Best of Blends: Red, White and Tidal Bay – Medal Winners from NWAC 2018

Announcing the Results from the 2018 National Wine Awards of Canada

In 2018, over 1,850 wines from 257 wineries were entered into the National Wine Awards of Canada, making this largest and most comprehensive wine competition in Canadian history. In late June, 22 judges assembled in Penticton BC for five full days to determine the best wines in Canada. Wines were tasted blind in multiple rounds based on category or style.

Due to the amazing array of top quality Canadian wines entered this year, we have decided to break the announcement of the results into more manageable pieces. Each day for the next two weeks we will be announcing a few categories at a time, with the highly-anticipated Platinum Awards to be announced on July 27th, the Best Performing Small Winery on July 30th, and finally the Winery of the Year, along with a list of the nation’s Top 25 Wineries, on July 31st. 

National Wine Awards of Canada

We’ve asked a few of our judges to summarize their impressions of each category. Today we present Red, White and Tidal Bay blends with a few words from Sara d’Amato & Michael Godel:

Red Blends

Category Overview by Judge Sara d’Amato

This is a category that has long been dominated by British Columbia whose overall warmer weather lends itself to a multitude of later ripening red varieties. Blending to achieve balance plays an important role in warmer climates. We see blending used in the southern Rhône as opposed to the northern Rhône, for example. Ontario’s strength is typically within single grape varietal categories such as pinot noir, riesling and chardonnay. However, this year Ontario increased its gold medal count in the red blends category. One explanation has to do with the reputed 2016 vintage, of which 4 of Ontario’s gold medal winners originated. The vintage was warmer and drier than normal resulting in notably high-quality reds.

We begin to see some dependable trends in this category with several wineries achieving medal ranking year after year for subsequent vintages. Mission Hill’s Compendium and Road 13’s Fifth Element are two gold winning examples. This becomes important in a country whose regional wine identity is still developing. The Bordelaise/Meritage style blends are still, by far, the most popular but adding other varieties such as syrah to the mix is becoming more common in B.C. In Ontario, varieties such as baco noir are occasionally added but the trend is more towards the classic Bordeaux blend. Other globally borrowed blends include GSM (grenache-syrah-mourvèdre) styles, such as those of southern France, are mostly confined to B.C. There is no evidence in this category that appasimento style wines are trumping the quality of their un-dried counterparts. The wines that achieved highest rankings were top examples of a great range of styles yet they all impressed the judges with their integration of flavours, their judicious use of oak and their authenticity.

Red Blends had the most entries of any category in 2018 with 209 wines and the most medals with 93.

Red Blends

White Blends & Tidal Bay

Category Overview by Judge Michael Godel

Quietly, stealthily and without great fanfare the strength of the white blend category has taken the National Wine Awards of Canada by storm. The quality of the wines entered has never been higher, visibly and notably spread across the country. The time has come to establish party lines, to create truly parochial white appellative blends under appropriately chosen names. Nova Scotia has long been there with their apt-scripted Tidal Bay. Ontario and British Columbia should heed the economic and marketing success enjoyed by their maritime cousins and join the appellative party.

The French regions of Bordeaux and the Rhône Valley are clearly the benchmarks and the inspiration for Canadian-made emulative examples, first from a sauvignon blanc-sémillon connection and then with blends that make use of marsanne, roussanne and viognier. A testament to expatriate excellence is noted in the seven overall Gold Medals in this year’s judging and several others finishing at high Silver status on the cusp of Gold. I for one awarded five 90-plus scores to wines I clearly deemed worthy of such accolade and esteem.

It is interesting to note that White Blends centred by sauvignon blanc in the Okanagan Valley rely on much higher percentages of sémillon than their counterparts in Ontario. The simplest explanation tells us that the grape variety has trouble surviving harsh Ontario winters, especially when we look back at 2015 and 2016 when much of the province’s vines were killed by sub-25 degree temperatures. But it’s more than that. In B.C. sauvignon blanc can get pretty ripe, tropical and zaftig so it is sémillon that helps to mitigate, temper, inject a flinty-smoky-mineral streak and ultimately bring balance to the relationship.

There was a time not too long ago when after the best juice was chosen for varietal wines producers then needed to find a way to use up the dregs of their white ferments. White blends came about out of economic necessity, but like Rosé production in this country so many are now produced with a purpose. As a farmer, if you know specific blocks of sauvignon blanc are destined to join with other plots of sémillon you’re going to prune, pluck, green harvest and ultimately pick in very specific ways. Appellative blends have become a year round occupation. That much is clear.

The top scorers at this year’s National have been awarded to seriously and thoughtfully crafted wines. The winners are not entry-level, introductory products at the lower or lowest common denominational levels. They are not simple aromatic blends of vague fruit and sweet impression, in fact many are graced by beneficial and forward thinking structure. The future certainly looks white blend bright.

White Blends