Results of the 2018 WineAlign National Wine Awards of Canada (The Nationals)

National Wine Awards of Canada 2018Viognier

Category overview by judge Sara d’Amato

It is not easy to make great viognier. The grape is inherently low-yielding, late-ripening, susceptible to mildew and produces low acidity and high alcohol. A top viognier requires exacting conditions and very sensitive winemaking. It is no wonder it was on the brink of extinction after phylloxera. Jancis Robinson reports in her landmark book Vines, Grapes & Wines written in 1985, that she was able to identify only 32 hectares of this grape variety planted globally. At the time, most of those plantings were located in the northern Rhône region of Condrieu. The steep, rocky terraces to which this paltry amount of viognier was clinging were challenging to farm and a notable example of “extreme viticulture”.

Despite precarious prospects, the viognier fairy tale does have a happy ending. Due to its high quality potential expressing wildly addictive perfume, opulent texture as well as an overall heady profile, regional producers persisted and as a result, global respect and demand followed. Now, the land planted to viognier has increased five times in the northern Rhône and has spread to the south where it is characteristically blended with marsanne, roussane and grenache blanc among other varieties. Stunning examples are now grown in relative abundance in Australia as well as California. Chile and New Zealand continue to impress with their results while British Columbia and Ontario have also joined the ranks of viognier producing regions.

The results of the National Wine Awards of Canada 2018 show that there is still work to be done in this category but there is potential for some outstanding quality, most notably in British Columbia. With the exception of one Niagara example, all of the medals were awarded to B.C. wines from areas where heat units were high and humidity low.

Producers have to contend with a number of issues when making viognier and because we are relatively new to the variety in Canada, it is understandable that some refining is necessary. Some of the pitfalls include over-cropping which can lead to dilute and uncharacteristic wines. Despite the emphatic aromas of viognier, oak treatment can be a downer muffling the wine’s exuberance. High scoring wines had dialed back new oak allowing viognier’s glorious perfume to dominate. Better examples used sulphur judiciously. Small amounts of residual sugar were noted in some wines as sugar in viognier is inherently high and can be difficult to ferment fully dry on occasion. Styles overall were varied but the best manifested the exotic disposition of this sun-seeking variety.

Laughing Stock 2017 Viognier Perfect Hedge Vineyard, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia
Liquidity 2017 Viognier, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia
Red Rooster 2017 Rare Bird Series Viognier, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia
Road 13 Blind Creek 2017 Viognier, Similkameen Valley, British Columbia
Sandhill 2017 Small Lots Viognier Osprey Ridge Vineyard, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia

Elephant Island 2016 Told You So Viognier, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia
Hillside 2017 Reserve Viognier, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia
Volcanic Hills 2016 Viognier, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia

Niagara College 2016 Balance Viognier, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario