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Behind the scenes at the WineAlign National Wine Awards of Canada 2014

A Quality Affair

Last month WineAlign converged on Penticton, British Columbia for the National Wine Awards of Canada. For five full days the ballrooms of the Penticton Lakeside Resort were transformed into a world class stage to judge the country’s best wines.

While we are busy tabulating the results – which will be announced later this month – we thought you might enjoy this insider’s look at what goes on behind the scenes of one of the best wine competitions in the world.

It’s as good as it gets!


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Acclaimed UK Wine Journalist Jamie Goode Joins the 2014 WineAlign National Wine Awards of Canada Team of Judges

We are delighted to announce that UK-based wine journalist Jamie Goode will be part of our 2014 panel of judges who will be heading to Penticton, British Columbia to work at the WineAlign National Wine Awards of Canada 2014.

“We have thought long and hard about expanding our pool of judges outside of Canada and we believe the time is right. Jamie’s experience in wine very much mirrors that of our existing tasting panel members and that should make for a seamless fit inside the tasting room. Of course another view, and one from Europe, should prove useful to those wineries engaged in the competition and hoping to expand their export horizons.” – Anthony Gismondi, Co-Head Judge

jamie-goodeJamie visited Ontario wine regions in 2013 during The International Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration and will be visiting British Columbia wineries as part of the judges’ tour during his time at the Awards.

Dr. Goode completed a PhD in plant biology and worked as a science editor before switching careers to wine writing. He’s a book author (The Science of Wine and Authentic Wine – both with University of California Press), he writes a weekly wine column for a national newspaper, and blogs daily at wineanorak.com, one of the most widely visited of all wine websites. An experienced wine judge, he’s a panel chair for the International Wine Challenge each year, and has judged wine in France, Australia, Bulgaria, Hungary and Serbia.

He tweets as @jamiegoode.


 

 

 

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Anthony Gismondi; The Final Blend

The Nationals: Fourteen years of searching for Canada’s best wine.

Anthony Gismondi

Anthony Gismondi

When our judges sit down to evaluate this year’s crop of wines at the 2014 WineAlign National Wine Awards of Canada some in the room will have judged at all 13 preceding events. Since there is no way to convey to you how valuable that is in the tasting room we are including the chardonnay results gleaned from the first, 2001 Canadian Wine Awards held high above the Royal York Hotel in Toronto to compare with the latest 2013 chardonnay results from our stop in Niagara-on-the-Lake last summer. I think you will agree we have all come a long way.

You might say David Lawrason and I were dreamers back then, thinking that if we provided the perfect setting for an annual ‘Canadian Wine Awards’ competition, wineries would fall over themselves wanting to enter their wines and measure themselves against the opposition. Let’s just say we have learned a lot over the past 14 years.

It’s been a long process of building trust. First among ourselves to the do the job properly and then to convince Canadian producers what we are doing is worth their participation. Both David and I have worked extremely hard to hone our judges into the sharpest panels in the country. Many have cut their wine teeth judging in other shows around the world. Over the years we have worked with scores of judges looking for just the right combination of experience, tasting ability and the most important asset, the ability to work within a group, to make sure the best wines get moved forward.

Anthony Gismondi and David Lawrason - Lead Judges

Anthony Gismondi and David Lawrason

We don’t always get it right individually but with the right leadership and a room full of open minds what we try to do is make sure the group seldom, if ever, gets it wrong.

When we started the Canadian Wine Awards it was our goal to make sure the results were a three way win – for the wines, for the judges and for the awards organizers. I clearly remember returning from shows in Europe where I spent a week tasting and assessing wines for free never to be told which wines I had tasted. In Australia I learned the importance of the panel leader and the head judge and the need to develop younger apprentices. We use all this and more at The Nationals.

