The scores have been tallied, and for the third year in a row, Ontario's Tawse winery has been named Wine Access magazine's Winery of the Year at the 2012 Canadian Wine Awards.
In 2010, Tawse was the first Ontario winery to take the CWA's top spot, and has held the honour ever since.
Like an increasing number of Ontario producers, their focus is on Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, made in an elegant, balanced style that's well-suited to the Niagara Peninsula's cooler climate. They also do Riesling, some heavier reds, and a few icewines, among others.
British Columbia's Nk'Mip Cellars took second place in the competition (up from fourth last year), while the Okanagan's Painted Rock Estate Winery held firm in the No. 3 spot. Rounding out the top five were B.C.'s Church & State Wines and Road 13 Vineyards, placing fourth and fifth, respectively.
In Manitoba, Liquor Marts carry the Tawse Echos Chardonnay and Riesling, and the Riesling and Cabernet Franc icewines (private wine stores have the option of carrying these as well). Banville & Jones also has the Echos Rosé, the Sketches Riesling and Chardonnay, the Grower's Blend Pinot Noir and the Meritage, a Bordeaux-style red blend.
The full results will be published in the 2013 Canadian Wine Annual, hitting shelves in May. Check out www.wineaccess.ca/cwa as they roll out some of the category winners online.
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Manitoba Liquor Marts are in the process of updating their website -- which has gone virtually unchanged since the late 1990s -- and announced the beta version of their new site in late December. Visit liquormarts.ca (rather than .com) to get a feel for what things are going to look like. The most welcome addition: the availability tab under each product, showing how much of each product is at each store.
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My 2013 wine calendar is already starting to fill up. I'm heading to Portugal in early February for a week with a few other wine writers -- specifically, to visit the Vinho Verde and Oporto regions of the country.
While I'm certainly familiar with Portugal's rustic reds, the crisp, almost-effervescent whites of Vinho Verde and Oporto's wide variety of rich, intense ports, I'm not as familiar with the overall Portuguese wine category as I am, say, Australia, California or Canada -- regions from which we see a lot more wines. (There are 103 products from Portugal listed on the Liquor Marts beta website, including two beers and many ports.)
I'm really excited to meet producers face to face, visit some wineries and taste their products, especially alongside locals and their cuisine. (The after-hours local "culture research" should be fun, too.) I'll update my blog space on the Winnipeg Free Press website whenever possible while I'm there.
Portuguese wine has the potential to follow in neighbouring Spain's footsteps. One trend noted in last week's column was the increasing popularity of Spanish wines -- they're great-value wines often made from regional/indigenous grapes, and are extremely food-friendly. The potential for Portugal to ride Spain's coattails to greater popularity is there much in the same way Argentina followed in Chile's footsteps in breaking through in the North American market.
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Note: The two Canadian wines were tasted while judging at the 2012 Canadian Wine Awards in fall 2012. As such, a) they have likely evolved since then and b) vintages in Manitoba may vary. Don't let that stop you from buying either.
NK'MIP CELLARS 2010 PINOT NOIR
(Okanagan Valley, B.C. -- $19.99, Liquor Marts and beyond)
Darker in colour than many Pinot Noirs, the Nk'Mip offers delicate cherry candy, strawberry and perfume notes on the nose, with impressive Old World earthiness in there, as well. It's medium-bodied and vibrant, with cherry and blueberry flavours dominant in the fruit department and accentuated by white pepper, leafy and earthy notes. 90/100
TAWSE 2010 SKETCHES RIESLING
(Niagara Peninsula, Ont. -- $19.99, Banville & Jones)
Waxy, slightly sweaty aromas linger behind the initial lemon peel and green apple aromas in a way that's reminiscent of some of the most complex German Rieslings. It's slightly off-dry, and the sweetness and acidity make the juicy apple and lemon flavours that much more lively while the floral and flinty notes add depth. 90/100
VARAS 2010 VINHO TINTO
(Lisboa, Portugal -- $9.99, Liquor Marts and beyond)
A blend of indigenous grapes (Castel£o, Tinta Roriz, Tinta Barroca) and Pinot Noir, the Varas shows deep cherry, plum, leather, blackberry and spice notes on the nose. Medium-bodied and juicy, the dark berry and cherry notes are ripe and plush, with light earthy tannin and acidity giving this red better balance and structure than you'd expect for the rock-bottom price. I'm impressed. 88/100
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