About one third of the 1,500 wines I taste in a calendar year are made in Canada. Swirling, sniffing and (mostly) spitting so many Canadian wines gives me a chance to taste what we're doing best in this country's main wine-producing regions, and provides more than enough ammunition to argue against those that insist Canada doesn't produce world-class wines.
This was reinforced a couple weeks ago when I served as a judge at the 2013 B.C. Wine Awards in Penticton. Over the course of three days, nine judges from across North America tasted 500 wines. We sampled the wines blind --knowing the vintage and grape variety/varieties but not the producer or price.
Focusing solely on B.C. wines provided incredible insight into the state of that province's wine industry --how different regions are faring growing the same grapes, as well as the ways wineries are working with different grape varieties based on varying climate and soil conditions.
It also offered a chance to taste a wide selection of wines made during the "challenging" 2011 vintage. Those less fortunate and/or careful in the 2011 vintage ended up with reds that lacked some ripeness, with harder tannins and milder fruit. For the most part, however, even those with slightly green notes had good balance and structure.
In the white wine category, meanwhile, there was plenty to cheer about. While there were no gold medals awarded for Chardonnay this year, there were still some very good wines made from the grape,both oaked and unoaked. It just so happened that other white wine grapes -- including Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris and aromatic varieties like Riesling, Viognier and Gewºrztraminer --showed a touch better.
Chenin Blanc in particular showed incredibly well, and it's a real shame many wineries decided to rip out Chenin vines over the last 15 or so years and replace them with other grapes. The Quails Gate Chenin Blanc (see review) nearly won the award for best white wine of the show, while the Road 13 sparkling Chenin Blanc took top prize for the second year in a row among B.C. bubblies.
Syrah continues its upswing in B.C., as evidenced by the strong half-dozen wines tasted in the gold-medal round of judging. And while there were also some strong Bordeaux-style Meritage red blends made from Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot, lighter, more delicate wines made from Pinot Noir and Gamay Noir more than held their own.
The region that most impressed me at the B.C. Wine Awards was the Similkameen valley, which sits between the Okanagan valley in the east and the Fraser River in the west. Cooler than many of the southern spots in the Okanagan valley, it was a Semillon-Sauvignon Blanc blend from this region that won the best white wine of the show -- and a Gamay Noir from Similkameen nearly snatched the top spot on the red wine side, too.
For the full results, visit wfp.to/bcwa13.
Looking for last-minute Thanksgiving wines? You could do far worse than either of these wines...
QUAILS GATE ESTATE WINERY 2012 CHENIN BLANC
(Okanagan Valley, B.C. --$18.99, Liquor Marts and beyond)
A gold-medal winner at the B.C. Wine Awards, this white is quite pale in colour, with delicate herbal, chalky, melon and honeyed aromas. It's a fresh, light-bodied white that delivers fresh apple flavours with a dab of honey and a hint of spice on the light-plus bodied palate. This wine was in the conversation for white wine of the year --it's stellar. 4.5/5
GRAY MONK 2012 PINOT GRIS
(Okanagan Valley, B.C. --$20.18, Liquor Marts and beyond)
Peach, fresh apple, herbal and light chalky notes are fresh and clean on the nose of this Pinot Gris. Light-bodied and crisp, the Gray Monk brings green apple, lemon and peach flavours on the palate, with a splash of acidity that provides some decent intensity. It should fare well with your holiday bird. 3/5