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Canadian Wine: Winds of Change

Direct Shipping, Grocery Sales and Health Issues Hit the Floor at the CVA Annual Meeting
by David Lawrason

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

Winds of change and currents of conflict were swirling at the recent annual general meeting of the Canadian Vintners Association in Kelowna. I will get right to the details, but first I want to share the most exciting news for Canadian wine consumers.

On July 26, WineAlign will announce the results of the National Wine Awards of Canada, and on July 28th the winner of the coveted Winery of the Year and Small Winery of the Year Awards. I joined 21 other judges in Penticton in June to taste over 1500 wines over five days, and I can tell you there was a great deal of excitement in the judges’ room – I believe there were some leaping out of seats. Canadian wine quality has never been better, nor evolution so rapid. This is reflected by increases in the medal counts, and the emergence of new stars.

Days after the judging I was invited to attend the annual general meeting of the Canadian Vintners Association (CVA) in Kelowna, and sat transfixed as experts stood up to address the issues facing Canadian wine across the country. Direct inter-provincial shipping, selling wine in grocery stores and educating Canadians about alcohol-related health issues and safe drinking guidelines were all discussed in detail.

Some will not be aware of the Canadian Vintners Association, even though it is celebrating its 49th year of existence. With a 3.5 person office in Ottawa, but a membership of about 60 mostly large and mid-size wineries representing 90% of the wine produced in Canada, it is the industry’s mechanism for dealing with national regulatory issues, standards and policies. It is also involved in market study and analysis, developing wine exports, and most recently establishing marketing materials through a database at wine411.ca that includes info on all 675 wineries in Canada.

The CVA’s political connectedness was on display at the Kelowna AGM. No fewer than five federal MPs from BC and Ontario were in attendance with a sixth sending his regrets. Through lobbying efforts by the CVA these MPs have formed an all-party parliamentary Canadian wine caucus, giving Canadian wine the loudest voice in the House that it has ever had. That voice is exactly what is needed for Canadian wine to move ahead.

Direct to Consumer Interprovincial Shipping

Vance Badaway

Vance Badaway, MP Niagara Centre

The politicians and CVA members were most vocal about getting Canadian wine moving freely and directly across all provincial boundaries in Canada. Alas, there was no breakthrough to announce in terms of more provinces dropping their opposition, but I was surprised by how loud, frequent and public the CVA and its members, as well as the politicians, have become – insisting that action be taken sooner rather than later. There was a mood in the room.

By way of background, two of the MPs – Dan Albas, Central Okanagan-Similkameen-Nicola, and Ron Canaan, Kelowna Lake Country, were instrumental back in 2012 in creating a private members bill to overturn Bill C311 that made it illegal to carry or ship wine for personal use across provincial borders. Their bill received an historic, unanimous vote in the House of Commons, but it was left to individual provinces to agree, or not. To date only Manitoba, British Columbia and Nova Scotia have allowed their citizens to freely import Canadian wine from other provinces.

Newly elected Liberal MP Vance Badaway of Niagara Centre gently approved of the movement when he addressed the CVA membership. “I am committed to supporting the wine industry and helping with efficiencies and market development. And we are going to park party politics and work to get things done,” he said. Whether rhetoric or not, it demonstrates sympathy. And wine is now firmly entwined in broader discussions about eradicating interprovincial trade irritants. This is all a step forward.

Loblaws Outlines Plans for Selling Wine in Grocery Stores

Greg Ramier, Senior Vice President, Loblaws

Greg Ramier, Senior Vice President, Loblaws

With grocery store wine sales rolling out this year in B.C. and Ontario, the most highly anticipated presenter was Greg Raimer, Senior Vice-President of Wholesale, Gas, Liquor and Tobacco for the Loblaws group of companies. The retailing of wine by Loblaws is underway in Alberta, and in a pilot project in New Brunswick. So Mr. Raimer has their corporate strategy well thought out, and he opened his presentation with a bold prediction:

“Within 20 years wine will be sold in grocery stores right across Canada” he said. Amen, I said under my breath, but can we make that sooner?

Most of his presentation outlined how wine will fit at Loblaws stores, differentiating the grocery shopping environment from state and privately run stores where food is not involved. And for those who think that supermarkets will become a trash heap for cheap, giant brands, you may want to think again.

“Our strategy is to elevate the shopping experience” Mt. Raimer explained, “by offering, diversity, uniqueness and education.” He went on to say they are looking to provide occasion-based in-store retailing, solution-based retailing, as well local, organic and healthy products, all of which dovetail with modern trends in grocery retailing.

Then came his second telling comment. “The average grocery store bill is about $40. We have found that when there is a bottle of wine in the cart, the average bill is closer to $80. Shoppers who buy wine for dinner almost always spend more on food”.

He said that Loblaws was not looking to make wine a huge profit centre in itself, but it was an up-selling tool. “We want to offer wine from $10 to $100 per bottle” he said. It’s worth noting that the Ontario government has currently set $10.95 as a floor price in supermarkets.