Over time the costs to put on the awards have crept up from some $80K to about $105K. I mention this because I have read so much about what a money grab wine awards are for the organisers. We don’t make any money on the first 1100 entries, which is why we lost money for most of the formative years and have barely balanced the budget in the remaining competitions. We always thought an iconic Canadian company would step in and sponsor the awards but so far that has yet to happen. We are not complaining or even contemplating quitting, because as Canadian hockey players would say, “It is what it is.”

That said, we remain committed to building something that will stand the test of time and celebrate the best of Canada wine. Even that in itself sounds, well, almost un-Canadian. We have other odd notions too.

NWAC13 Logo We pay our judges for a week’s work because we value their time and their input. We also fly them in and out from across the country and we feed them each day. Including the back room and volunteers, we look after 30 people for seven days. After moving about the country – Toronto, Lake Louise, Victoria and Calgary –  a few years ago we made the decision to hold the awards in wine country to shine a spotlight on various Canadian wine regions and so far we have spent some memorable weeks in Niagara-on-the-Lake, the Okanagan Valley and the Annapolis Valley. Could Vancouver Island or Prince Edward County be next?

But back to the three way win.

We have a lot of happy judges because they can taste a fabulous cross-section of local wines, blind, under ideal conditions (many they wouldn’t see in their own market) and before they walk out the door at the end of the week they receive all their notes and scores along with key sheets telling them which wines they tasted that week. They are immediately free to write about any of the hundreds of wines they tasted, using their personal notes no matter what the outcome of the awards.

From a winery’s point of view, their wines are put in front of a number of top commentators from across the country and we promise to publish a permanent online note at WineAlign for all wines receiving a bronze, silver, gold or platinum medal. Of course, winery entrants can also meet the judges throughout the week and they are welcome to inspect the back room of the competition as well. We have nothing to hide.

Volunteers and wines

Separate room for Volunteers and wines

By the way, unlike many competitions done with brown bags etc. to rightfully hide the labels from judges, we opted for a much more fail-proof system. We use separate rooms so that all bottles and labels are visible to the back room staff but never seen by the judges. This is in addition to several checks throughout the system from entry to physically pouring the wine into a tasting glass that prevents any wine from ending up in the wrong flight. We also have a wonderful sponsorship with Schott Zwiesel that puts each wine in a top quality restaurant style glass, versus a tiny ISO wine glass, giving the mostly young wines some room to breathe and show off.

That brings us to the wineries that don’t enter. To be frank we don’t dwell too much on their absence because in blind tastings we don’t really know who is missing in any given flight of wines. Post competition, when the names are revealed we may ponder their absence for a moment or two, but frankly if they weren’t involved there isn’t much we can discuss or compare. My sense is consumers are more confused and doubting when they don’t see a winery’s wines in the rankings. That said we have come to learn some wineries just “don’t do competitions” for whatever reasons and in the end we respect anyone’s decision not to compete.

We can all argue about what a medal is worth but at The Nationals please know that we fret over every gold and silver medal. In the minds of our judges each is a major achievement. We also award what we term a high bronze; to keep the number of medals to a meaningful amount we only recognise the top end of the traditional bronze range, in our case 86 and 87 points. And last year we implemented the concept of ‘virtual’ medals ensuring that all gold, silver and bronze medals appear on the WineAlign website whenever anyone is searching our database.

NWAC 2013 Platinum MedalIn keeping with our attempts to add extra value to a winery entering our awards we instituted platinum medals in 2013 – see our winners here – to recognise the very best wines in the competition. They represent only one percent of the total entries and are chosen based on the highest scoring wines. In the past we highlighted the Best White, Red, Sparkling and Dessert wines of Show, but often this would be at the expense of say five or ten wines that actually scored higher than the top wine in any single class. Under the new Platinum system if the top five wines of the year are syrahs or chardonnays they will be recognised as such and stand alone above individual category winners with slightly lower scores. This reflects the tasting room mantra and the raison d’être of The Nationals: find the best wines in each flight and push them forward to be eligible for the highest medal possible.

