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Final Blend : National Hopes Soar

by Anthony Gismondi

Anthony Gismondi

Anthony Gismondi

As I write this from the Post Hotel in Lake Louise awaiting the start of this year’s Wine Summit, the final weeks in the run off to The National Wine Awards of Canada are counting down. There is a certain symmetry in the two events that celebrate excellence in wine in Canada. Both are focused on high quality wine. At The Post Hotel the participants, year in and year out, are the who’s who of the international wine world, while at The Nationals we will spend an entire week looking for the who‘s who of Canadian wine.

This year The Nationals are being held in Niagara Falls, high above the rushing waters of the Niagara River just before it spills over the escarpment enroute to Lake Ontario. I grew up two blocks from the same escarpment in West Hamilton and spent countless hours climbing what in those days I thought was the mountain. Sitting in the Canadian Rocky Mountains today I have a better understanding of big hills and mountains.

Speaking of hills to climb, the National Wine Awards of Canada has done its share over the past fourteen years. I’m sure if you were to ask David Lawrason or me if we ever thought ‘The Nationals’ would come to what they are today we would say yes, except we thought it would happen in the first year. Back then just under 800 wines showed up in Toronto. It’s grown on average by about 50 wines a year.

In those days wine competitions were few and far between and getting the attention of struggling Canadian wineries was tough. It seemed winning a gold medal in Bulgaria, or New York State was more important than winning anything at home. We learned early on that we would have to prove ourselves long before any wineries would.

Judge_JamieGoode

Dr. Jamie Goode

Today we believe we have the finest competition on the continent, something we have come to know because most of our judges have worked elsewhere in the wine world and tell us so. Englishman and scientist Dr. Jamie Goode, a much sought after international judge, asked us if he could return after his first experience at ‘The Nationals’ in the Okanagan Valley last year. Goode characterised the judging team as “highly competent and well-travelled, and it was painless judging with them. The organization of these wine awards, which involved opening over 4,000 bottles, pouring flights for each judge, and then collating the results in real time, was superb. Which means that judges can get on with the process of judging wine.”

No one enjoyed those remarks more than David Lawrason and I. Dr. Goode went on to say “the process was thorough, and every wine was given respect and time to show its best.” We couldn’t have asked for a better recommendation. Oh, and yes, he will be with us again this year in Niagara.

Today we just surpassed the total pinot noir entries of last year and will surely set a record in 2015 for total entries. It’s part of a subtle change we see across all the entries. More red blends (with a higher percentage of merlot in the mix), more pinot noir, less cabernet sauvignon, more Rhone style blends both red and white. Strangely we get less and less icewine entries despite our image as THE icewine producers. Riesling now rivals chardonnay and pinot gris for the best white wine we make.

JudgeBrief3

Judging at NWAC 2014

Canadian winemakers are stretching their legs in different directions as their experience grows and with confidence comes wines that make more sense than ever. This spring I have been impressed by several new labels including a grüner veltliner, a marsanne, a Super Tuscan style blend, a true white Bordeaux style blend, a pair of natural wines, several biodynamic and organic labels and a sparkling made using an ancient sparkling wine method. It’s the creativity and experimentation we have craved for years and its appearance can only bode well for the future.

Much has been written about wine awards lately so let’s be clear. We have never been about giving out a mess of medals. In fact we are probably too stingy. What we are about is sorting out the best from the rest. Imagine you are one of the 100 pinot noirs that get tasted in June; you will have to be excellent to get out of the first flight as likely only two or three at most, will make it to the final rounds. Again, winning your next flight against the best is an enormous challenge but being a part of that round, typically no more than 25 percent of the pool and exclusively silver and gold rated, means you have made it.

Our strategy is to give something back to you and our readers who can now access all the results indefinitely, online. We even virtually display your medal for you year round on the WineAlign website. I would like to tell you more but I’m kind of busy organising 1500 wines into appropriate flights, herding the judges into cohesive panels and getting the back room ready to run like a clock. We do all that (our entire team) with only one goal in mind – so our judges can get on with the process of finding out who is making the best wines in the country.

