Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Syrah – Medal Winners from NWAC 2019

Announcing the Results from the 2019 National Wine Awards of Canada

The 2019 WineAlign National Wine Awards of Canada were a huge success with 1,815 entries from 259 different wineries from eight different provinces. The ‘Nationals’ are Canada’s largest wine awards and each year we hold them in a different Canadian wine region. This year we were in Ontario’s bucolic Prince Edward County.

As in previous years, 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 on July 31st, the Best Performing Small Winery of the Year on August 1st, and finally the Winery of the Year along with nation’s Top 25 Wineries on August 2nd. 

We’ve asked a few of our judges to summarize their impressions of each category. Today we present Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Syrah:


Category Overview by Judge Treve Ring

Once again, Chardonnay has proven itself to be Canada’s most successful grape, with 88 medals and a geographical range spanning sea to shining sea. It’s no surprise that the grape, the world’s most famous and transplanted white, grows well here. What may surprise many is just how well it excels here, particularly suited to Canada’s Rooted In Cool climate.

This year’s Platinum medallists (Note: Platinum medal winners will be announced on July 31st) were shared between BC and Ontario, each playing off their respective regional strengths. In the west, pure, fresh, focused fruit leads, braced by vibrant natural acidity. In the east, limestone rules, as do mature winemakers that are embracing reductive winemaking to amplify their natural terroir.

It’s no surprise that the annual International Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration (i4c) in Niagara is now one of the must-hit wine events on the international circuit, drawing widespread attention and sell-out crowds.

The Chardonnay flights are certainly desired by judges during NWAC week, especially during the final rounds when the high quality and consistency is rewarding, and as evidenced by this year’s results, awarded.

Pinot Noir

Category Overview by Judge John Szabo

The pinot noirs tasted in 2019 showed less consistency overall than in previous NWAC awards, confirming the variety’s particularly fickle nature. Still, an impressive haul of 77 medals was awarded, including two platinum (Note: Platinum medal winners will be announced on July 31st) and 14 gold. Of these top tier winners, BC came away with the lion’s share, with 12 out of 16 medals including both platinums, all from the Okanagan Valley. Ontario brought in four golds, with three from Niagara and one from Prince Edward County.

The majority of wines entered are from the 2017 vintage, which helps to explain the east-west discrepancy. 2017 in the Okanagan was a vintage of lower-than-average yields and high concentration, and despite one of the worst wildfire seasons on record in BC’s history, vineyards remained unscathed and smoke taint-free. Fires were sufficiently distant from the Okanagan to not pose any direct threat, and the silver lining of overhead smoke cover was a protective effect that reduced sunburn and safeguarded pinot’s delicate aromatics during the hottest periods of the summer. Ontario, on the other hand, had a more challenging, very wet summer with record rainfalls and flooding. A return to fine September-October weather saved the vintage, but water-inflated, large berries meant less concentration, and pinot noir’s susceptibility to just about everything trialed winegrowers’ skill and patience. The quality of the best 2017s is a testament to great terroir and attention to detail, while a handful of excellent 2016s and even 2015s entered reflect more clement conditions.


Category Overview by Judge Treve Ring

Once again, BC showed its inherent aptitude for Syrah, sweeping the Platinum medals (Note: Platinum medal winners will be announced on July 31st), dominating Golds, and ruling the Silver and Bronze categories. It’s not a fair contest however; the late budding, sun-loving, winter-hating red is naturally suited to the Okanagan and Similkameen, finding suitable homes amongst the rocky soils and ragged cliffs. There are a few pockets of warmth in Ontario where the grape works, but by and large, Syrah (and its twin Shiraz) is a welcome westerner.

This year’s top Syrahs used BC’s sunshine to its advantage, while holding the winemaking (massive heaps of new wood and polish) at bay. The results reflect that numerous single-vineyard, site-specific Syrahs were stars, reflecting the judges’ search for personality and individuality rather than power and impact. Let’s hope this trend continues, allowing the savoury grape to fingerprint itself with the various sub-regions and microclimates in BC.