Meads and other Non-Fruit & Fruit Wine and Fortified, Icewine & Late Harvest – Medal Winners from NWAC 2021

Announcing the Results from the 2021 National Wine Awards of Canada

The 20th National Wine Awards of Canada wrapped up in early October in Penticton, B.C., fittingly judging a record-setting number of wines from coast to coast. It’s been an amazing two-decade journey for the most respected and important Canadian wine competition. The week-long tasting is but a snapshot of Canadian wine, yet like old family photos, much has changed over two decades. The inaugural competition in 2001 drew 528 wines from 71 wineries, judged by eight men. In 2021, 26 judges — 14 men and 12 women — tasted 2,075 entries from more than 260 wineries. 

As in previous years, we have decided to break the announcement of the results into more manageable pieces. On October 29th we began announcing a few categories a day for over a two week period, concluding with the highly-anticipated Platinum winners on November 10th, the Best Performing Small Winery of the Year on November 11th, and finally the Winery of the Year along with the nation’s Top 25 Wineries on November 12th

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We’ve asked a few of our judges to summarize their impressions of each category. Today we present Meads and other Non-Fruit & Fruit Wine as well as Fortified, Icewine & Late Harvest:

Platinum Pack 2021 NL

Meads and other Non-Fruit & Fruit Wine and Fortified Wine

Category Overview by Judge John Szabo, MS

The mead, fortified and fruit wine categories remain a small part of the National Wine Awards of Canada, if the most pan-national. A combined total of 47 entries represented more provinces than any other category, including parts of Canada like Saskatchewan and Alberta, where wine production is virtually unknown. And, the medal ratio is remarkably high, indicating a maturing industry with ambitious specialists aiming at quality well beyond immediate local interest. 30 entries finished in the medals, almost two-thirds.

Special mention should be made of La Frenz in Penticton; Australian-born winegrower Jeff Martin earned a platinum, a gold and a silver in the fortified category, putting his winemaking breadth on display (the winery also earned several medals in ‘regular’ wine categories). We can only imagine his platinum-winning Liqueur Muscat was inspired by the great muscats of Rutherglen down under.

And, over in Québec, it was no surprise to see Domaine Acer come up aces, with two golds and a bronze in the mead category. Acer has amassed a track record of success spanning multiple editions of the NWACs. While mead is technically a fermented honey beverage, Acer ferments maple syrup into absolutely singular, vaguely old sherry-like elixirs, even more uniquely Canadian than Icewine. But we couldn’t very well create an entire category for fermented maple syrup, so it was tacked on to the meads. In any case, these are categorically must-trys.


Icewine and Late Harvest

Category Overview by Judge Sara d’Amato

Icewine may not have been invented in Canada but has certainly become our most well-known wine export, coveted the world over. The consistency with which we can produce Icewine every year has helped Canada become a global leader in Icewine production. Despite erratic weather patterns due to global warming, our winters are reliably cold. This is not always the case even in countries like Germany where Eiswein was thought to have been invented in the late 18th century when grapes in Franconia accidentally froze on the vines. Icewine tradition was in fact, brought to Canada in the 1970s by German immigrants and creatively, Canadian wine producers have experimented with the freezing of a plethora of grape varieties from chardonnay to cabernet sauvignon. Notwithstanding diverse grape choices, high acid riesling and winter hardy vidal remain the two most important varieties for Icewine production.

There is nothing harvested later than Icewine and it is a laborious and expensive process, some might say “heroic”. In order to preserve grapes on the vine for an unnaturally long time, grapes must be netted in the fall when they are fully ripened to prevent birds and animals from making their claim. The ideal time to harvest is between -10C and -12C and some producers will do so immediately when the temperature dips while others may choose to wait for a thaw and re-freeze. Vintage conditions and winery choices help to shape the individual styles of Icewine. During the slow process of vinification, fermentation is at risk of becoming stuck and once it does, it can be difficult to get unstuck. Spikes in volatile acidity can also be worrisome during vinification but the acceptable threshold for volatile acidity is much higher in Icewine and Late Harvest. Thankfully, very few of this year’s entries demonstrated off-the-chart volatility.

Most Icewine is over 160 g/L of sugar, and many can get considerably higher. This intense level of sweetness requires a notable backbone of acidity, and this balance was highly sought after by the judges of this year’s competition, especially given the overall strength of the wines submitted in this category. For those who find Icewine too overwhelmingly sweet, Late Harvest may prove a more palatable option. Late Harvest grapes must reach a minimum of 22 Brix at the time of pressing in contrast to the 35 Brix required for Icewine. Labelling such as Select Late Harvest and Special Select Late Harvest require incrementally higher levels of sugar, or ripeness, at harvest. Labelling terms such as “Botrytis Affected” and “Totally Botrytis Affected” (T.B.A.) also require minimum Brix levels at harvest. Although less consistently available, botrytis-affected styles in Canada show promise such as this year’s gold-medaled Ravine Vineyard 2020 Botrytis Affected Riesling. High medal winners in this year’s Icewine category are dominated by Ontario. On the other hand, the Late Harvest category is roughly an even split between wines from Ontario and BC. This is not surprising because Ontario produces over 90% of Canada’s Icewine (and yet Icewine makes up only 5% of Ontario’s wine production with an average annual production rate of 742,000 litres). Despite the importance of riesling and vidal in these categories, a considerable array of grape varieties can be found among the high scoring wines ranging from semillon to gewürztraminer to cabernet franc. The results overall are encouraging and show why Canada continues to be the world’s largest and most well-respected Icewine producer.

This year’s Icewine of the Year award goes to Jackson-Triggs Estate Winery (Niagara, Ontario) 2019 Reserve Vidal Icewine.


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