Bottles2

The Back Room at NWAC 2014

In the meantime, to stay sharp and global and ready for whatever may come out of Canadian wine country I’m spending three days at the Wine Summit Lake Louise 2015. Krug Champagne will be presenting, reminding me that we can make wines with that acidity in our sleep. Mollydooker will suggest you can come from nowhere to capture the world’s attention. Domaine Faiveley and Pichon Lalande will remind us that place matters. Turley Wines will tell a story of old vines, one we have yet to embrace for obvious reasons, while Tenuta di Biserno reminds us to be adaptable no matter how long you have been in the business.

It’s the kind of perspective we expect all our judges to bring to Niagara Falls next month and it’s one that serves the interest of every wine entered in the competition. You can follow us live from the tasting room at #NWAC15 and we welcome your questions and thoughts.


The National Wine Awards of Canada

NWAC15 croppedThe National Wine Awards of Canada (NWAC), held annually in June, is only open to wines grown and produced in Canada. The goal of ‘The Nationals’ is to expose Canadian wine drinkers to the best in Canadian wines. There is no restriction on price, leaving each winery the opportunity to compete with and against the best wines in the country. More importantly, as barriers to ship wines across the country come down, the combination of winning recognition at The Nationals and WineAlign’s ability to display the results alongside your key retail outlets, from the winery direct to across the country, makes it the only competition with enduring post competition sales opportunities.

The 2015 tastings will take place from June 23 to 27 in Niagara Falls, Ontario.

Registration is now open. Click here for more information and to register.


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Acclaimed UK Wine Journalist Jamie Goode joins the Judging Team for the Nationals

National Wine Awards of Canada 2015May 19, 2015

 

We are delighted to announce that, for the second year in a row, acclaimed UK-based wine journalist Dr. Jamie Goode will be a part of our panel of judges in Niagara Falls, Ontario at the WineAlign National Wine Awards of Canada.

Jamie Goode new

Dr. Jamie Goode

Jamie’s experience in wine very much mirrors that of our regular judges, which made for a seamless fit inside the tasting room in 2014. 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.

Jamie first visited Ontario wine regions in 2013 during The International Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration and British Columbia wineries during his time at the Nationals in 2014. This year, he will again visit Ontario wineries as part of the judges’ tour.

After last year’s trip to the Okanagan to judge the National Wine Awards of Canada 2014, Jamie published “Thinking out loud about Canadian wine” on his blog wineanorak.com. He had this to say about the Nationals:

“The WineAlign judges are highly competent and well travelled, and it was painless judging with them. The organization of these wine awards, which involved opening over 4,000 bottles, pouring flights for each judge, and then collating the results in real time, was superb. Which means that judges can get on with the process of judging wine. The process was thorough, and every wine was given respect and time to show its best.” – Dr. Jamie Goode

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), writes a weekly wine column for a national newspaper (The Sunday Express), and blogs daily at wineanorak.com, one of the world’s most popular 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.


National Wine Awards of Canada 2015

The National Wine Awards of Canada (NWAC), held annually in June, is only open to wines grown and produced in Canada. The goal of ‘The Nationals’ is to expose Canadian wine drinkers to the best in Canadian wines. There is no restriction on price, leaving each winery the opportunity to compete with and against the best wines in the country. More importantly, as barriers to ship wines across the country come down, the combination of winning recognition at The Nationals and WineAlign’s ability to display the results alongside your key retail outlets, from the winery direct to across the country, makes it the only competition with enduring post competition sales opportunities.

The 2015 tastings will take place from June 23 to 27 in Niagara Falls, Ontario.

Registration is now open. Click here for more information and to register.

The Judges

There are subtle changes to our panel each year but for the most part the judges are comprised of some of Canada’s leading wine writers, journalists, sommeliers, buyers and industry professionals. The competition also seeks out new and emerging talent in the industry to be part of the panel. This blend of experience and enthusiasm, brought by judges from many regions across Canada, ensures a comprehensive view of the wine world’s most current state. (NWAC15 Judges)

You can follow the 2015 NWAC and our judges’ tweets from start to finish on Twitter @WineAlign and look for the hashtag #NWAC15 .