It is a good thing that Loblaws is not looking to make bushels of money selling wine in Ontario, because government regulations will be capping grocery store wine margins at 4%.

At the moment we don’t know how many of the first 70 licenses awarded in 2016 in Ontario will go to Loblaws, or whether other grocers will have the same perspective on wine sales. But Raimer did say he thought we would see wine in grocery store starting to roll out at the end of October, to catch the holiday spending season. So we will know before long.

After the meeting I asked him how Loblaws will be purchasing wine, given that the LCBO is the wholesaler. He said that grocery stores that sell imports (about half of the initial 70 licences) must buy wines pre-selected by the LCBO that are stocked in the LCBO warehouse. This does not include stocks from the Consignment Warehouse, from which agents sell direct to licensees.

Grocery stores selling Ontario wine (all of them) will be able to buy from the LCBO or directly from the wineries, at LCBO dictated prices that ensures government gets its cut. This will at least give many Ontario wines a much needed boost in their retail distribution.

Health & Social Responsibility

Rita Notarandrea, CEO of the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse (CCSA)

Rita Notarandrea, CEO of the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse (CCSA)

As impressed as I was with all the speakers, it was Rita Notarandrea, CEO of the Canadian Centre of Substance Abuse, who made perhaps the most thought-provoking presentation, which in the end urged Canadian vintners to take a leading role in educating the public about the harms of alcohol over-use and abuse.

They ignore her at their peril.

The Canadian Centre for Substance Abuse is an organization mandated by an Act of Parliament in 1988. Its role is to track alcohol and drug usage, abuse and addiction, and to find ways to educate the public on the harms of unsafe usage.

“We are not out to promote abstinence or abolition of alcohol” she assured the winemakers, several times. Although she did say there are those in the health field who would like to do that, and that there is “a groundswell among health professionals who want more regulation”.

She also said that much of her current work surrounds the impending legalization of marijuana in Canada, but she focused on alcohol this day.

“Canada has a deep seated drinking culture” she said. She reported that 76.5% over the age of 25 consumed alcohol in last year, 82% aged 19 to 24, and 60% under age. She said that 36% of Canadians qualify as “risky drinkers”, consuming more than the recommended amounts of “ two drinks a day, 10 per week for women, and three drinks a day, 15 per week for men, with an extra drink allowed on special occasions”.

She said “alcohol abuse costs Canada $14.6 billion dollar per year”, and estimates that alcohol-related deaths would be reduced by approximately 4,600 per year if the guidelines were followed.

So she asked the Canadian wine industry for help in educating the public – in two specific ways.

Most controversially she asked them to help come up with a way to include more detailed safe drinking guidelines and social responsibility messaging on wine labels. There was opposition by some vintners to the idea of giving up more “label real estate”, but some thought there might be “an elegant way” to do it.

I was most impressed by her “elegant” idea of developing labels specific to the size of the bottle and the type of alcohol (by volume) therein. My head spins trying to figure out labels that try to do this universally, as on Australian wines, that utilize one label for all types of alcohol in all sizes of packaging.

Ms. Notarandrea’s second request was to enlist winery help in disseminating The Centre’s “Low Risk Drinking Guidelines” now available in printed format and online.

And I don’t see any reason why wineries and wine writers shouldn’t be directing readers to these guidelines too. Somehow the “please drink responsibly message” seems just a bit shallow in the face of the magnitude of this issue.

Wine Drinkers Are More Moderate Consumers of Alcohol

John Mohler, Vice President, Ipsos Canada

John Mohler, Vice President, Ipsos Canada

There were two other presentations but I am going to end of with partial results of an alcohol consumption survey conducted by John Mohler, Vice President of Ipsos Canada, a national polling firm.

It is the result of a project now in its second year that has 1,000 Canadians from coast to coast keeping a daily diary of their alcohol consumption – how much, what kinds of alcohol, how often they mix, where, when and with whom they drink.

In a typical day the respondents drank two glasses of wine, or 2.3 glasses of beer, or 2.1 glasses of spirits, comfortably within the “Low Risk Drinking Guidelines”.

Among those who drink wine 84% stop after two glasses. For those who drink more than that 63% stay with wine. Among beer and spirit drinkers 75% stop after two drinks, not a wide margin of difference.

Among wine drinkers, 61% drink wine with dinner and another 18% while grazing (the latter percentage higher among millennials). It is a stat that leapt off the screen, a much larger percentage than beer and spirits.

Where, dear reader and imbiber, do you fit in?

See you next month, with analysis and recommendations from the National Wine Awards. Meanwhile here are links to ten Canadian wines I poured at the Fine Vintage Canadian Wine Scholar course in Kelowna on the heels of the CVA meeting.  More courses are coming up across Canada coming up this fall:  Toronto  Sept 10/11 , Edmonton Oct 15/16, Calgary Oct 22/23, Kelowna Oct 29/30 and Vancouver Nov 5/6. More details are available here.

