competition with enduring post competition sales opportunities.
The 2015 tastings will take place from June 23 to 27 in Niagara Falls, Ontario.
Registration is now open. Click here for more information and to register.