Other Red & White Single Varieties – Medal Winners from NWAC 2022

Announcing the Results from the 2022 National Wine Awards of Canada

The 21st running of the National Wine Awards of Canada wrapped up on June 23 in Niagara. Category results will be rolling out throughout the rest of July, with the final Platinum, Best Performing Small Winery, and Winery of the Year announcements coming at the end of this month. We hope you will stay tuned to follow the results and become engaged in anticipating the final results.

NWAC 2022 Back Room with Logo1

Platinum Pack Case 2022 with Light


We’ve asked a few of our judges to summarize their impressions of each category. Today we present Other Red & White Single Varieties:

Other Single Red Varieties

Category Overview by Judge Michael Godel

Like a single red rose, a winemaker’s relationship with a single red variety can often be love at first site. Two roses and then a blend might say “you’re still the one,” but a varietal wine speaks volumes and says everything about the original feeling. Wines made from “Red Single Varieties” are considered those that, at least in the terms of WineAlign’s Canadian Nationals competition, are 100 per cent vinifications of one grape outside that of pinot noir, cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, merlot, syrah and gamay. All other reds are on the table, bets are off and anything goes. The wild west if you will and judging by these 2022 awards results, location drives the RSV machine.

Grapes in this category are planted and crafted as solo artists in many parts of Canada, Ontario being the notable “other” province, but who would argue against British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley as being the epicentre of this bracket and categorization. At the head of the virtuoso grouping is most certainly malbec, an expatriate grape most well known as the focus of Cahors in west-central France and of course in Argentina. In the Okanagan Valley conditions are ideal for this sun and heat loving red variety and while recent past iterations may have seemed a bit wood and sun-soaked heavy, at this year’s Nationals the levels of restraint, beauty and balance were on full display. Winemakers are really embracing possibility and potential for a future filled with malbec excellence. Four of this year’s six Gold Medals are malbec wines and of all 45 medal winners in this category, 15 are malbec. Only two are from Ontario. All three sets of analyses speak to the proof and truth of the grape’s necessary connection with The Valley.

Meanwhile, back at the varietal red ranch there are many promising European transplants showing their very own potential, led by Gold Medal winners touriga nacional and carmenère. It would seem that the Okanagan is perhaps the one region situated in the northern hemisphere performing yeoman’s work with European grapes that have found their greatest commercial success (or at the very least are thriving) in the southern hemisphere. Case in point carmenère in Chile, touriga nacional in South Africa, petit verdot and sangiovese in Australia. These grapes are achieving great things in B.C. and Ontario, along with the likes of pinotage, blaufränkisch/kékfrankos, zweigelt, tannat, tempranillo, dolcetto and st. laurent. Hate to say it but in some locations pinot noir and the three main Bordeaux varieties are square pegs being forced into round holes. These Euro alternatives breathe life, interest and excitement into B.C. and Ontario vineyards. They should be encouraged.

Then come the hybrids with their refined vinifera-like general and much improved phenolic chemistry. There is an argument to be made that vinifera is not suited to much of Canada’s new world growing sites and in many cases their relationship with the land just never reaches fruition. Hybrids may not be wholly indigenous or native to Canadian vineyards but their suitability often outpaces their European counterparts. Look at the two Bronze medal winners from Vignoble Le Chat Botté in Québec. Their premiers pas and petite perle were glorious surprises in a grouping of seven hybrid wines that included baco noir, castel, marechal foch and marquette. Several medals were awarded for hybrid wines. That they came out as winners despite judges knowing full well what varieties were being tasted says two things. First, WineAlign judges are open-minded and assess what’s in the glass. Second, hybrids are essential when employed in the right place and at the right time.


Other Single White Varieties
Category Overview by Judge Sara d’Amato

This is a category in which Canada should excel given its extensive disparity of terroir. This grouping contains an almost an endless number of grape varieties but some stand out more than others. Only lesser-planted, smaller-entry, vinifera varieties are represented here, and of those, the stand-out medal winning grapes include gewürztraminer, viognier, pinot blanc, semillon and chenin blanc. We saw a great deal of gewürztraminer this year, many of which were solid examples in various styles from viscous and sweet, to dry and aromatic yet none forged ahead into gold medal territory. Gewürztraminer and chenin blanc are both varieties that are not cold hardy with the former faring slightly better in the cold than the latter. Overall, Ontario exhibits colder lows than in most parts of B.C. so nature dictates where these grapes are best suited. Yet, in Ontario, gewürztraminer persists with a significant amount of tonnage produced with more and more grown outside of Niagara from Prince Edward County to Lake Erie North Shore. It is no surprise that chenin blanc, which has limited acreage in Ontario, was medaled solely in B.C. with Quails’ Gate and Da Silva’s Naramata-sourced grapes champions of these wines. B.C. is also showing strength in semillon as well as a stand-out roussanne from the sandy soils of southern Okanagan’s Black Hills Bench.

Viognier was a hotly debated subject this year. Is it a variety that Canada should be championing? In favour, viognier is quite drought resistant making it a climate warming candidate and is very telling of its growing and vintage conditions. An aromatic and exotic variety, styles tasted ranged from unctuous to thin. On the other hand, results are variable and there are many regions across the globe that can produce viognier with consistency. Viognier will likely remain a rather niche wine even though there are 90 hectares planted in B.C. where it thrives more readily than in Ontario. Viognier can make a showy splash in a flight of assorted single variety whites so we will likely continue to award future incarnations. 

In both the white and the red “single varieties” categories, are we beginning to see some specialization in Canadian wine regions? Since I started judging this competition back in 2005, when it was run under the auspices of the now defunct Wine Access magazine, the category has expanded and contracted like an accordion with some varieties showing strongly, and in other years those same varieties had almost non-existent representation. Despite distinctive single variety wines emerging, Canada is proving that given the right terroir and kind vintages, it is capable of making quality wines from unexpected varieties. Grüner veltliner, melon de Bourgogne, albariño and even arneis were awarded top scores this year. Less surprising were medals awarded to aromatic varieties such as chardonnay musqué and moscato from Niagara, chenin blanc from Niagara’s Lincoln Lakeshore, pinot blanc from the Okanagan and siegerrebe from the B.C.’s Fraser Valley, A bravo to gewürztraminer from Quebec where fresher styles of this vinifera variety can most certainly prevail, provided they are protected from low temperatures.



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