Whites and Sparkling

Cave Spring Blanc de Blancs Brut Thirty Bench Small Lot Riesling Steel Post Vineyard 2014 Rosehall Run Chardonnay Jcr Rosehall Vineyard 2014 Meyer Family Mclean Creek Vineyard Chardonnay 2014 Le Vieux Pin Ava 2014

Cave Spring Blanc de Blancs Brut, Niagara Escarpment, Ontario

Thirty Bench Small Lot Riesling Steel Post Vineyard 2014, Beamsville Bench, Ontario

Rosehall Run Chardonnay JCR Rosehall Vineyard 2014, Prince Edward County, Ontario

Meyer Family Mclean Creek Vineyard Chardonnay 2014, Okanagan Valley, B.C.

Le Vieux Pin Ava 2014, Okanagan Valley, B.C.

Reds

Le Chateau De La Grange Le Chant Des Vignes 2012 Norman Hardie County Unfiltered Pinot Noir 2014 Rosewood Origin Merlot 2012 Orofino Wild Ferment Syrah 2015 Osoyoos Larose Le Grand Vin 2012

Le Chateau de La Grange Le Chant Des Vignes 2012, Quebec

Norman Hardie County Unfiltered Pinot Noir 2014, Prince Edward County, Ontario

Rosewood Origin Merlot 2012, Beamsville Bench, Ontario

Orofino Wild Ferment Syrah 2015, Similkameen Valley, B.C.

Osoyoos Larose Le Grand Vin 2012, Okanagan Valley, B.C.

 

 


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Canadian Wine: Building Presence at the Chef’s Table

The Canadian Wine Report – June 2016
by David Lawrason

David Lawrason - Bonne Belle Photography, Gold Medal Plates 2016

David Lawrason

The wines of Canada are ideal dinner companions – polite and interesting. Thanks to our generally cool climate they have essential natural acidity to cut and refresh the palate. They have lower to moderate alcohol levels that do not dominate food, and certainly the better quality wines have the fruit expression, depth and complexity to work with any flavours and textures a chef can create from our oceans, lakes, rivers, fields, orchards, tundras and forests. Our wines are so Canadian.

However, we don’t see them in every restaurant in the country because many of our chefs and sommeliers do not have the confidence to serve them, which of course reflects on their perceived ability to sell them. So we are still essentially a nation of imported wine drinkers.

With small production from only 30,000 acres coast to coast (Napa Valley alone has 43,000) and a population of 35 million, Canada is not yet producing enough wine to serve its own populace. Overlay the fact that certain (not all) liquor boards still to this day actively work to block our wines moving freely across the country. The challenges are enormous, but we are working on it.

For the past seven years I have been deeply involved in putting Canadian wines, chefs and consumers on at the same table through Gold Medal Plates. This is a national chef competition with regional events in ten cities that culminates with the Canadian Culinary Championships held every February in Kelowna, B.C. Each of the competitions is attended by 500 to 700 people depending on the city and venue size. The proceeds go to Canada’s Olympic athletes and the Own the Podium program, for which Gold Medal Plates has raised over $11 million in ten years.  It is all about promoting excellence in Canadian food, sport, entertainment and wine.

The chefs “must” use VQA or wine 100% grown and made in Canada. No imports or “Cellared in Canada” (the BC terminology) or “International Canadian Blends” (Ontario terminology) are permitted. Furthermore, they must work with wineries to come up with donated wine that actually works well with the dishes they are creating. The success of their pairing accounts for 10% of the culinary judges’ scoring, and in close competitions, that can be a deal breaker.

Since 2008, over 700 Canadian wine pairings have been created by Canadian chefs. As such, Gold Medal Plates Chief Culinary Judge James Chatto has had a detailed look at the evolution of Canadian wines in this competition.

“In GMP’s early years (pre-2010) we heard chefs and their sommeliers grumbling about having to use Canadian wine”, says Mr. Chatto. “They weren’t used to it at all. For them, I suspect, it has been a useful journey of discovery. Certainly, the grumbling has stopped. I would also maintain that the quality of wines the chefs are choosing has risen dramatically, partly because wineries increasingly understand that this is a great showcase for their products.”

Cameron - Wine PairingLepine - Wine Pairing

I am not a culinary judge because I lack the training, but every year I travel to each of the ten cities and taste most of the chefs’ pairings. I am on the floor with the paying guests listening to their reactions, with most being very positive indeed. Not every match is great, and sometimes the chefs will use “a big name” wine to impress, without paying much heed to the match, which to me expresses some lack of confidence in their wine pairing abilities. Overall, the Canadian wines do show the acidity that keeps the palate nicely refreshed through a long evening and often lend a sense of elegance.

James Chatto agrees. “We see a lot of competition dishes that are very refined, intricate and subtle, very few that are hearty or heavy. There are so many Canadian wines that pair beautifully with this kind of detailed cuisine – delicate but sharp bubblies, crisp, aromatic whites, nimble reds. Their acidity and minerality are assets that a smart chef can exploit.

