The Platinums – 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 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, starting today with Canada’s best Sparkling wines. On October 29th we began announcing a few categories a day 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 The Platinums:

Platinum Pack 2021 NL

The Platinums

Category Overview by Co-Head Judge David Lawrason

And so to the top drops – the best 1.4% of the 2075 wines entered in the 2021 National Wine Awards of Canada! To reach this rarified level is a major accomplishment of which the 24 different winemakers should be very proud. (Yes, there were four wineries with more than one platinum). The judges thank and congratulate you!

There are many ways to parse these results, which I will do in a moment, but first, I want Canadians who care about wine to sit back and think about this. Through two tastings by at least nine judges, these wines achieved an average panel score of 93 or better. I would bet that many Canadians are not used to thinking about Canadian wine in these qualitative terms. Bias against the quality of Canadian wine lingers, but year by year, as these awards roll on, that bias is melting away.

The National Wine Awards of Canada create a very broad, inclusive and fair-minded arena of competition. Competition makes everyone stronger and quality better. And everyone wins as quality escalates – consumers, winemakers, grape growers and the thousands of Canadians whose careers and lives are associated with the industry. And there was a definite escalation this year!

To describe the platinum process – we moved the bar a bit higher in 2021 in anticipation of the quality surge that we have been experiencing as individual critics over the past two years since the 2019 Awards. (The 2019 and 2020 vintages were also very good east and west). Previously, we took the top scoring 1%, no matter their score, and proclaimed them Platinum. This year we said that to receive platinum status, the wine must score a minimum of 93 points, and as it happened, this moved the percentage up to about 1.4% of wines entered.

Let’s first parse these results by price. Many people still think Canadian wine is “too expensive.” There are many wines now pegged at $50 or beyond – which today is a moderate to low price in the world’s most famous regions. The most expensive platinum was $55 in the awards for the superb Quails’ Gate Rosemary’s Block Chardonnay. The average price was more like $32 – indeed, 14 of the Platinums are under $30.

So, let’s parse the results by style. I was shocked to see the diversity of styles and grape varieties that reached Platinum level. I will dig deeper in a moment, but that is a testament to the quality of the winemaking folks. We all know that certain styles and varieties are carving out regional niches, but that didn’t seem to matter in these results. From varied whites to light and even big reds, most styles were represented on the Platinum podium.

The strongest category was sweet wines, with seven Platinums, and not all were Icewines. This genre may not be commercially strong in Canada or even much a part of our wine community conversation, but Canada does sweet wine exceedingly well. In the most objective sense of quality expression, I have always believed that Icewine is by far our strongest suit, as are Quebec’s ice ciders. To that point, we decided to exclude Icewine Platinums in the tally for the Winery of the Year honours to give a more representative picture of what wineries are doing with more popular table wines. You can debate this decision over a delicious glass of Canadian sweet wine.

If there was one surprising style performance, it was sparkling wines with six Platinums — in 2019, there was only one. You can read Janet Dorozynski’s (Sparkling Category Overview) an excellent round-up of the sparkling wine category, but the successes range from coast to coast, through different varieties and winemaking techniques – traditional and charmat. Ontario took five of six Platinums. It is not statistically significant that two of the sparkling Platinums are chardonnay-based, but given chardonnay does so well across Canada, “Blanc de Blancs” may be the one style leading the way, with superb efforts from Harpers Trail in the Thompson River Valley and Henry of Pelham’s classic Cuvée Catherine Blanc de Blancs.

Among white wines, chardonnay also dominates, with four Platinums, all from B.C, thanks to great efforts from Lunessence, Quails’ Gate (mentioned above), perennial winner Meyer Family Vineyards and the Monte Creek Ancient Waters (a great value). All from the 2019 vintage, by the way. There was also an electric Ontario riesling from Peller Estates and a sensational B.C. sauvignon/semillon blend called Ensemble from La Frenz.

Among reds, almost all major single varieties are represented, but without dominance by one – which may surprise those settling into the idea that pinot noir and cabernet franc are Canada’s reds. Among lighter reds, pinot noir did register two Platinums by Rathjen Cellars on Vancouver Island and Moraine on the Okanagan’s Naramata Bench. Gamay rang the Platinum bell with the lovely Le Coeur from Malivoire, a Niagara gamay specialist.

Among the bigger reds, each of the Bordeaux varieties grabbed the spotlight – all from British Columbia. Blasted Church and Pellar Estates took cabernet franc Platinum, Lake Breeze took merlot, and Culmina took the spotlight with cabernet sauvignon. Only one “pure” Meritage/Bordeaux blend made the list with Blasted Church’s Big Bang Theory, but Malivoire’s new Analog from Ontario, which includes syrah, also surprised. Maverick topped the hot syrah category from B.C., and Road 13, a perennial “Rhone’ red champ registered Platinum for its GSM.

Lastly, the Okanagan Valley was the strongest performer in terms of regional breakdown, with Vancouver Island and the new Thompson River Valley region boosting B.C.’s tally. Ontario fared very well in the sweet and sparkling, riesling and gamay categories, but fans of Ontario chardonnay, pinot noir, cab franc and other Bordeaux reds will be disappointed, and no doubt reflective. Quebec and Atlantic Canada sparkling or table wines did not hit the Platinum level, but there were several strong performances.

Let me emphasize that although Platinum represents the best, there are many, many layers and excellent wines to be found among the much larger group of Golds, Silvers and even Bronze medalists. They are separated, like Olympic athletes, by mere points and even decimal points.

We pride ourselves in giving every wine a fair shake, from selecting our judges to the regional, gender and experience composition of the panels to the grouping and serving intervals of the wines. It is a massive effort of coordination behind the scenes, with as many dedicated volunteers in the backroom as there are judges out front.

On behalf of all our 24 judges who embrace this exercise with such passion, professionalism and joy. On behalf of my great friend and co-chair Anthony Gismondi, who has designed the process. On behalf of the tireless and efficient Bryan McCaw and Sarah Goddard of WineAlign. And on behalf of everyone who believes in what we are doing, we thank you and hope that this exercise informs and rewards your experience with Canadian wines.

We will be back at it in June 2022 in Niagara Falls.



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