Speaking of flights, over the years we have trimmed our average flight size and daily wines tasted and find we get better results. Today our wine flights average eight or nine wines and we taste about 80 to 90 wines each day. There are no 50-wine flights at The Nationals and there are no 200-wine days for our judges. We keep our people fresh and engaged for the six hours they work each day.

Penticton, British Columbia

Penticton, British Columbia – Home of the 2014 ‘Nationals’

And finally, the win for the third party, the organizers, WineAlign. The awards give us a chance to feed our huge audience, now more than 1.5 million unique visitors each year, with the latest information on Canadian wine. The yearly results of The Nationals are yet another way we can engage with them on a regular basis. Our results aren’t just on the radar for a day in the newspaper, or a single press release. They are built into our website and remain there for all to see. And this year for the first time, the results will also be published in French.

David and I feel great responsibility for the awards, and after 14 years we believe we are finally gaining the trust of the judges, the wineries and consumers. I guess what we are saying is we don’t take anything for granted. All we ask is that everyone else do the same and help make this the most successful year yet. The 2014 WineAlign National Wine Awards of Canada takes place June 20-25 in Penticton, British Columbia and David Lawrason and I can’t wait to dream again.

2001 Canadian Wine Awards

CHARDONNAY

Gold

Hawthorne Mountain 2000 Gold Label Chardonnay BC, 24.95
Daniel Lenko 1999 Old Vines Chardonnay ON, 19.95

Silver

Henry of Pelham 1999 Reserve Chardonnay ON, 13.95
Inniskillin Okanagan 2000 Reserve Chardonnay BC, 14.95
Inniskillin 1999 Montague Vineyard Chardonnay ON, 16.95
Stoney Ridge 2000 Kew Vineyard Reserve Chardonnay ON, 18.95
Strewn 1999 Terroir Strewn Vineyard Chardonnay ON, 18.95
Peninsula Ridge 1999 Reserve Chardonnay ON, 24.95
Cilento 1999 Reserve Chardonnay ON, 29.95
Thirty Bench 1999 Reserve Reif Vineyard Chardonnay ON, 40.00

WineAlign 2013 National Wine Awards of Canada

CHARDONNAY

Platinum

Meyer Family Vineyards 2011 McLean Creek Chardonnay McLean Creek Vineyard $35 – $42
Quails’ Gate Winery 2011 Stewart Family Reserve Chardonnay $35

Gold

Mission Hill Family Estate 2010 Perpetua Osoyoos Vineyard Estate $35 – $41
Henry of Pelham 2011 Chardonnay Estate $20
Mission Hill Family Estate 2011 Reserve Chardonnay $17 – $20
Norman Hardie Winery 2010 Chardonnay Unfiltered $35

Silver

Meyer Family Vineyards 2011 Tribute Series Chardonnay Old Main Road Vineyard $35 – $42
Baillie-Grohman 2011 Chardonnay Baillie-Grohman Vineyard $25
Ravine Vineyard 2011 Chardonnay $24
Ganton & Larsen Prospect Winery 2011 The Census Count Chardonnay $13
Jackson-Triggs Niagara Estate 2011 Delaine Chardonnay $25
Exultet Estates 2011 Chardonnay The Blessed $40
JoieFarm 2011 En Famille Reserve Chardonnay $30
Road 13 Vineyards 2011 Chardonnay $24
Burrowing Owl 2011 Chardonnay $25 – $36
Hidden Bench 2011 Estate Chardonnay $29
Upper Bench Estate Winery 2011 Chardonnay $25
Closson Chase 2011 Chardonnay Closson Chase Vineyard $30
Mike Weir Wine 2012 Chardonnay $25
Tawse 2010 Estate Chardonnay $38
Tawse 2010 Member Select Chardonnay $50
Niagara College Teaching Winery 2010 Barrel Fermented Chardonnay Donald Ziraldo Vineyard $19
Privato Vineyard and Winery 2011 Chardonnay $30
Lailey 2011 Chardonnay, old vines $40
Tawse 2011 Robyn’s Block Chardonnay $46
Norman Hardie Winery 2011 County Chardonnay Unfiltered $35
Wayne Gretzky Okanagan 2012 Chardonnay $16
Trius Winery at Hillebrand 2011 Trius Chardonnay Barrel Fermented $20
Painted Rock Estate 2011 Chardonnay $30

The complete results of the National Wine Awards of Canada are posted on WineAlign at: NWAC 2013 Results. The results include all the Platinum, Gold, Silver and Bronze medal winners in several style and grape variety categories, plus a “performance report” on the Top 20 wineries in the country. 


