Judge’s Picks from the National Wine Awards of Canada

Quebec and Manitoba chime 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. 

Nadia Fournier, Montreal

Nadia Fournier

Nadia Fournier

Nadia Fournier developed a passion for wine on a long journey in Europe, where she did the grape harvest in Burgundy (France), in the Valais (Switzerland) and in Piemonte (Italy). Co-writer from 2007 of Le guide du vin partnering with Michel Phaneuf who created the famous book 32 years ago, Nadia is now in charge of the best-selling wine guide in Quebec. She is also a contributor to the magazine L’Actualité, to Michel Phaneuf’s web site (www.michelphaneufvin.com) and she can be seen every Thursday with Marc-André Coallier on MaTV on “Libre-Service”.  Le Guide du Vin 2010 has been awarded the best wine guide of the world at the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards.

Nadia’s Pick

Tawse Gamay Noir 2011
Niagara Peninsula (ON $18.95)

Tawse Gamay Noir 2011

I only had one disappointment tasting this entry level wine, which sells for under the $20 – that there are not more gamays from the Niagara Peninsula. Just like the wines from the Beaujolais region – which is the essence – Gamay is victim of persistent prejudice from both consumers and producers. However, when in good hands, this grape can produce excellent wines. They are not rare wines, but popular wines. And that is precisely what makes this wine so charming. The Tawse Gamay is at once elegant and surprisingly persistent, velvety – punctuated with flower and pepper aromas, which are highlighted by delicate tannic grip. It is not too ambitious, rather a refreshing wine to drink as a simple pleasure. But oh so sincere!

Ben MacPhee-Sigurdson, Winnipeg

Ben MacPhee-Sigurdson

Ben MacPhee-Sigurdson

Ben started his wine career hucking cases at a few of Winnipeg’s private wine stores in the mid-1990s to pay for university, as well as for the upkeep on his drum kit while smashing away in various local bands. Ten long years later he found himself with a Master of Arts degree, a profound passion for wine and a gig as the weekly wine columnist for the Winnipeg Free Press (where he also works as a copy editor). Ben has also written about wine and beer for a number of national publications, and has judged at wine competitions across Canada.

Ben’s Pick

Hidden Bench 2010 La Brunante
Beamsville Bench, Niagara Penisula (ON, Sept Release Est $75.00)

This Merlot-driven red blend (with cab sauvigon, cab franc and malbec) was nicely approachable upon tasting, yet is also clearly built to be put away by the patient imbiber. Plum, white pepper, raspberry, and light smoky, slightly leafy notes on the nose showed a nice hat-tip to the Old World; on the very full-bodied, chewy palate the wine showed dense blackberry, plum, and cassis with medium tannin and a definite touch of oak on the long finish.

Hidden Bench 2010 La Brunante

Ben’s thoughts on Canadian wine

Winter blizzards and summer mosquitoes be damned — when it comes to Canadian wine, Manitoba is a pretty good place to be. With our geographic location roughly halfway between BC and Ontario, the selection of Canadian wines at Manitoba Liquor Marts and private wine stores (yes, we have eight of ‘em) is split roughly 50-50 between the two wine-producing regions, with a few Quebec and Maritime wines thrown in for good measure.

Manitoba is also one of only a couple of provinces where Bill C-311 has made any sort of difference. The interprovincial shipping of wine has been given the full green light in Manitoba, meaning if a Canadian wine isn’t in our market we can have it shipped to our door.

I guess when it gets too cold in the winter for there to be any chance of vines surviving through to spring, you have to count your blessings when it comes to wine. But I digress.

Like many others, I was thrilled but not shocked by the overall quality in all categories at the National Wine Awards of Canada — it feels like it has been a gradual fine-tuning over the last half-decade or so.

More than ever, producers are basing what they’re doing on where they are. As a result, stylistic differences based on place are becoming much clearer. Ontario and BC Riesling, for example, continue to move away from each other stylistically — the former often delivers subtle wines with fleshy fruit and a hint of residual sugar while the latter brings tightly wound, racy, crisp citrus and vibrancy.

Based on what I’ve tasted over the last year, the same can be said of many other grapes grown in both regions — Syrah, Merlot, and Gewürztraminer come to mind — and also in the red blends made in BC and Ontario. The added heat of the Okanagan means BC blend can lean on Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah a bit more, while Ontario’s cooler climate favours the softer Merlot, with Cabernet Franc providing added structure. Where Canadian Bordeaux-grape red blends were once all over the map, it now seems there are a couple of clear paths emerging.

What I found most intriguing about the many red blends tasted at the National Wine Awards of Canada was just how much better the Merlot-driven wines have become, both from BC and Ontario. Granted, when tasted in their youth as they are at the Nationals, these wines gain a bit of an upper hand. Because they’re more approachable than the more tightly wound, tannic Cabernet-based blends, you’re not left guessing what the wine will be like when the tannins mellow out a few years down the road.

Photo credits from NWAC: Jason Dziver Photography

National Wine Awards