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Final Blend: Niagara Falls, Step by Step, Inch by Inch

by Anthony Gismondi

Anthony Gismondi

Anthony Gismondi

It’s that time of the year again when the WineAlign team gears up in preparation for the National Wine Awards of Canada. The annual search for the best wine in the country is now in its 15th year at least for David Lawrason and me. It started back in Toronto in 2001 under the aegis of the now defunct Wine Access Magazine and for the last three years the WineAlign team has picked up the Canadian wine baton and run with it.

The Nationals have never been an easy feat to pull off. It’s not like the Canadian wine industry is one big happy bunch of folks who can’t wait to get into a room and work together. In fact, the wine scene very much mirrors the convoluted, patchwork quilt of people who make up this country and its culture. Every year when David and I sit down to prepare for The Nationals we feel a great deal of pressure to make sure all of the country’s wines can be brought together in one room to be assessed over one week and produce what we hope are unimpeachable results.

But getting everyone to buy in is tough.

Wineries have their reasons for entering or not entering competitions. All we can do is run the most rigourous tasting in the county, if not the world. After that, all we can hope for is that by applying the highest standards to our work, we convince everyone that getting their wine in front of a broad selection of experienced tasters from across the country is good for consumers, wineries and Canadian wine culture.

By the time we assemble 18 judges and an equal amount of people in the back room for a full week of work we are happy not to lose too much money. But on the bright side this spring we want to explore the real reasons the entire WineAlign team will be in Niagara Falls this June. We love wine and we can’t wait to find out who is making the best examples of Canadian wine in 2015.

Nk'mip Cellars Qwam Qwmt Pinot Noir 2012 Norman Hardie County Unfiltered Pinot Noir 2012 Painted Rock Red Icon 2011 Hidden Bench Tête De Cuvée Chardonnay 2011

We can’t wait to see who will top the competition this year. Could this be the breakthrough for Nk’Mip Cellars or Norman Hardie, Painted Rock or Hidden Bench – I’m sure Mission Hill and/or last year’s winner Peller Estates Winery Niagara-on-the-Lake will have something to say about that. Will the syrah flights grab the highest marks; will Laughing Stock top the charts again? Will Canadian chardonnay continue its ascension to a place we can all be excited about? It’s what makes this the most important week in wine in Canada.

Mission Hill Perpetua Osoyoos Vineyard Estate 2011Andrew Peller Signature Series Sauvignon Blanc 2012Laughing Stock Vineyards Syrah Perfect Hedge Vineyard 2012

With the doors now open to the National Wine Awards of Canada 2015 it will be interesting to see if we can entice more entries from Quebec and Nova Scotia. Both regions have been working hard at raising their game and there’s no better proving ground than our five-day blind tasting, where every wine is given equal and fair shot at showing its best.

What we do know is the quality level of the wines entered has risen exponentially in recent years as all the work going on in Canadian vineyards is finally coming to fruition. It’s not easy to make the finals and it’s even tougher to win against all the other finalists but that’s what makes it worth entering.

Maclean's - WineAlign Awards ResultsThere’s no better benchmark for Canadian wine producers to discover how they measure up against their neighbours and competitors across the country, and frankly there is no better tool for Canadian wine drinkers to use then the results of the Nationals to see how their favourites measure up.

Speaking of results, each year we continue to speed up the process of getting the story out sooner than later. We expect to publish the full results, including awarding the prestigious Canadian Winery of the Year, online at WineAlign by the end of July 2015. That should help everyone find more of the winning wines over the summer and busy fall/harvest season and hopefully inspire many of you visit one of Canada’s spectacular wine regions.

Two years ago we instituted the first full integration of the results into the WineAlign website and have had nothing but positive feedback from you, our readers, who enjoy being able to access the results while standing in wine shops and wineries. Last year, the results of both of our awards The Nationals and the World Wine Awards of Canada were printed in a special section of Maclean’s magazine and we are pursuing similar options in 2015.

In 2014, we had 1,335 different wines entered from 219 wineries across Canada. (Click here to see the results from the 2014 National Wine Awards of Canada.) This year, we expect to be bigger and better than ever, with a new record for entries.