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Favourites from the National Wine Awards of Canada

The Judges Personal Picks

Judging at the NWAC

The judge’s room in full swing

In June the WineAlign National Wine Awards of Canada were held in Niagara. Eighteen judges assembled from across Canada to blind taste their way through 1,100 wines. Each week between now and the announcement of the results of the NWACs after Labour Day, WineAlign will feature each of the 18 judges, their thoughts on Canadian wine, and their personal favourite wine of the competition. Selection of a wine does not necessarily mean it was a top medal winner, and the scores reflect the opinion of the taster not its final mark in the competition. This week the we start with the ‘Chief Judges':

Anthony Gismondi, Vancouver

Anthony Gismondi

Anthony Gismondi

Anthony Gismondi is a principal critic and partner in WineAlign.com, and Chief Judge of the National Wine Awards of Canada. He has long been the wine columnist for the Vancouver Sun; his website GismondiOnWine is one of the busiest wine sites in Canada; and he can be heard every Thursday on “The Best of Food and Wine” with Kasey Wilson on CFUN. As former Executive Editor of Wine Access he was instrumental in launching and developing the software and judging methodology for the Canadian Wine Awards. The same system now powers the National Wine Awards of Canada.

Anthony’s Pick

Mission Hill Compendium 2009Mission Hill 2009 Compendium
Osoyoos, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia

I’ve been watching Compendium literally come together for years and I have to say that this wine is finally beginning to express the unique flavours of the south Okanagan. The latest Compendium blend is 40/35/20/5 mix of cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cabernet franc and petit verdot. The grapes come off specific blocks in Oliver and Osoyoos and end up in 100 percent French oak for 14 months. Nose is remarkably floral with a strong sense of minerality and a hint of seashore. The attack is sleek and sophisticated. The tannins are small firm and chalky; the flavor profile is very Bordelais with tobacco, black olive savoury notes throughout. An impressive young red wine that will only continue to improve in the bottle for the next five to seven years. A product of more than a decade of serious work in the vineyard this is the New Okanagan.

David Lawrason, Toronto

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

Co-chief Judge David Lawrason is a principal critic and the VP of Wine for WineAlign. He is wine columnist for Toronto Life and Ottawa magazine, a WSET instructor with Fine Vintage Ltd, and National Wine Advisor to Gold Medal Plates, a chef competition held in ten cities that raises funds for Canada’s Olympic and Paralympic athletes. He also reviews Ontario wines for www.winerytohome.com. He tastes thousands of Canadian wines every year and as visited all of Canada’s wine appellations.

David’s Pick

Norman Hardie County Unfiltered Pinot NoirNorman Hardie 2011 County Pinot Noir
Prince Edward County, Ontario

We were coming down to the final rounds of the competition, on the last morning. It was my second group of pinots – a category that had been displaying frustratingly wide stylistic variation (as expected). And there in slot 2905-6 sat a demure pinot that moved me. I wrote “a lovely, lifted nose of cherry, vanilla light wood smoke and mint”. It was “elegant, utterly charming and juicy” with an internal character I could only sum-up as “pinosity”, which has something to do with a vibrant, mineral core most often encountered in pinot noirs from Burgundy. And the length was excellent. I sent my score sheet to the backroom with a score of 93. Followers of my work will think I favourited this wine because I know Prince Edward County pinots well (having lived nearby for five years). But I was not even conscious of this being a County wine (whereas with others I was certain they were PEC). And what’s more I did not know it was Norman Hardie’s pinot until I sat down to write this piece and put at a name to #2905-6. This just spoke to me as being everything I love about pinot noir – a grape that on rare occasions captures a state of grace.

