The tastings for this year's 2019 Wine Align National Wine Awards of Canada (NWAC) took place in Ontario’s Prince Edward County from June 8 – 14. Co-founders Anthony Gismondi and David Lawrason assembled a team of judges drawn from Canada’s leading wine writers, wine educators, sommeliers and other wine professionals to assess more than 1800 wines.
Organized into flights by grape variety or style then tasted blind - numerous times, by multiple panels - wines are assessed and awarded Bronze, Silver, Gold or Platinum status.
Gamay is the grape grown in France to make Beaujolais. At its richest, in France, in Cru Beaujolais from Morgon or Moulin a Vent,
it is at its sassiest in the teeth-staining purple juice released on the third Thursday of November - called Beaujolais Nouveau.
Judged worthy of a Gold Award at the 2019 NWAC, Joie Farm Gamay 2017 $24.99 opens with earthy black cherry aromas and flavours. Dusky, ripe blackberry emerges next, surrounded in a swirl of underlying red berry notes – raspberry, cranberry and pomegranate. For such an intensely fruity red, it is unabashedly dry and herbaceous on the finish.
Pinot Noir is a chameleon. It can be made as a white-styled Blanc de Noir - still or sparkling - it makes delicious rosés, delicately light bodied reds, fully fruited medium bodied reds and surprisingly smoky, earthy, beetroot and liquorice infused reds with complex flavours that linger almost forever.
Definitely in the third category Spearhead Pinot Noir GFV Saddle Block 2017 $37.97 was awarded a Gold Award at 2019's NWAC. Grown in the winery's Gentleman's Farmer Vineyard in southeast Kelowna, it blends grapes from 3 different Dijon clones. Black cherry, plum and earthy blackberry flavours reveal underlying notes of liquorice and cloves, beets and wet tree bark.
Cabernet Franc is beginning to be taken almost as seriously in the Okanagan Valley as it is at its home in Chinon, in France's Loire Valley. Wines made from grapes grown in and around Okanagan Falls seem more vegetal in character, like the Loire's Chinons. Father south, around Oliver darker fruit flavours and sandy, sagebrush notes are more apparent.
A medium bodied red, Rust Wine Co. Cabernet Franc 2017 $24.99 picked up a Bronze Award at the 2019 NWAC. Sweet black raspberry aromas and flavours are underpinned by fresh-sliced green pepper notes, tomato leaf and a sprinkling of white pepper throughout the finish.
No clear style has emerged in the Okanagan Valley's Syrah-based red wines. As in France's northern Rhône, white Viognier grapes are sometimes co-fermented with the red Syrah grapes adding floral notes of honeysuckle and violets to the berry fruitiness of this supple red.
Winner of a Platinum Award at 2019's NWAC, Hester Creek Syrah Viognier $29.99 includes 16 per cent Viognier. Aromas of honeysuckle precede the layers of strawberry, cherry,
blackcurrant and blackberry flavours that ride above sweet smoky, oaky vanilla, caramel and coconut in every sip. Despite the sweet fruit, there's plenty of refreshingly sassy brightness in this remarkable wine.
The most widely planted red wine grape in the Okanagan Valley, Merlot is the primary grape in Bordeaux-styled blends. However, given the same care and attention in the vineyard that is often reserved for Pinot Noir, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot can produce consistently complex wines.
Bench 1775 Merlot 2015 $34.90 came home with a Silver Award from 2019's NWAC. Beyond the dense, ripe black plum and black cherry aromas and flavours there is a savoury vein of liquorice, tobacco leaf and earthy cedar running through the fruit. Give this red and hour in a decanter to loosen up the wealth of underlying complexities it delivers.
British Columbia's ripest Cabernet Sauvignon grapes come from vineyards in the Oliver and Osoyoos area. Sufficiently irrigated, the northern tip of the Sonoran Desert provides the heat and sunshine that 'The King' of red wines requires.
Out of one of the hottest vintages on record, the 2015 Burrowing Owl Cabernet Sauvignon $45.99 earned a Gold Award at 2019's National Wine Awards of Canada. Rich ripe blackcurrant, sage, cedar and tobacco aromas and flavours dominate, with mint, soy,
olive and molasses emerging as the wine breathes. To really appreciate it, decant this for at least an hour... or, even better, cellar it for three to five years.
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