“Last year, for example, Martín Ruiz Salvador (Fleur de Sel, Lunenberg) made a sensational match of a Nova Scotian Chardonnay with his whelk-and-rabbit creation. Then again, if a chef decides to do something richer with moose or caribou or foie gras we have enough big reds from warm years and late harvest gems to choose from.”

The Mystery Wine Competition

Tawse Gamay Noir 2014One element of the Canadian Culinary Championship has become a great barometer of a chef’s interaction with Canadian wine. The Mystery Wine Competition is the first of three contests, wherein I select one wine from somewhere in Canada around which each chef must create a matching dish. They do not know that identity of the wine until after the competition, which means they must focus in on the wine’s structure and flavours for guidance – not some textbook or pre-conceived classic match. Likewise all 400 guests are drinking the same wine blind, which focuses them in the same way.

This year I chose Tawse 2014 Gamay Noir from Niagara, an oh-so typical cool climate Canadian red that forced the chefs to keep things subtle, but allowed them, possibly, a range of base options from fish to poultry, vegetarian or red meat. Only two went the fish route and one did poultry, and one did both, with the remainder trying red meat only, less successfully in my view.

“We still see the odd chef who shows up with pre-determined ideas about what he or she wants to cook, and then has to twist those plans around to fit the wine,” says James Chatto.  “But the smart ones start with an open mind. This year, the Tawse Gamay conjured up similar responses in a number of competitors – lots of beets, lots of earthy and smoky components, a surprising amount of goat’s cheese!”

The winning chef for this leg of the competition, and the overall championship, was Marc Lepine from L’Atelier in Ottawa. He created a very fine, intricate dish that he tongue-in-cheek called “Surf and Turf” with ling cod and oxtail bridged by a number of ingredients like fried potato, beets, broth and fennel.  “Yes, there was a lot going on in this dish” explained Mr. Chatto,” but the internal harmonies were finely judged and the wine match was subtle but most effective”.

Salvador - Wine PairingAndrews - Wine Pairing

The full results of the Canadian Culinary Championships, including James Chatto’s blow-by-blow descriptions of all the competing dishes and wine matches can be found on the Gold Medal Plates website.

Meanwhile here are links to the top wines in each city event, as judged by yours truly with teams of local wine writers, retailers and sommeliers. Each wine was assembled at the Canadian Culinary Championships and judged all over again to determine the Best Wine of Gold Medal Plates 2015. We lead off with the top three:

Gold Medal Plates Wine of the Year

Le Vieux Pin 2014 Ava
Osoyoos-Black Sage, Okanagan Valley
Presented in Saskatoon

Gold Medal Plates First Runner-up

Bachelder Wismer Vineyard 2012 Chardonnay
Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula
Presented in Ottawa

Second Runner-Up
Foxtrot Estate 2012 Henricsson Vineyard Pinot Noir
Naramata Bench, Okanagan Valley
Presented in Victoria

Le Vieux Pin Ava 2014 Bachelder Wismer Vineyard Chardonnay 2012 Foxtrot Henricsson Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012

Other Top Wines

L’Acadie Blanc Prestige Brut Zero Dosage
Gaspereau Valley, Nova Scotia
Presented in Halifax

Blue Mountain Gold Label Brut
Okanagan Falls, Okanagan Valley
Presented in Winnipeg

Road 13 Sparkling Chenin Blanc 2011
Golden Mile, Okanagan Valley
Presented in Calgary

L'Acadie Brut Prestige Zero Dosage 2010 Blue Mountain Gold Label Brut Road 13 Sparkling Chenin Blanc 2011

Norman Hardie 2012 Unfiltered Niagara Pinot Noir
Niagara Peninsula
Presented in Regina

Bartier Bros. 2011 Cerqueira Vineyard Syrah
Black Sage Bench, Okanagan Valley
Presented in Edmonton

Mcwatters Collection 2012 Meritage
Black Sage Bench, Okanagan Valley
Presented in St. John’s

Osoyoos Larose Le Grand Vin 2010
Osoyoos, Okanagan Valley
Presented in Toronto

Norman Hardie Unfiltered Niagara Pinot Noir 2012 Bartier Bros. Syrah Cerqueira Vineyard 2011 McWatters Collection Meritage 2012 Osoyoos Larose Le Grand Vin 2010

Editors Note: You can find David’s complete critic reviews by clicking on any of the highlighted wine names, bottle images or links. Paid subscribers to WineAlign see all critics reviews immediately. Non-paid members wait 60 days to see new reviews. You can also explore the wineries of Canada on WineAlign here: Canada’s Winery Regions

Photo credits:

David top right: Bonne Belle Photography, Gold Medal Plates 2016

Food images: Deon Nel Photography, Gold Medal Plates 2016


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2016: A Watershed (Dam Busting?) Year for Canadian Wine

The Canadian Wine Report – May 2016
by David Lawrason

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

The 2016 growing season is underway across Canada, with vines galloping ahead in B.C. where temperatures have been higher than normal. In Ontario and Nova Scotia however, after a mild winter but a slow, cool spring, the buds are barely bursting as I write on May 10th. May is always a ginger moment here in the upper reaches of northern hemisphere, second only to the September harvest window as a time of anxiety and anticipation. Will the flowering be on schedule? Will late spring frosts descend? Whatever Mother Nature determines for this vintage, much in the Canadian wine retail and regulatory landscape has changed or is changing since the harvest of 2015.

