Platinum Winners from the 2019 National Wine Awards of Canada

Platinum Winners and the State of the Nation

By Co-Head Judge David Lawrason

For several days now WineAlign has been rolling out the medal results from all the judging categories, and that process is now complete. Within the gold medal ranks we had ‘hidden’ the Platinum winners – the highest scoring wines of the competition – the top one percent. The individual wineries have already been informed of their Platinum wins, so some may have been circulating on social media. Today we are pleased to present the full list, plus some overall analysis of the Awards results.

The Judging

The winners deserve to do some chest-thumping and happy dancing! It is quite a feat to join the top one percent of wines in Canada, after five days of scrutiny by 21 judges from eight provinces who come from a variety of backgrounds in the wine business.

Anyone can drink wine and pronounce it good, bad or indifferent. And they would not be right or wrong, but that is subjective stuff. Sifting through 90+ wines per day using objective filters that look at balance, complexity and depth is quite a different matter. And when judging within flights or categories where the overall character is much the same, distinguishing the nuances is even more exacting.

Co-Head Judge Anthony Gismondi and I want to thank our judges for bringing their talent, skill and passion to the process. We know there is nowhere they would rather be that week, but it is still a formidable task that requires endurance and concentration. It also requires a wealth of tasting experience accumulated over years of tasting wines from around the globe that informs virtually every decision they make. You don’t just walk into the job, although many ask if they can.

We have an apprentice program run by senior lead judge DJ Kearney that brings two promising tasters into the fold for the preliminary round. This year we invited two talented sommeliers from Toronto – Paige McIntyre, Wine Director and Assistant GM of Ascari King and Heather McDougall, General Manager at Montecito. It’s a fantastic three-day experience for them to rotate through different panels to be mentored by a senior judge as well as getting the opportunity interact with all our judges throughout the days. The very best eventually will make their way onto the regular panels in the years to come.

2019 National Wine Awards of Canada Judges 

The State of the Nation

Now that all the medals have been awarded, we can begin to make some observations about the state of the nation’s wine. We have been doing this for 19 years, so many previously identified trends are still readily apparent. But they are worth repeating as each year a growing number of Canadians get interested in and passionate about our wines.

The overall quality level gets better every year, and I am very excited about that. I would love to round up the remaining dinosaur “don’t-drink-Canadian-wine” snobs, sit them in a room with our Platinum winners, and make them taste every one. Then take them to dinner with the same wines.

It is quite natural in our nation to be asking how various regions in the country fared. And I am happy to report the medal percentage from each region was very close to their entry percentage. All of which tells me that winemaking expertise is equivalent from coast to coast and that sub-regions can be discussed for stylistic interpretation and varietal strengths and not for quality.

Just over 61% of the entries were from British Columbia (the province with the largest number of wineries in the country), and B.C. took 60.8% of the medals. Ontario entered 36% of the wines and received 35% of the medals. Other provinces had smaller entry and medal rates, but Nova Scotia performed well within its entries to medals ratio. And Quebec scored some successes as well.

All of which is good news for Canadian consumers who are seeking confidence wherever they turn. We are confident that overall wine quality is leaps and bounds ahead of where it was in 2001 when we first launched the Wine Access Canadian Wine Awards.

There are, however, three categories that had multiple winners. First and foremost Chardonnay with six Platinums out of the 23. It is, of course, a broad category, with entries from BC to Nova Scotia garnering 23 Gold medals – the largest group at The Nationals. Ontario produced 14 Golds, but the notable trend is that tiny Prince Edward County produced five!  B.C. produced 9 Golds including three of the six Platinum winners.

Platinum medals went to eight “Big Reds”. There were five blends, plus single varietal syrah, merlot and touriga nacional, a grape well known in Portugal. So, there was a good mix of styles in the category, but the regional trend is evident. All but one were from B.C.’s Okanagan Valley with its warmer, drier growing season.

And what of Pinot Noir – the lighter and finicky red grape that grows right across the country, from Nova Scotia to Quebec, Prince Edward County, Niagara, the Okanagan Valley, other B.C. interior regions and Vancouver Island. There were about 150 pinots entered, but only 16 took gold, and only two took Platinum. For vintage reasons well explained in John Szabo’s analysis, of the 16 golds, 12 went to BC and both Platinums.

Among other varieties with national profile, Riesling performed very well with 14 Golds, but only one Platinum, which went to Harpers Trail, a pioneering winery in Kamloops within north-central B.C.s Thompson Valley. Cabernet Franc took six golds but no Platinums while Sparkling wine, which again is a coast to coast proposition, took only one Platinum from a very unusual source – Two Sisters Blanc de Francs made from cabernet franc in Niagara. There were however ten Gold medal sparklers, with Nova Scotia holding its own with three gold medals.

Finally, there were Platinum medals from less predictable varieties and styles. Two whites based on Sauvignon Blanc (one a single varietal and the other with one-third Sémillon) reached the pinnacle, as did a Marsanne from British Columbia. Prince Edward Island produced a stunning Mead, and from Quebec, there is a gorgeous, fortified maple elixir.

If you want to delve deeper into the results by category, check out our individual judges’ analysis on the Awards page. It is excellent reading, and it will surely make you want to grab a corkscrew and open some of these wines asap.

Stay tuned to this space Thursday as we announce the Best Performing Small Winery. Then on Friday, the 2019 National Wine Awards, Winery of the Year.