You can follow all the action at #NWAC15 as we prepare for the awards throughout the spring right through the judging where up to the minute thoughts fly from the front room judges and back room organisers. As I finish this piece, the first riesling entry for 2015 has just been entered. Last year we were privileged to taste 96 different riesling from all over the country. If that doesn’t inspire you to be a part of the 2015 National Wine Awards of Canada, we are not sure what ever will.

See you all (virtually) in Niagara Falls in June.

 

~ Anthony Gismondi closes out each month with his Final Blend column – an expert insight into wine culture and trends, honed by more than 25 years experience as an influential and global critic. Click here to visit his WineAlign profile page.

 


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Mentoring Judges for the Future

The first year of our new initiative – Judges Training Judges
by DJ Kearney

DJ Kearney

DJ Kearney

At WineAlign, judging wine is central to what we do. The entire point of our nationwide wine scoring and wine sourcing website is to help you, the wine-loving consumer find great wines in stores in your province.

We do this by posting thousands of wine reviews from our talent pool of Canada’s best wine palates and writers. In addition, we stage two important annual wine competitions; one that evaluates the best of Canadian wine (WineAlign’s National Wine Awards of Canada), and another that focuses on great value wines of the world (WineAlign World Wine Awards). These two colossal events involve thousands of wines and months of logistical planning before 16 judges sit down for an intense week of swirling, smelling, sipping and scoring.

The top results of these two competitions have just been published in Maclean’s 2014 Newsmakers edition; so please rush out to grab a copy, or go to WineAlign.com/Awards for complete results.

We are extremely pleased to have this new national platform that broadcasts our results, and we hope it means many more opportunities in the years ahead for our up and coming judges.

Maclean's Special Edition - Wine report

Judging wine is not new, by the way; it’s very likely that wine has been ranked from its earliest days. It is estimated that wine was made as long as 9,000 years ago, but there is little known about those early ferments. We do however know a great deal about wines made by Egyptians, Phoenicians, Greeks and Romans who produced on a considerable scale and marketed wine around Mesopotamia and the Mediterranean. They inscribed clay amphorae with place names, winemakers and dates, and we know they had a well-developed ‘cru’ system. Certain wines were held in higher regard than others, and that by definition involves judging, the ranking of one wine over another.

Over the millennia wine continued to be judged and rated; the 1855 classification in the Medoc, the Judgement of Paris, culminating in the rise of the wine critics. The hundreds of wine competitions that are staged around the world today are evidence of the reality that results matter and scores matter. Competitions are only as good as the people who organize and lead them (in particular the head judge), and those who sit and judge. So what does it take to be a good judge? This is something that I have pondered for years now, since my own first judging experience.

A word on that: it was a mix of exhilaration and terror that I have never forgotten. As a first time judge, I felt thrilled and honoured to be asked, excited about using my tasting skills honed over the years of studying and teaching about wine. But sitting down before a large flight of wines with a room full of people I admired (if not idolized) made me anxious, dry-mouthed and doubtful. Judging is a mental endeavour and it takes non-stop concentration, physical endurance and constant resetting of the palate. A good judge should care enormously about the outcome, and only the best effort will do. You should feel an almost crushing sense of responsibility about your work and scores. And I sure did, all those years ago, but everything was ok because I had two Canadian wine greats show me the ropes of judging. Anthony Gismondi and David Lawrason briefed me, helped me stay on-time, were patient when I did not, gave me both gentle and not-so-gentle feedback, and asked me back the next year. Phew.

Hao Judges Table

Over the years Anthony, David and I have talked and schemed about how to improve and increase the judging pool in Canada, how to offer opportunities to up-and-comers, and how to start our succession planning. This past year we put our words into action. Repeating the trust shown years ago, they’ve let me spearhead a judge mentoring initiative. We call it ‘Judges Training Judges’, because all of our regular WineAlign palates are deeply committed to helping develop the next generation of wine judging talent in Canada. Before our wine competitions in 2014, we organized seminars and tryouts in both Vancouver and Toronto for a group of invited young guns we pre-scouted as having the right stuff.

What makes a good judge? This is what we discussed during the seminar.