Supermarket Wine Sales

Conversation and action around the introduction of supermarket wine sales has moved onto the front burner in both B.C. and Ontario.

In 2015, B.C. announced sales of BC VQA wines in supermarkets, but on a gradual basis, with a few locations established in grocery stores which have purchased licenses of existing VQA stores. This move is viewed to be expanding distribution of VQA wines beyond international trade agreements and Canadian commitments to the World Trade Organization, so it has ushered in official diplomatic protests from California, Australia, New Zealand, Mexico, Argentina and Chile. B.C. argues that the although the grocery locations are new the licenses are not; they have just been transferred. I’ll let the lawyers figure that out. On the one hand I am disappointed to see the erosion of VQA speciality stores with deep selections of BC VQA wines by staff who care. It is entirely possible that the grocery stores can mount an equal in-store experience, but will they? On the other hand, how many more consumers who have never been to a BC VQA wine store will now discover BC VQA wine in their supermarket. This is the reason for putting wine in supermarkets in the first place, and the reason to risk the international challenge.

BC Wines in Grocery Stores

In February, Ontario also announced that supermarket wine sales will be implemented this year, but the modus operandi is different. As one plank in a government initiative to liberalize wine sales, expand distribution and selection, Ontario will allow wine sales in 300 grocery stores in the years ahead (a pittance), with about 70 going on stream in 2016. In a political move to give Ontario wines a leg up while attempting to keep the international community at bay, half the new locations will sell only Ontario VQA wines, with the remainder selling a 50/50 split of both international and domestic wines. This formula is also temporary; I have read reports that this framework will dissolve by about 2022, and the supermarket channel will be wide open. Meanwhile, the LCBO seems set to re-focus on a “premium wines and on-line ordering and delivery” model that will include Ontario and imported wines currently beyond its retail offerings. Stay tuned – it’s early days as full of supposition and conjecture as the introduction of legalized marijuana. On that note, imagine the outrage from the wine community if marijuana ends up being less regulated and in freer distribution than wine.

Interprovincial Law: Order, Ship and Sip

On October 6, 2012, Gerard Comeau, a retired steelworker from Tracadie, New Brunswick, was charged for driving fifteen cases of beer and three bottles of liquor across the J.C. Van Horner Bridge over Restigouche River from Pointe-à-la-Croix and the Listiguj First Nation Indian Reserve in Quebec into Campbellton, Brunswick. His alcohol was confiscated. He decided to fight this in court, and caught the attention of a team of lawyers focused on interprovincial trade issues: Arnold Schwisberg, Mikael Bernard and Karen Selick. Comeau’s defence was funded by the Canadian Constitution Foundation which took up his cause and prepared a case that finally came to judgment in late April.

The New Brunswick judge ruled that the law forbidding interprovincial transportation of alcohol was unconstitutional. The contravened phrase in the Constitution states “All Articles of the Growth, Produce, or Manufacture of any one of the Provinces shall, from and after the Union, be admitted free into each of the other Provinces”.  We all wait to see if an appeal is forthcoming, and if it is it will very likely become a case before the Supreme Court of Canada. But even so, Canada’s provincial liquor boards, in my opinion, have certainly lost any moral authority on this issue, and consumers and wineries should just go ahead and order, ship and sip.

Mr. Comeau, meanwhile, was asked by a reporter if his confiscated beer was ever returned to him.  He replied “no, and I am thirsty”. Only in Canada, eh?

Sub-Appellations in British Columbia

Since the 2015 harvest, B.C. has thoroughly embraced the study of sub-appellations and new appellations. The BC Wine Appellation Task Force was assembled, and has recommended a significant parsing of Okanagan wine regions, which makes sense given the incredibly diverse climatic, topographical and geological make up of the Okanagan. A report was tabled, and taken to a series of ‘town-hall’ meetings for discussion through the winter. We still await official reports from that process.

BC Wine Appellation Task Group Report

However, on May 7 Anthony Gismondi reported in the Vancouver Sun that “Some committee members I spoke with suggested it could be five to ten years before any smaller sub-GIs come to fruition in the Okanagan or on Vancouver Island, due mainly to opposition from the large and medium sized wineries who are decidedly content with broad appellations that suit their winemaking. If they all vote “No,” they have enough veto power to defeat any of the recommendations and the word is they prefer things as they are”.

I was rather surprised to read this. The mid and large size wineries have the luxury and flexibility to make wines of all designations, and it would seem wise to make different tiers from different appellations for different consumers and price points.

