The (northern hemisphere) spring is a particularly popular awards season for wine, with several prestigious international competitions announcing their results during the month of May. These competitions include such well-known awards as the London-based Decanter World Wine Awards, and the UK International Wine and Spirit Competition, as well as four California-based competitions: the Pacific Rim Wine Competition, the Riverside International Wine Competition, the New World International Wine Competition, and the Los Angeles International Wine Competition.
The Decanter Awards, held in London, is celebrating its tenth anniversary, and crowns the top wines on an international stage. The Awards are considered the world’s leading wine competition, with judging performed this year by 219 experts, including 75 Masters of Wine. Amongst a field of 14,362 wines entered, only 229 emerged with a coveted gold medal. Seven of those gold medals came back to Canada, including three for British Columbian wines: JoieFarm 2011 Reserve Chardonnay (not yet released), Quails’ Gate 2010 Stewart Family Reserve Chardonnay (sold out), and See Ya Later Ranch 2011 Riesling. The three prestigious Regional Trophies for Canadian wine included Mission Hill’s 2011 Martin’s Lane Pinot Noir (not yet released), and Nk’Mip’s 2011 Qwam Qwmt Riesling Icewine.
The International Wine and Spirit Competition has a long history of not only celebrating the wines of the world, but putting them through rigorous analysis as well. The competition took shape in 1969 after the “Club Oenologique” was founded by wine chemist Anton Massel, with the idea that extensive chemical analysis would reveal aspects of wines and spirits beyond what a subjective judge could detect. As a result, scores in the competition can depend on proportions of sulphur dioxide, acetic acid, sugar, and alcohol, and consideration of how such factors will influence the ageability of the product in question.
The Northern Hemisphere Wine results from this year’s IWSC recognized a small number of Canadian wines as superb among their peers. A total of 208 Canadian wines received medals at the competition, but only six were considered by the judges (and lab work) to have possessed qualities worthy of gold status. Five of the gold medals went to Canadian icewines, including the 2011 Vidal and SLC Riesling from Mission Hill, as well as Inniskillin’s 2011 Riesling. Perhaps most exciting was the news that See Ya Later Ranch was awarded gold for their 2010 “Rover” Shiraz-Viognier, released last July and yet still broadly available for the bargain price of only $25!
Smaller international competitions include the Pacific Rim Wine Competition, which has been judging wines from all across the world in California each April since 1985. The two-day Competition involves blind judging by thirty wine professionals tasked with evaluating about two thousand wines. This year, more than 60 BC wines received medal status, including multiple gold medals, but nine stood above and were declared Best of Class in their particular categories, which are often divided based on vintage and price point. Oliver winery Desert Hills received three Best of Class gold medals, and Naramata Bench property Red Rooster was recognized for two wines, while Quails’ Gate’s marvellous 2010 Chardonnay was recognized yet again.
Pacific Rim Wine Competition: Best of Class Winners from BC
Unsurprisingly, California stages more than one annual international wine competition, with the Riverside Competition also judging approximately two thousand wines annually over the past thirty years. This year Naramata Bench winery La Frenz entered their wines for the first time, and were rewarded with a huge bounty of awards, including being named Best Small Winery alongside Winery of the Year Francis Ford Coppola Winery. Just last year BC winery Wild Goose was honoured with the same Small Winery award at the Competition. La Frenz received two Best of Class–Unanimous Gold “Chairman’s Awards” for their 2011 Viognier and 2012 Sauvignon Blanc, as well as four more gold medals, including Best of Class for their 2011 Sauvignon Blanc-Semillon and 2012 Riesling.
Several additional gold medals went to BC wineries at the Riverside Competition, including another Chairman’s Award to Calona Vineyards for their 2012 Sovereign Opal, and one to Red Rooster for their 2012 Reserve Viognier. Three gold medals went to Bench 1775 for their 2011 vintage “Paradise Ranch” line of icewines and dessert wines, and three to JoieFarm for wines including their 2011 Gamay and 2011 PTG blend – with both wines to be released this September. JoieFarm also achieved a significant coup at the Competition when their 2012 “Think Pink” Rosé was named “Sweepstakes Rosé Wine” – the best rosé amongst all categories!
A third annual competition in California keeps the state’s wine judges well practiced, when it comes time for the New World International Wine Competition, founded by respected wine columnist Jerry Mead in 1990. The competition has a unique focus on comparing wines within price categories to provide greater information for consumers, and all wines are tasted and judged double blind to avoid any bias. For the 2013 competition a number of BC wineries submitted their wines, and several brought home particularly notable awards, including Best of Varietal/Best of Class for Burrowing Owl’s 2010 Cabernet Franc, and for Nk’Mip’s 2011 Riesling Icewine. Double Gold medals went to Desert Hills for their 2008 Mirage red blend (not yet released), to Red Rooster for their 2011 Reserve Pinot Noir, and to Nk’Mip for their (newly released) 2009 Qwam Qwmt Syrah.
Finally, the Los Angeles International Wine Competition also takes place each May, and a number of BC wines received top honours there this year as well. Like other respectable competitions, the LA Competition involves blind judging by “an esteemed panel of judges” (100 in fact), and has been running for 74 years at the LA County Fair. Wines were limited to those from California, and then the Americas for many decades, until 2002 when the competition was opened up internationally. In the 2013 Competition, six BC wines received Best of Class honours, including a recent favourite of mine – Fort Berens 2012 Riesling, estate grown in Lillooet! Poplar Grove took home Cabernet Franc class honours, and Burrowing Owl scoped up Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot prizes, while JoieFarm demonstrated further competency via their upcoming Reserve Gewurztraminer. Lastly, Golden Mile stalwarts the Gehringer Brothers received the nod for best (Pinot) Auxerrois (an oft-neglected variety in the New World, but also produced locally by Gray Monk).
LA International Wine Competition: Best of Class Winners from BC
All this good news for BC ensures plenty of opportunities for local consumers to try out a Best of Class wine, but folks will need to act fast because competition for limited bottles will soon heat up as word gets around. Soon to come, a summary of some important domestic awards ceremonies that recently named a collection of BC’s best!