– essential to have experience with all wines of the world

– be consistent when scoring

– be a strong structural, systematic, analytic taster

– be able to articulate your opinions free of personal biases

– be decisive and swift

– be confident

– be a team player

Then came the tasting tryouts. We put the apprentice judge candidates through many rounds of tasting, then evaluated their scores and discussions based on metrics we had established: consistency, parity with our experienced scores, speed, ability to defend scores, personality, etc.

DJ Training session

After the judging score sheets were assessed and ranked, we chose two judges for The Nationals from Vancouver, Sally Campa and Hao Yang Wang, and two from Toronto, Emily MacLean and Adam Hijazi. To allow our apprentices to really relax into the process, they scored all wines just like the full-fledged judges, but their scores did not count. You can read about their experiences below.

So how do we fund this? Adding two apprentice judges to the roster adds hard costs. Wine competitions are not money making ventures – not even close. Our core WineAlign judges contribute their own money to a fund that helps pay travel and hotel costs for the rookies. So, not only do we resident judges mentor, guide, encourage and share our own experiences and lessons, but we pay for the privilege. This in turn makes us completely invested in the process of developing the future and ensuring a succession plan with Canadian pros who are ready to step up and lay down their scores with confidence and accuracy. And that’s why this initiative is called ‘Judges Training Judges’. We really are.

What’s ahead? More of the same, but on a bigger scale. In 2014 we cast the net only in Vancouver and Toronto in our search for top judge prospects, but plan to eventually spread to every province. Watch us grow and watch us improve the quality of scoring wines and building even better competition results.

My take-away from this? There are so few opportunities for aspiring wine pros to break into judging, and our unique program gives them a chance to learn, observe, connect and expose themselves to challenges and opportunities. The response has been overwhelmingly positive and I cannot wait to see our initiative flourish.

Here is what our apprentice judges had to say:

Hao Yang WangHao Yang Wang directs the show at Vancouver’s Farmer’s Apprentice, voted Best Restaurant, in Vancouver Magazine’s 2014 awards, as well as Best new and Best Casual, and snatched second place in Enroute Magazine’s recent awards. Before this he was Sommelier and AGM at Pidgin (# 5 in Enroute Magazine in 2014 awards). Adding wine retail experience to the mix, Hao Yang sharpened his palate at Liberty Wine.

“It was an exciting and humbling experience to be an understudy amongst extraordinary mentors and talents. To taste and discuss at such high volume, and intensity, it required immense focus to stay alert. It was learning about keeping a truthful, honest and respectful mind to the products laid out in front of the panel, as well as the judges next to you; learning to speak with your gut, and leaving the ego back upstairs in the hotel room. I would participate again in a heartbeat, and would recommend any growing wine professionals in the industry to participate whenever such an opportunity arises.”

Sally Campa is the General Manager and Sommelier for Vino Volo at YVR airport. A Torontonian, she relocated to Vancouver to attend Dubrulle International Culinary and Hotel Institute of Canada. With over 15 years as a personal chef and caterer, she shifted her focus in 2007 to pursue her passion for wine further. After spending 3 years in wine retail, she returned to the restaurant industry in 2012 to open the Vino Volo locations at YVR.

Sally Campa“I was so delighted to be invited to sit as an apprentice judge at the Canadian WineAlign awards this past spring. Over the years, I have eagerly looked forward to judging wine as another branch of my career in the business. I was elated when I heard I would have an opportunity to sit amongst the judging panel as one of this year’s apprentices.  The WineAlign team are people who I have looked up to as mentors, and learned from over the years.  The idea of this experience was exciting, though somewhat daunting.

When I arrived in Penticton, I received warm welcomes from the entire WineAlign crew.  I knew right away that spending days amongst this talent would be an incredible education, as well as a true examination of my knowledge and skill. 

To evaluate so many wines in such a short period of time is an incredible test of staying focused while keeping your palate on point.  From glass to glass, flight to flight, I was quietly intimidated to say the least.

 On the first morning, I was full of nerves as well as a sense of overwhelm. As we began to taste, I felt mental and physical exhaustion, as I have never been exposed to quantity volumes and time restrictions like these during tastings. It takes time to get into a groove in such an environment, and to continue to keep oneself in check while coming to understand others on a panel. I received excellent tips and advice from my mentors.  They coached me through the tough parts and offered helpful tips all along the way.