On Wine in Canada

We are witnessing flashes of real brilliance across the country. Our best winemakers have several vintages under their belts, they have maturing vineyards to work with, and they remain full of enthusiasm and drive to do better. There are successes from all provinces and an ever growing list of sub-regions and appellations, whether they are “official” VQA appellations or not. The associations and political bodies who define and regulate Canadian wine need to create a national system that clearly identifies those regions for consumers, embraces their individuality and works to clear all political obstacles that impede Canadians from freely ordering and shipping those wines within the country.

Photo credits from NWAC: Jason Dziver Photography

WineAlign National Wine Awards of Canada

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WineAlign Announces Two New Wine Awards in Canada

WineAlign Launches Two New Wine Competitions in Canada

TORONTO/VANCOUVER – February 25, 2013 – WineAlign, Canada’s largest and most popular online wine site, today announced the launch of two new wine competitions. To recognize the best in Canadian wine, WineAlign will host the National Wine Awards of Canada “The Nationals” and invite Canadian wine producers to compete annually to determine who is making the best wine in the country. To complement the domestic awards, the World Wine Awards of Canada “The Worlds” competition will be open to wines sold in Canada, with emphasis placed on wines offering outstanding value.

The “Nationals” will be held from June 16 – 22, 2013 in Niagara, Ontario and will open for entries on April 1, 2013. The “Worlds” will be judged from September 8 – 14, 2013 in Toronto, Ontario and will open for entries on July 1, 2013. Results of the “Nationals” and the “Worlds” will be released on WineAlign.com, which had close to one million unique visitors in 2012. With upcoming expansions to British Columbia and Quebec, the WineAlign audience is expected to grow significantly in the months ahead.

“We’re thrilled to be moving forward with the competitions,” says WineAlign founder Bryan McCaw. “Our goal is to make this the definitive Canadian perspective on wine, to both domestic and international audiences. We plan to shape both competitions into a modern, highly-responsive look at wine in Canada.”

Wines will be tasted blind by a team of top wine critics from across the country, including head judge Anthony Gismondi (WineAlign, Vancouver Sun), David Lawrason (WineAlign, Toronto Life), John Szabo Master Sommelier (WineAlign), Margaret Swaine (WineAlign, National Post), Rod Phillips (WineAlign, Ottawa Citizen), Bill Zacharkiw (Montreal Gazette), Steve Thurlow (WineAlign), Sara d’Amato (WineAlign), Janet Dorozynski (WineAlign), Nadia Fournier (Le Guide du Vin Montreal), Rémy Charest (wine journalist in Quebec City), Ben MacPhee-Sigurdson (Winnipeg Free Press), Craig Pinhey (New Brunswick Telegraph Journal, The Coast), DJ Kearney (wine educator in Vancouver), Treve Ring (wine journalist in Victoria), Rhys Pender (Master of Wine, B.C.) and Gurvinder Bhatia (Edmonton Journal).

For more information on the awards or entries please contact awards@WineAlign.com.

About WineAlign

WineAlign is a free community-based service for reviewing, sharing and discovering wine. It was launched in December 2008 in collaboration with several top wine critics to create a resource for consumers to find the best wines at the LCBO. WineAlign, which is growing rapidly with close to 1M unique annual visitors, answers the question: What wine do I buy? It combines reviews from top-critics and community members to create an objective resource to help users find great wine. For wine lovers outside of Ontario, Canada, WineAlign provides the most comprehensive wine resource, including reviews of the latest wines and vintages from some of the country’s top sommeliers and wine critics. You can also follow us on Facebook at www.Facebook/WineAlign or on Twitter @WineAlign.

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@WineAlign

WineAlign Reviews

Coldstream Hills Pinot Noir 2008