CheckMate Queen Taken Chardonnay

But Anthony’s comment triggered a recollection of comments by Ingo Grady of Mission Hill Family Estate when he was introducing the new Von Mandl Estates Checkmate chardonnays in Toronto in April. He chided the creation of sub-appellations in Niagara (established in 2005) and referred to creating sub-apps has the “ghetto-ization” of wine. I have long known and respected Ingo, and thought at the time that this was mostly about being playfully antagonistic. But in light of Anthony Gismondi’s comments, perhaps it does reveal an anti sub-app position by larger companies. I find this thinking ironic given that the five new $100 Checkmate chardonnays, which will only be sold to upscale restaurants on allocation, are very specifically single vineyard and by extension, sub-appellation wines.

Anthony Gismondi also reported that” it was very likely” that four “emerging” regions of B.C. would be given VQA approval. As he put it: “A handful of far flung regions benefitting from climate change hope to capitalize on the thirst for local wine with the establishment of four new geographic indications (GIs). The Thompson Valley, Shuswap, Lillooet-Lytton and Kootenays will likely be added to the mix with final boundaries subject to a review in consultation with regional stakeholders”. I have tasted an admittedly small sample size from each of these regions this year in the Canadian Wine Scholar course, but I have been impressed by Harpers Trail 2013 Riesling and Baillie-Grohman 2013 Pinot Noir

Harper's Trail Silver Mane Block Riesling 2013Baillie Grohman Pinot Noir 2013 Lightfoot And Wolfville Ancienne Chardonnay 2013 Southbrook Poetica Chardonnay 2013

The Terroir Conference in Toronto

In other national news, the annual Terroir Conference held at the Art Gallery of Ontario in late April presented a seminar and tasting on the Culture of Canadian Wine in Canada. Terroir has evolved over the years to be the leading culinary and wine forum for the hospitality industry in Toronto. Our seminar was sponsored this year by Wine Country Ontario. The panel consisted of winemakers and sommeliers from Atlantic Canada, Ontario and B.C., and included two flights of wines from three provinces. As panel leader I tried in vain to steer conversation to an esoteric view of national perceptions of Canadian wine, but rightfully so attention in the 90-minute program drilled into the eleven glasses on the table – sparkling and chardonnay from five appellations in three provinces. Heidi Noble of Joie Farm in Naramata, B.C., made what I thought was the single most important observation. “All these wines are just so elegant”. From Nova Scotia check out Lightfoot and Wolfville 2013 Ancienne Chardonnay and from Ontario Southbrook Poetica 2013 Chardonnay

The WineAlign National Wine Awards of Canada

National Wine Awards of CanadaLast but not least, we are looking forward to the 15th running of Canada’s leading national wine awards competition in Penticton June 22 to 26. Registration is open and deadlines are looming for entries.

The goal of The Nationals is to expose Canadian wine drinkers to the best in Canadian wines, and to provide winemakers a true benchmarking platform. There are no price categories in the competition, leaving each winery the opportunity to compete with the best wines in the country on a level playing field. 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, makes it the only competition with enduring post-competition sales opportunities. This year I plan to fully use the results of The Nationals as a springboard for commentary and discussion in this space. We are assembling the largest and finest group of judges to date, with the inclusion again of Dr. Jamie Goode of the UK and Elaine Chukan-Brown of Sonoma, California, our first American judge.

Hidden Bench Tête De Cuvée Chardonnay 2012Rosehall Run J C R Rosehall Vineyard Chardonnay 2013 Vineland Estates Elevation St. Urban Vineyard Riesling 2014 Spierhead Pinot Gris 2014 Laughing Stock Portfolio 2013

There is much more I could have covered in this report, but I will save some content for next time. Meanwhile, the click on the bottle images above to link to five more Canadian wines I think you might like to know about. All were encountered in a recent Canadian Wine Scholar course held in Toronto in April. Check www.FineVintageLtd.com for details on upcoming courses in Calgary and Edmonton June 18-19, Vancouver June 25-26, and Kelowna July 9-10.

If you have a minute, Wine Country Ontario would like you to answer a few questions concerning your views on travel and leisure in Ontario’s wine country. When you complete their short survey, you will be entered into a draw for your chance to win a weekend getaway in Ontario’s wine country. (See below to start the survey)

Cheers!

David Lawrason
VP of Wine

The Canadian Wine Report brings you News and commentary on Canadian wine from a national perspective. Which means that the subject matter, events and tastings have elements or implications beyond provincial and appellation boundaries.

Past issue: Speaking up for Canadian Wines

 


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Speaking up for Canadian Wines

The Canadian Wine Report – February 2016
by David Lawrason

So what do you think of this new Wines of Canada logo? It has been developed by the Canadian Vintners Association and regional associations to give a graphic face to Canadian wine. Nothing fuels debate like a new logo (or Canadian flag back in the day). Just ask those who created this one. It’s been months in the making.

Wines of Canada LogoI am delighted to use it to lead off a new monthly column discussing and debating Canadian wine. Yes, sure, it will discuss British Columbia wine, Ontario wine, Quebec wine and Atlantic wine. But all will be considered within a Canadian context. It will be a place where Canadians will get to know each others’ wines, where visitors to Canada and perhaps buyers of Canadian wine can learn a lot more about the diversity this country offers.

