Medals of Honour

The Final BlendAug 5, 2015

by Anthony Gismondi

Anthony Gismondi Portrait Colour_Cropped

Anthony Gismondi

How many times can you write about a competition? I ask myself this loaded question as I pore over the results of the 2015 WineAlign National Wine Awards. After 15 years it would appear the answer is as many times as it takes to tell the story. Given the breakneck pace with which the domestic wine industry is accelerating, I have to admit it’s getting easier. Add to that a growing pool of talented tasters who can discern the nuances that make Canadian wine different, and relevant, and an industry that cares enough to be measured annually (in 2015 to the tune of 1400+ entries), well you have some very meaningful results.

I’m always amazed at the attention domestic wineries afford foreign accolades and medals given the relative low number of entries in a broad Canadian category and the mix of judges, nearly all of whom would be unfamiliar with Canadian wine or tasting them for the first time. You don’t get that variation at The Nationals. With categories of 50 to 100 entries it is difficult enough to win your flight, let alone return and beat the best of the best.

A great example is the Riesling category. There were 98 entries and fourteen flights, averaging eight wines per flight, from across the country. The best were tasted twice, by a total of eleven different palates. The top ten wines scored between 90 and 92 points and the prices ranged between $18.50 and $31.95 (at the winery). Winning that category and grabbing a Platinum medal was the Thirty Bench 2013 Riesling Small Lot Triangle Vineyard from Ontario. If that isn’t worth its weight in platinum plated gold I’m not sure what is. There are many wines that have achieved similar results, as pointed out by my colleague David Lawrason, but it’s up to the wineries to tell that story.

That said, we continue to do our best to help readers out with perhaps the best feature of The Nationals. After the competition we asked our judges to file 75 notes on medal winning wines to the WineAlign website. The selection of notes differ based on which panels each judge was on and of course the wines they were asked to taste throughout the week. This year we shuffled the judges throughout the week across different panels to try and eliminate any block voting and frankly to keep all the personalities in check. It also allowed our experienced panel leaders to work with almost everyone tasting, adding to the all-important knowledge transfer that goes both ways all week. See our list of judges.

In terms of the numbers, entries (1408) and wineries (205) both set records for size in 2015, reflecting the explosion of interest in Canadian wine across the country. There were some epic battles in the tasting rooms as cool climate, Canadian style wines have finally made it to the forefront of the awards. Fruit, freshness, liveliness, sense of place, balance, length and tension are the new hallmark of our best wines as oak and alcohol and gross intervention during the winemaking process fades into our historical background.

One of the most interesting aspects of 2015 is the parity that is coming to Canadian wine production. Faulty wines are now few and far between and when it comes to the medals the best are spread wide and far. The ultimate platinum medals given to the top one percent of all entries totalled 14 and they were given to twelve wineries.

In years gone by we would focus on all the categories and flight winners, still a big part of the results, but by celebrating the top one percent of wines in the competition regardless of grape, category or origin we are trying to send a message about what can be done in Canadian wine at a very high level. Also, we think when you encounter a 2015 National Wine Awards of Canada Platinum medal winner you can bet on it. We have always been careful when awarding medals at The Nationals because as a team of reviewers we want each of them to mean something to the producer and the wine buyer.

While it’s easy to say just over half the wines entered grabbed medals, and competition naysayers say it all the time, they never mention that just under half of all the entries did not get anything. Remember, we only reward the highest scoring bronze medals in the competition; in a sense they are wines that received 87 points, barely missing getting a silver. This makes them worthy medal winners, and again our thinking is to improve the breed (in the case the worth of a bronze medal) by simply rewarding the best.

Over the years the Best Winery in Canada has brought a great deal of attention and stature to the winning winery. It’s highly coveted by Canada’s most competitive wineries and frankly in a country with over 500 producers any winery getting into the top 25 as a result of its performance at The Nationals really should be tooting its horn. It’s a very a significant achievement.

For the record, our performance report rates any winery entering five or more wines in the competition, automatically entering that producer into the race for the WineAlign Canadian Winery of the Year. While the report was originally designed to help us assess each winery’s performance in the competition, the results are so compelling we now share Canada’s top 25 wineries to help you make better buying decisions.

From a practical point of view, we know consumers are interested in a winery’s top wines, so the final calculation is done by selecting the wineries’ five top scoring entries. It also means large wineries entering 10 or 20 wines have no special advantage over smaller boutiques, since only five wines are used to calculate any single performance ranking. That said, in 2015 we recognised the country’s smaller producers, including our inaugural Best Performing Small Winery, using the same criteria but limiting the list to those who produce 10,000 cases or less.

What it all comes down to is one of the most useful wine buying lists in the country, and a true guide to which wines and wineries are performing at the very top of the Canadian wine industry.

Finally, if you are new to wine and unfamiliar with our competition, it has deep roots. David Lawrason and I started the ‘Canadian Wine Awards’ back in 2001. At the time we thought it would be a useful snapshot of the current state of domestic wine and we still do.

The challenge was, and still remains, to organize a week that is fair to the wines, the judges and the readers and not lose too much money getting and publishing real results. We are still looking for an overall sponsor that could take that burden off, but hey, it’s Canada, we are only learning how to celebrate excellence.

In the meantime we finish with Fifteen Years of Champions: all of the past winners of the National Wine Awards of Canada Winery of the Year. We salute their prowess and wish them well in 2016. They are going to need it.

Canadian Winery of the Year winners:

2015 – Mission Hill Family Estate, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia

2014 – Peller Family Estate, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario
2013 – Mission Hill Family Estate, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia
2012 – Tawse Winery, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario
2011 – Tawse Winery, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario
2010 – Tawse Winery, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario
2009 – Sandhill Winery. Okanagan Valley, British Columbia
2008 – Jackson-Triggs Okanagan, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia
2007 – Mission Hill Family Estate, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia
2006 – Jackson-Triggs Okanagan, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia
2005 – CedarCreek Estate Winery, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia
2004 – Jackson-Triggs Okanagan, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia
2003 – Jackson-Triggs Okanagan, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia
2002 – CedarCreek Estate Winery, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia
2001 – Mission Hill Family Estate, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia


Related Links and Articles:

The RESULTS of the 2015 WineAlign National Wine Awards of Canada

Mission Hill Captures its 4th Canadian Winery of the Year Award

Thirty Bench Wine Makers wins inaugural Best Performing Small Winery

A Record Medal Haul, A Widening Range of Wines

Canada’s Top Wineries


We would like to acknowledge the following sponsors: Fortessa Canada for the quality, and virtually indestructable, Schott Zwiesel glassware used throughout the judging, Container World for shipping and logistics and Dairy Farmers of Canada for their ongoing support of  our Awards. A special thank you to Jason Dziver for the above images, as well as for each and every Awards bottle image appearing our site. You can see more of his work at Jason Dziver Photography.

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