Results of the 2022 WineAlign National Wine Awards of Canada (The Nationals)

Cabernet Sauvignon

Category Overview by judge Geoffrey Moss MW

Cabernet Sauvignon may not be one of the so-called signature varieties of Canadian wine but, for me, it’s the category that shows the most potential. We’ve heard the story before. Cabernet Sauvignon is late-ripening and struggles to reach “optimal ripeness” in Canada. But plantings continue to surge because wine drinkers love Cab. In British Columbia, plantings increased by 25 percent from 2008 to 2019, and it’s now the most widely planted grape variety in the world.

(Jump straight to the medal winners.)

Ripeness is intrinsically part of any conversation about Cabernet Sauvignon, perhaps more so than any other grape. That’s because Cabernet Sauvignon is a pyrazinic variety. When unripe, Cabernet Sauvignon can be intensely vegetal with pungent green bell pepper notes. However, pyrazine levels will drop as the grape ripens, turning into appealing notes of mint or fresh herbs that add complexity and freshness to wines that can otherwise be monolithic.

Unfortunately, it can be pushed too far. Long hang time will certainly lose the green character of a wine, but in doing so we lose something intrinsic to Cabernet Sauvignon. We lose its innate character, and worse, we end up with overripe fruit that’s stewed, raisinated, or just, well, dead.

It’s often thought Canada’s best expressions of Cabernet Sauvignon come from the sun-soaked vineyards of the South Okanagan. This year’s results should have you questioning that conventional thinking. Yes, Bordertown’s platinum-winning Cabernet Sauvignon comes from Osoyoos, but cool-climate Ontario narrowly edged out BC when it came to gold medals, 7 to 6.

Should we really be that surprised? Cabernet Sauvignon can perform exceptionally well in Ontario, especially Niagara and Lake Erie North Shore. But the province is on the margins for Cabernet Sauvignon and ripeness can be a challenge in some years. It’s no surprise that the excellent 2020 vintage is well-represented in this year’s results, with gold-medal Cabernet Sauvignons from Magnotta, Niagara College, and Wayne Gretzky.

Muscedere and Two Sisters prove that Cabernet Sauvignon can thrive in cooler vintages, too – at least in the right hands and on the right sites. Lake Eric North Shore-based Muscedere has been making consistently strong Cabernet Sauvignon for years and their 2019 Cabernet Sauvignon shows the winery’s fresh, elegant style. Two Sisters, led by winemaker Adam Pearce, show the benefit of time in bottle, with two gold medals from the 2017 vintage for their dense, polished Cabernet Sauvignons from Niagara’s warm Four Mile Creek sub-appellation.

Across the country in the Okanagan Valley, the challenge can be over-ripeness and over-extraction. The top wines clearly show Cabernet Sauvignon’s potential, though. Painted Rock and Mission Hill are two of the leaders, with strong showings from Covert Farms, Dirty Laundry, Liquidity, and Sunrock Vineyards. And don’t overlook the Similkameen Valley, either. With improvements both in the vineyard and winery, a golden age of BC Cabernet Sauvignon is on the horizon.

 


And the winners are…

Bordertown 2019 Cabernet Sauvignon, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia

Covert Farms 2019 Grand Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia
Dirty Laundry 2020 Cabernet Sauvignon, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia
Liquidity 2020 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia
Magnotta 2020 Cabernet Sauvignon Venture Series, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario
Mission Hill 2020 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia
Muscedere 2019 Cabernet Sauvignon, Lake Erie North Shore, Ontario
Niagara College Teaching Winery 2020 Dean’s List Cabernet Sauvignon Unfiltered, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario
Painted Rock 2019 Cabernet Sauvignon, Skaha Bench, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia
Peller Estates Niagara 2019 Andrew Peller Signature Series Cabernet Sauvignon, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario
Sunrock Vineyards 2018 Cabernet Sauvignon, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia
Two Sisters 2017 Cabernet Sauvignon, Niagara River, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario
Two Sisters 2017 Stone Eagle Cabernet Sauvignon, Niagara River, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario
Wayne Gretzky 2020 Signature Series Cabernet Sauvignon, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario

Bench 1775 2018 Cabernet Sauvignon, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia
Black Sage Vineyard 2019 Cabernet Sauvignon, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia
Blasted Church 2019 Cabernet Sauvignon, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia
Blasted Church 2019 Small Blessings Cabernet Sauvignon, Skaha Bench, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia
Burrowing Owl 2018 Cabernet Sauvignon, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia
CREW 2019 Cabernet Sauvignon, Lake Erie North Shore, Ontario
Kismet 2018 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia
Nk’Mip Cellars 2019 Qwam Qwmt Cabernet Sauvignon, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia
Nostalgia Wines 2019 Cabernet Sauvignon Family Collection, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia
Peller Estates Niagara 2020 Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario
Thirty Bench 2019 Small Lot Cabernet Sauvignon, Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario

Corcelettes 2018 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon Micro Lot Series, Similkameen Valley, British Columbia
Frind 2020 Premier Cabernet Sauvignon, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia
Gray Monk 2019 Odyssey Cabernet Sauvignon, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia
Jackson-Triggs Niagara 2019 Grand Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario
Kacaba 2019 Premium Series Cabernet Sauvignon, Niagara Escarpment, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario
Kismet 2019 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia
Megalomaniac 2018 Bravado Cabernet Sauvignon, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario
Moon Curser 2019 Cabernet Sauvignon, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia
Mt. Boucherie 2019 Original Vines Cabernet Sauvignon, British Columbia
Red Horses 2019 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia
Trius 2019 Showcase East Block Cabernet Sauvignon, Four Mile Creek, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario
Vinedressers 2018 Cabernet Sauvignon, Pelee Island, Ontario