It will not be a rah-rah-Canada promotional tool. We already have our share of self-appointed blogging promoters – of VQA, of this region or that region, of this grape, of that wine style. I am thankfully Canadian, and increasingly proud of Canadian wine. But I am also very fond of wines from around the world – and I consider them equals. So you will never hear me put other places down as a way to prop Canada up. And I firmly believe Canadian wine can and will succeed on an equal footing with imported wines – and should receive no preferential economic or regulatory benefit. That kind of insecurity must go.

This column will be a place that shares important wine news, comment and debate from the provinces and the capital. It will educate, and talk about advancements. It will focus on achievements in the bottle, and the achievers. It will probe and prod where advancement is lacking. It will take to task Canada’s rusted legislative machinery that stands in the way of wineries doing their best and making a fair wage; machinery that prohibits Canadians from enjoying our wines barrier-free from coast to coast. It will take on anyone holding Canadian wine back out of economic or political self-interest.

It will encourage any event, publication or initiative that seeks to put Canadian wine collectively in front of audiences in any part of the country. There is only one such event that I am aware of – Gold Medal Plates – which raises funds for Canada’s Olympic athletes through a series of cross-country culinary competitions where chefs work with Canadian wine. It reaches about 500 people in each of ten cities. There was once a great initiative in the 1990s called Canada à la Carte that, flush with the excitement of the new VQA program, toured Canada as a food and wine road show. But there has been nothing like it since. The best consumers can hope to find would be wines from B.C, and Ontario under one roof at various wine shows, or maybe on the very rare restaurant wine list.

National Wine Awards of CanadaI am entering into this column partially to consolidate a focus on Canada in the latter part of my career, but it is not at all a new mission. Back in the late 1990s I began to write about Canadian wine from a national perspective in the Globe and Mail. In 2001 I teamed up with good friend Anthony Gismondi to create the Canadian Wine Awards which lives on today as the WineAlign National Wine Awards of Canada. At the same time we created the Canadian Wine Annual, which is now defunct but replaced by online directories like the Canadian Vintners Association’s www.wine411.ca. In 2008 I signed on with Gold Medal Plates because its purpose is to promote excellence in Canadian sport, food, wine, and music. And this year I began teaching a Canadian Wine Scholar certification course offered by James Cluer of Fine Vintage, Canada’s first Master of Wine. It has run in four cities to date – Vancouver, Toronto, Calgary and Kelowna – filling classes out of the gate. There is an appetite to taste nationally and understand the larger picture.

And it is in the classroom where the discussion of Canadian wine is best. I am stunned by how little and how few students in Toronto and Vancouver know about the wines of the other’s province – let alone the wines of Quebec and Atlantic Canada. And I am always annoyed by the inevitable debate and pronouncements about which provinces wines are best. Quality is not a regional issue – it’s a state of mind and experience by the winemaker. The only way to beat regional chauvinism is through education that creates a desire to explore.

This space will also feature other WineAlign writers who are every bit as interested in Canadian wine as I am. It will discuss themes arising out of the 2016 National Wine Awards, which are being held in Penticton in June. The Nationals are the best possible avenue to learn about Canadian wine via an objective study of what’s in the glass. Next month I am going to discuss Canadian wine and how it works with what is on the plate. In 2015 approximately 100 Canadian chefs selected Canadian wines for their Gold Medal Plates creations. What they chose and why is very informative.

Canadian Wine Reviews

And meanwhile, you can read about ten recently reviewed wines that deserve your attention. They are wines I have used in the Canadian Wine Scholar program. All are identified by their specific location (if known) followed by VQA Designated Viticultural Area (DV) or broader regional designation. Knowing the province is less relevant to me, and up to you to explore.

For those of you on Twitter, I’ve created a separate account called Lawrason’s Canada – for reviews & comments on Canadian wine. Follow @LawrasonW if you are interested.

Tantalus 2013 Old Vine Riesling, East Kelowna, Okanagan Valley

Stratus Red 2012, Four Mile Creek, Niagara Peninsula

Henry of Pelham 2010 Carte Blanche Brut, Short Hills Bench, Niagara Peninsula

Tantalus Old Vines Riesling 2013Stratus Red 2012Henry Of Pelham Cuvée Catharine, Carte BlancheSalt Spring Pinot Gris 2014Jost Vineyards Tidal Bay 2014

Salt Spring Island 2014 Pinot Gris, Gulf Islands

Jost 2013 Tidal Bay, Nova Scotia

Stanner’s Vineyard 2014 Pinot Noir, Hillier, Prince Edward County

Culmina 2012 Hypothesis, Okanagan Valley

Stanners Pinot Noir 2013Culmina Hypothesis 2012Averill Creek Pinot Noir 2010Rosehall Run JCR Rosehall Vineyard Chardonnay 2013Fort Berens Cabernet Franc 2013

Averill Creek 2010 Pinot Noir, Cowichan Valley, Vancouver Island

Rosehall Run 2013 JCR Chardonnay, Prince Edward County

Fort Berens 2013 Cabernet Franc, Lilloet, Fraser Canyon

Editors Note: You can find David’s complete critic reviews by clicking on any of the highlighted wine names, bottle images or links. Paid subscribers to WineAlign see all critics reviews immediately. Non-paid members wait 60 days to see new reviews. You can also explore the wineries of Canada on WineAlign here: Canada’s Winery Regions

 

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Join Canada’s Hottest 
New Wine Club

The National Wine Awards Wine of the Month Club
June 2016 Update – Tinhorn Creek

We’ve teamed up with My Wine Canada, the country’s top online wine store, to bring you a one of a kind wine club!

