Gold for Canada

Article excerpt

If there were a wine Olympics, our offerings would bring home medals

It's staggering to think I tasted around 400 Canadian wines last week, but it's true -- I was in beautiful Penticton, B.C., to judge at the Wine Access 2012 Canadian Wine Awards.

Now in its 12th year -- this was my fifth year judging -- the competition brought 16 judges and over 1,200 wines from across the country together to take the pulse of the Canadian wine industry.

I'm pleased to report judges came away from the four days of tasting confident our wines are better than ever, and that most of our wines can stand up to the best the world has to offer. There was a real feeling among judges that wineries are increasingly focusing on making the wines best-suited to their region.

Judging goes like this: Wines are grouped by grape variety for judging (there are also categories like red/white blends, dessert wines, fortified wines, sparkling wines, fruit wines and mead) into sets of eight to 10 wines. Judges only know the grape variety/varieties in the wine, not the producer -- glasses come out from the back pre-poured so the bottles aren't seen.

The group of wines (called a flight) is tasted by one or two panels of three to four judges, who write down notes and assign the wine a score based on the 100-point scale commonly used by many wine publications/writers (including here). The best couple of wines from each preliminary flight go through to the final rounds, where the process is repeated.

Of the 1,200-plus wines submitted, around 15 per cent were red blends, typically made up of Bordeaux varieties (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc). Other categories with healthy representation included Chardonnay (oaked and unoaked, both of which did very well), Riesling (another strong category), Pinot Noir (excellent) and Pinot Gris/Grigio (hit-and-miss).

To the surprise of most judges, the grape that showed best throughout the preliminary rounds and final rounds was Syrah (a.k.a. Shiraz). Wines submitted in this category consistently showed beautiful purity and concentration of fruit, light tannins and great restraint when it came to oak aging and alcohol content.

In fact, the flight of nine Syrahs I tasted in later-round judging was the best collection of Canadian wine I've tasted in my five years of judging. Many were gold-medal caliber (90 points or higher), and a few undoubtedly went on to the Best Overall Red flight we tasted (grapes were kept from judges for that flight).

Sparkling wine was another category that brought incredible quality. …