While judging, I rotated around from panel to panel while tasting, providing excellent exposure, endless advice and guidance through the process. Each table offered a new experience, through the different energy and style of each judge. It was educational to listen to all of the discussions – from wine styles to quality levels. The conversations are full of wisdom and never shy on insight.  It didn’t take long to observe that at each table, every base is covered!

When I had completed my portion of judging, and finally got a tour of the back storage room, I was honestly speechless. To see such volume, the systems in place, and the organization behind the entire process is incredible. This is an extraordinary practice of judging, one I feel privileged and grateful to have been part of.  This was an experience and invite not be taken for granted.”

Adam Hijazi is a chef, sommelier, and adventurer. After going to culinary school and working in some of the hottest restaurants in Toronto he began travelling and working throughout Europe and North America. He is certified as a sommelier through CAPS and CMS and has worked internationally including cooking at 4 three Michelin starred restaurants. He is currently the general manager of Terroni Price Street, the flagship restaurant of the southern Italian inspired hospitality company.

Adam Hijazi“The apprentice judging program with WineAlign was a wonderful experience to be a part of. From the moment we arrived, DJ, David, Anthony and all were quick to welcome us with open arms and shortly after, get right into it. Wines kept coming and coming and with each glass of red or white I was given an insight into how the veterans approach each sip. It is a vigorous pace and you start to understand each judge’s style and proclivities within a few hours. Then the next day it starts again with a whole new panel. Your preconceived notions from packaging and marketing are thrown out the window and you focus on what’s in the glass. After several rounds with the expert palates every wine is sifted through and whittled down to the best of the bunch. In the grand tasting in Toronto (an event months later that featured Platinum and Gold winners) I was impressed to say that there were no duds.The WineAlign system really put together a fantastic bunch of wines! I am so happy to have been a part of this process and continue to build WineAlign into the go-to destination for wine buys. 

DJ and WineAlign are forerunners in a program of this nature and their efforts don’t go unnoticed.The world of experts is tightly booked and yet they all offered their time and knowledge to us in hopes of building the future generation of wine judges. We were matched with different judges each day to glean a little bit of their individual expertise that benefits the group and it became apparent why each of them was a part of this team. It was amazing to see so many different opinions come towards the common goal of the most delicious juice. They have started something that I hope carries on and spreads into adjacent vocations so that we all benefit from the dedication and efforts of these titans of the wine world.”

Emily MacLean narrowly missed a career in nursing in favour of shucking oysters and slinging wine. A few wine courses later, a dream job at the legendary restaurant Scaramouche, and then the chance to call the wine shots at Hopgood’s Foodliner, where she curates a killer list.

Emily MacLean“Being chosen as an apprentice judge for WineAlign’s 2014 World Wine Awards of Canada was one of the greatest experiences since beginning to focus on a future in wine; a personal growth experience that will resonate and will not be forgotten.

The three day experience began with a debriefing from the head judges, where we were introduced to the judging scheme and were given the opportunity to apply this in the form of test flights. This concise and well administered training program is vital, as it further prepares you to sit on the team of judges with whom you will spend the following days.  You are quickly reminded of the sheer value in tasting a wine blind. Prejudices are removed, and you focus on the varietal, method of production, and quality level for the price – aspects that unfortunately may be swayed in the presence of a visible label. 

The Mentorship Program has immense value, as it allows for an industry professional who has had no previous experience in judging to bring a different dynamic and a new perspective to the team. It allows for that individual to learn from and work alongside a team of high-calibre judges. Such an opportunity may not have surfaced otherwise.

After this experience, I was left with a pleasantly exhausted palate and a deepened appreciation for WineAlign. Through celebrating accessible wines, there is strong movement toward bridging the gap between the enormous and intimidating world of wine and their main focus, the consumer.”

~

Visit the WineAlign Awards page for more information and a complete list of 2014 results:

National Wine Awards of Canada
World Wine Awards of Canada

nwac2014webwwac2014web150x150


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

A Quality Affair

In June 2014, WineAlign converged on Penticton, British Columbia for the WineAlign 2014 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.

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