CHOOSE FROM FOUR PACKAGES Starting at just $85!Join Now!

Every year, WineAlign hosts the National Wine Awards of Canada where thousands of amazing wines from across Canada are entered into the competition for rigorous judging – and only a select few emerge as medal winners. The Top 25 Wineries in Canada are also named in this competition based on the hardware they take home. “The Nationals,” as the competition has been nicknamed, have quickly become Canada’s most prestigious award competition.

The National Wine of the Month Club

How it Works

Every month, one of the Top 25 wineries will send you a care package of 2, 4, 6, or 12 bottles of wine from their award-winning portfolio, along with tasting notes from respected WineAlign critics. You simply choose your bottle quantity and then sit back and relax, because your wine will be on its way to your door.

This month’s featured winery is Tinhorn Creek. Tinhorn Creek proudly offers estate grown wines, growing grapes on both the Black Sage and Golden Mile benches. As the first winery in Canada to support carbon neutral measures, Tinhorn Creek continues their commitment to land stewardship, conservation and environmentally sustainable practices. Family owned and operated, Tinhorn Creek offers an unrivaled visitor experience along with wines that rank among the best in the world.

Tinhorn Creek

Here’s a peek at some of the award winning wines featured in this month’s packages:

Tinhorn Creek 2014 Gewürztraminer, BC VQA Okanagan Valley – (NWAC15 – Gold)

Tinhorn Creek Gewürztraminer 2014NWAC15_Gold_Cropped_Whiteback

Tinhorn Creek 2012 Oldfield Series Merlot, BC VQA Okanagan Valley – (NWAC15 – Silver)

Tinhorn Creek Oldfield Series Merlot 2012NWAC15_Silver_Cropped_Whiteback

Tinhorn Creek 2014 Oldfield Series Rosé, BC VQA Okanagan Valley – (NWAC14 – Silver)

Tinhorn Creek Oldfield Series Rosé 2014NWAC15_Silver_Cropped_Whiteback

CHOOSE FROM FOUR PACKAGES Starting at just $85!Join Now!Choose from package of 2, 4, 6, or 12 bottles. You can rest assured that each wine you receive has been tasted, approved, and selected for you by respected wine critics.

Here’s a peek at what you’ll be receiving by package level:

(All taxes, shipping and handling fees are included in the package price, so you don’t have to worry about any extra charges)

2 bottle – Red & White @ $85

Tinhorn Creek 2014 Gewürztraminer – (NWAC15 – Gold)
Tinhorn Creek 2012 Oldfield Series Merlot – (NWAC15 – Silver)

4 bottle – Red & White @ $159
Tinhorn Creek 2014 Gewürztraminer – (NWAC15 – Gold)
Tinhorn Creek 2014 Oldfield Series Rosé – (NWAC15 – Silver)
Tinhorn Creek 2012 Oldfield Series Merlot – (NWAC15 – Silver)
Tinhorn Creek 2013 Cabernet Franc

6 bottle – Red & White @ $225

Tinhorn Creek 2014 Gewürztraminer – (NWAC15 – Gold)
Tinhorn Creek 2014 Oldfield Series Rosé – (NWAC15 – Silver)
Tinhorn Creek 2012 Oldfield Series Merlot – (NWAC15 – Silver)
Tinhorn Creek 2013 Cabernet Franc
Tinhorn Creek 2012 Oldfield Series 2Bench Red – (NWAC15 – Bronze)
Tinhorn Creek 2102 Oldfield Series Pinot Noir

12 bottle – Red & White @ $440

12-Bottle package will be the 6-bottle package x 2

After Tinhorn’s delicious wines hit your doorstep, you can look forward to more Award winning BC and Ontario Wineries in the months ahead, including: Mission Hill, Norman Hardie, Road 13 Vineyards, Trius Winery, Thirty Bench & Church & State.

Join Now!

 

Please note: In order to receive wine through My Wine Canada you must be of legal drinking age in the province or territory to which you are requesting that wine be shipped. Please refer to My Wine Canada’s Terms of Use for further details. WineAlign is not involved in the sale or shipment of any wine.


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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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Wolf Blass Yellow Label

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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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Concha Y Toro Don Melchor Cabernet Sauvignon 2010

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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

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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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WineAlign Reviews

Coldstream Hills Pinot Noir 2008