Rewarding excellence in Canadian wine
The journey to find Canada's best wines
Year one of the Wine Access Canadian Wine Awards was a stress-filled three days. David Lawrason and I, plus 10 judges, were crammed in what we could afford: a tiny, attic-like space at the Fairmont Royal York in Toronto.
Wine Access 2011 Canadian Wine Awards
The Fairmont Royal York is a beautiful hotel, but the space we had was a far cry from the spacious ballrooms of the Delta Hotel high above Halifax Harbour where, for five days this year, 15 gifted Canadian judges assessed a record 1,117 wines, all tasted blind. In the back room, an equally talented staff and volunteers unpacked, poured, served and repacked every bottle without a hitch.
Yes, the national circle has finally closed, 11 years after the start of the Wine Access Canadian Wine Awards. Throughout the years, we have stopped across the country in Victoria, Penticton, Toronto and Niagara-on-the-Lake, but the journey was incomplete until the 2011 edition took us to Nova Scotia and the magical Annapolis Valley.
The reception given to the judges and the back-room team was genuine and disarming and for the first time ever, it felt as if we were finally accomplishing our goal of raising the wine bar across Canada — of encouraging winemakers to do their very best, always, and then recognizing that excellence.
Nova Scotia wine
Take Nova Scotia, for instance. The province’s producers have learned a great deal from some of the original industry visionaries in Niagara, the Okanagan and the world, and have quickly improved their wines. I will never forget standing inside the industrialchic, highly efficient Benjamin Bridge winery this summer, while sipping mind-blowing sparkling wines that would challenge any highly rated French Champagne.
Then again, almost all Canadian-made wines are better than ever — perhaps the most exciting discovery of the 2011 CWA.
Canadian wine keeps improving
The repeat win by Tawse Winery as the Winery of the Year suggests winemaker Paul Pender has his house in order. The six gold medals that have been awarded to Tawse, both this year and as last year’s Winery of the Year, put an exclamation mark on the competition’s ability to reward excellence from year to year.
The judges displayed a deft ability to not only find the best wines, but to find them many times throughout the week-long tastings. It has turned into more than just a competition; it is a Polaroid photo, an annual snapshot of the state of Canadian wine.
Almost all the wine this year is better than previous years, making it tougher than ever for winemakers to capture a gold or silver medal. Big, fat, ripe oaky wines, brimming with coffee and chocolate notes, are less likely to make it to the finals than a decade ago. Ditto for high-alcohol wines. Finesse, balance, acidity, flavour and the taste of some sort of elusive terroir are the new standards by which all wines are judged. And they still performed brilliantly.
Speaking of standards, we may raise ours next year. With so many wineries in sight of the bar, we think it would be prudent to raise it another notch.