Judgments on Canadian Wine
Canadian Wine Report – September 2016
by David Lawrason
If you are a follower of the fortunes of Canadian wine, you will be aware of the many judgments being made on the quality of our home grown. There are two national contests, several regional/provincial competitions (including the loosely connected Lieutenant Governors Awards in three provinces), and a bevy of international competitions entered by Canadian wineries in the USA and Europe.
Speaking of international judgments, the most recent success for Canada has come to Benjamin Bridge of Nova Scotia. To quote the press release, “Its Méthode Classique Sparkling Brut 2008 (retail £30 in England) was named 1 of the 14 best sparkling wines of the world out of a field of 300 of some of the world’s most recognized Champagnes and sparkling wines.” The judging was conducted by a tasting panel of Masters of Wine and Wine Sommeliers based in London, England, convened by Drinks Business Magazine.
The seeking of judgment (hopefully positive) is indicative of our youth as an industry. We need the notoriety, the praise, the medals, to convince a local market that is exposed to fine wines from around the world. Established regions are much less likely to compete.
But I want to discuss “judgments” on a narrower scale, specifically those that use the word Judgment in the name. They are not, full blown competitions with over 1,500 entries like the WineAlign National Wine Awards of Canada. They are smaller, narrower, carefully curated judgments, that in my mind are less meaningful. But that word “Judgment” makes them sound very important. The genre was made famous by the 1976 Judgment of Paris, wherein a very few French and California wines hand-selected by one or two persons were tasted blind by a hand-picked panel of French experts. The careful selection of wines and judges underlies my skepticism of judgments, especially among smaller groups. The sample size is just too small, the outcome is not without bias.
Judgments are positioned, in young regions like Canada – or as the Berlin tastings of Chile – as exercises to show that we belong on the same table as more famous wines or regions. Underlying the careful positioning is the fervent hope that we “kick ass”, but as long as we don’t finish 8th, 9th, 10th, 11th, 12th out of the dozen in the lineup, we at least belong, and can comfortably be named world class
In B.C., just prior to the National Wine Awards this past summer, NWAC judges were invited to participate in the second annual Judgment of B.C. – a blind tasting of global riesling and pinot noir (see end of this article for more details). The previous year a different group of judges tasted syrah and chardonnay We were asked to rank the wines and results were tallied. I found myself totally disinterested in the results in terms of positioning. Precisely because they were all very good wines; hand picked for that very reason.
What should have been the objective set before this expert panel of Canadian judges – with one guest from the UK and one from the USA – was to identify which of these very good wines were B.C. wines. On the very eve of B.C. wineries voting to delve into sub-appellations and strengthen B.C. identity, we judges should have been tasked with identifying the B.C. wines and explaining what made them, in the glass, B.C. wines. That’s what our readers and Canadian consumers really need to understand.
We were given the opportunity on our scorecards to identify the B.C. wines, based on our blind tasting results, so I did. But if the other judges did too, no one talked about it. The post-mortem discussion was all hung up on where the B.C. wines placed. I picked six of eight rieslings correctly as B.C., and five of the eight pinot noir. My picks were based on style: that fruit intensity and ripeness, backed by unique northern latitude acidity, was distinctive. That is B.C.
An Ontario-based Judgement is coming up November 5. Called The Judgement of Kingston, it will pit Prince Edward County chardonnay against California chardonnay. It is being judged by a small panel of Canadian and American judges, including WineAlign’s Sara d’Amato. It is being locally promoted as a consumer event, with attendees also voting (tickets are available at JudgementofKingston.ca).
I found the handpicked PEC/California comparison a bit odd at first (would not Burgundy be the more apt competitor?) but it is in its way a wily, consumer-focused choice. California is the number one selling region in Ontario, so most consumers will have a much better notion of California chardonnay than Burgundy. How well the lighter, more linear County chards will fare is something I will report on later.
In the end, these Judgments do succeed in generating publicity for Canadian wine, and some of our best wines get do get put forward. I guess I am just wary of their overblown importance, and the fact that they overlook so many other wines and trends that are more important to the evolution of our industry.
Here are links to ten gold medalists from the National Wine Awards, wines singled out in blind tasting among dozens of their peers that have risen to the top among other Canadian wines. And watch for a series of upcoming articles that slice and dice the NWAC results.
Closson Chase 2014 Closson Chase Vineyard Chardonnay, Prince Edward County, Ontario
Hidden Bench 2013 Estate Chardonnay, Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario
Meyer 2014 Chardonnay McLean Creek Road Vineyard, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia
Synchromesh 2015 Riesling Thorny Vines Vineyard, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia
Thirty Bench 2015 Winemaker’s Blend Riesling, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario
50th Parallel 2014 Unparallelled Pinot Noir, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia
Huff Estates 2014 Pinot Noir Reserve, Prince Edward County, Ontario
Burrowing Owl 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia
Church & State 2012 Quintessential, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia
Fielding 2012 Chosen Few, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario
By clicking on any of the wine names or bottle images above, you’ll be taken to the wine page on WineAlign. There you will see all of our critic reviews, price and availability info – as well as a link to the winery’s profile page, where you can see all of that winery’s wines and their contact info.
VP of Wine
Editor’s Note: After the Judgement of BC this June (official results here), I queried some of the WineAlign judges on their most memorable wine. For me personally, it was a tie between Synchromesh 2015 Storm Haven Vineyard Riesling, impressive with its electric acidity balancing out the ripe sugar; as well as BK Wines 2013 Skin n’ Bones Pinot Noir – taut and savoury, with earth and forest notes woven amidst perfumed red fruits, finishing juicy and peppery. Craig Pinhey remembered the Tantalus Riesling for “its intense minerality, dry style and firm acidity”, while Sharon McLean thought the Pewsey Vale Riesling stood out for “the racy, lime-driven thumbprint of Eden Valley. Having such a staggeringly overt sense of place is what other wines can only dream of.” And Steve Thurlow thought fondly on Wild Goose Riesling. “Pure, fresh wine with such good varietal character. I was amazed to later fine out it’s so reasonably priced.” Our international guests Dr. Jamie Goode and Elaine Chukan-Brown had their own views on the event, published on their respective websites. As DJ Kearney, event chair, noted, “The idea is to benchmark; to see how a collection of BC’s talked-about rieslings and pinot noir wines compare to global standards. This demonstrates that these wines are well-made and expressive, and can stand shoulder to shoulder to acknowledged benchmarks from other countries.” ~ Treve Ring
NWAC16 Event photos by Jason Dziver : www.jasondziver.com