May was a busy month for local wineries seeking to capitalize on their competition successes: no less than four major California-based competitions announced results, on top of those from the prominent Decanter Awards, and the International Wine and Spirits Competition. However, all the international buzz shouldn’t drown out important recognition at home, which came in the form of two well-known competitions at the provincial and national level. The month began with results from the Okanagan Spring Wine Festival, in which fifteen noted judges reviewed a record of 430 BC wines in 23 different categories. For each category the judges noted the top 5% of wines as “Finalists”, with one wine per category being declared “The Best” of the best.
The Best of Varietal Awards can at the very least prompt one to try out a new wine or winery, and can sometimes yield surprising results. While there were plenty of familiar names and expected winners on the list, others have certainly piqued my curiosity and sent me seeking out bottles I’ve yet to delve into. I’d be remiss if I neglected Gray Monk’s Ehrenfelser, having cherished CedarCreek’s version for years, yet somehow regretfully overlooked the other handful of local producers growing this rare grape. Seeing fruit-focused winery Elephant Island noted for their Viognier has got me hopeful I can stop by the Naramata Bench during the upcoming Wine Blogger’s Conference in Penticton. But the biggest surprise for me was witnessing Summerland winery Silkscarf top finalists Painted Rock and (Sumac Ridge) Black Sage Vineyard in the Cabernet Sauvignon category. I’ve tried some of Silkscarf’s well-crafted white wines in the past, but they seem to be expanding into reds more so recently, with wines that include Malbec-Cabernet and Shiraz-Viognier. I hope I can either visit the winery in person soon, or at the very least acquire a bottle or two of these reds via VQA or private stores in the region.
Okanagan Spring Wine Festival: 2013 Best of Varietal Results
With the Spring Wine Festival dominating local industry headlines, and so many international competition results being announced last month, one had to keep a close watch for the outcome of the annual All Canadian Wine Championships. The Championships have been judging Canadian wine since 1981, and BC wines – particularly reds – often show very well. Ironically, after several years of BC domination this year’s Best Red Wine trophy went to an Ontario Cabernet Franc, while Best White Wine was awarded to Lang Vineyards’ 2011 Farm Reserve Riesling. In addition to tasting more than a thousand table wines, the competition judges examine dessert wines, fruit wines, and ciders, which led to several Best of Class awards for BC wineries this year, including the Best Dessert Wine trophy to Mission Hill for their 2011 Reserve Vidal Icewine.
All Canadian Wine Championships: Best of Class Winners from BC
Once again, some of the BC winners were not particularly surprising, but certainly worthy of celebration; while others provided for plenty of surprise indeed. It’s great to see new winery 50th Parallel already being noted for their success with Gewurztraminer, and they should soon come to dominate Pinot Noir rankings now that Grant Stanley has joined the team after ten years at Quails’ Gate. Looking at the Pinot Gris category I’m very happy for little River Stone: this small, family-owned winery triumphed in a category with massive competition: Pinot Gris is the third-most-harvested grape in BC, following Merlot and Chardonnay. In a similar vein, youthful SpierHead was honoured for the best Rosé, after having been open for only a couple of years! Unfortunately, only 155 cases of their first edition (Pinot Noir) Rosé were produced, so it remains winery-exclusive, at least for the 2012 vintage – a great reason to visit their Kelowna property!
Amongst red wines – where BC often performs particularly well nationally, CedarCreek is to be commended for their varietal Merlot win with a very nicely valued $20 bottle (it spent 21 months in French oak!). Oliver’s Tinhorn Creek must be pleased to have scooped the value Cabernet Franc category, what with Winemaker Sandra Oldfield’s oft-heard praise for the grape’s potential in British Columbia. Penticton winery La Frenz pulled off a coup with their $28 Cabernet Sauvignon dominating all others above $25, including what was likely many pricier competitors. Similarly, Quinta Ferreira’s $35 champion “Obra-Prima” red blend likely encountered fierce competition from wines in the $50+ range; I’ll definitely be searching for a bottle in the near future. I was pleasantly surprised to see CedarCreek win the $25+ Syrah category with their Platinum wine, seeing as I wasn’t sure there was to be a 2009 Platinum Syrah – the 2008 is still on the market. I’ll be quite happy to receive a bottle of the 2009 in one of my upcoming Platinum Club shipments. Also worth mentioning is Moon Curser’s brand new varietal Touriga Nacional, almost certainly a Canadian first, and already being praised on a national level.
Later this month the highly anticipated Lieutenant Governor’s Awards will be announced, which annually honour only a dozen (or fewer) BC wines as representing the pinnacle of winemaking excellence in the province. The blind-judged awards don’t categorize winners, nor does the competition charge for entries, which are limited to four per winery. Nearly half the wineries in BC typically enter their wines, so the judging panel often has about 400 bottles to narrow down to a mere 10-12 champions! Just as the Lt. Governor’s Awards are announced, the National Wine Awards of Canada will be wrapping up judging in Ontario. The Nationals replace the highly-respected Canadian Wine Awards, which ceased to be when sponsor Wine Access magazine folded earlier this year. Wine Align took up the torch and quickly organized the Nationals, which will blind-judge over 1,200 wines from across Canada before releasing results in September. Fans of BC wine can expect to hear plenty more good news over the next few months!