Pinot Noir and White Single Varieties – Medal Winners from NWAC 2018

Announcing the Results from the 2018 National Wine Awards of Canada

In 2018, over 1,850 wines from 257 wineries were entered into the National Wine Awards of Canada, making this largest and most comprehensive wine competition in Canadian history. In late June, 22 judges assembled in Penticton BC for five full days to determine the best wines in Canada. Wines were tasted blind in multiple rounds based on category or style.

Due to the amazing array of top quality Canadian wines entered this year, we have decided to break the announcement of the results into more manageable pieces. Each day for the next two weeks we will be announcing a few categories at a time, with the highly-anticipated Platinum Awards to be announced on July 27th, the Best Performing Small Winery on July 30th, and finally the Winery of the Year, along with a list of the nation’s Top 25 Wineries, on July 31st. 

National Wine Awards of Canada

We’ve asked a few of our judges to summarize their impressions of each category. Today we present Pinot Noir, Gewürztraminer, Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier and other White Single Varieties with a few words from Michael Godel, Sara d’Amato, Janet Dorozynski and Treve Ring:

Pinot Noir

Category overview by judge Michael Godel

Where does Canadian pinot noir fit in the global spectrum? If it were just a simple matter of Ontario versus British Columbia that would be one thing but there are Nova Scotia and Quebec to consider and within the provinces so many sites of origin and stylistic variegation making it really difficult to identify the source. It may be a challenging and oft-times heartbreaking grape but in Canada it increasingly finds a way to ripen from coast to coast. Even if that were less true just five years ago the tenets of experience, acumen and passion have taken pinot noir to heights few believed it was capable of going. That winemakers can now produce so many varied examples tells us it’s here to stay.

Bourgogne uses the word Climat to define vineyards or rather the DNA of the vineyards and the official term is specific to wine while the reference lieux-dits is an administrative one. Many would argue that while dirt makes an impact it is climate that inflicts the most drama on a wine but even more important than climate and soil, it’s the people who give the terroir its cultural identity. In Canada these notions of accumulate knowledge that can be transmuted from generation to generation are developing so that each appellation or sub-appellation is managing to produce a specific style of wine from vintage to vintage.

In Ontario, there are pinot noir crus few would argue against the probability that, in most vintages, quality will be a guarantee. Crus like Lowrey Vineyard on the St. David’s Bench, top blocks in Prince Edward County, several vineyards up on the Beamsville Bench, Wismer-Foxcroft and many plots on the Twenty Mile Bench. In the Okanagan Valley there are many premier growing sites; East Kelowna, Naramata Bench, Okanagan Falls, Summerland, Lake Country, the Similkameen Valley and increasingly on Vancouver Island.

Producers in British Columbia may have more merlot planted than they can or want to have to deal with but in red grape terms, pinot noir is it. There are more single-vineyard, name-assigned, block-designate, terroir collection, (x) series and (Y) cuvées attributed to the grape than any other. Granted some passion projects are giving some love to gamay and cabernet franc but the attention doted upon pinot noir is unequaled and unprecedented. Proof is in the tabulated pudding, so to speak, with the final results at NWAC2018 showing what’s what.


Category overview by judge Sara d’Amato

We seem to be impressed with gewürztraminer on the whole in Canada as 14 out of 48 wines submitted were awarded a medal. As was the case last year, British Columbia is a standout in this category having been responsible for 12 out of the 14 medalled wines. This is a rewarding outcome for a province who devotes a great deal of effort to this spicy, fragrant and often unctuous wine. As of 2015, over 11% of B.C. white production was dedicated to gewürztraminer and it ranked 3rd in most valued crop according to the British Columbia Wine Grape Crop Report.

The variety’s inherently low acidity, higher sugar levels (resulting in high alcohol) and intensely aromatic character makes it a distinctive and somewhat polarizing wine in terms of consumer appreciation. Alsatian vs. Germanic benchmark styles can be generalized in terms of sweetness and alcohol – the former dry, often more ripe and higher in alcohol while the latter sweeter and less alcoholic. In the new world, levels of sweetness vary based on producer more than by region. Gewürztraminer can be made very sweet, very dry or somewhere in the middle but alcohol levels tend to be more reflective of region and vintage.

Gewürztraminer is not a particularly cold-hardy grape variety with high susceptibility to winter damage. It is best grown in areas where cold does not settle or in climates with gentler winter conditions, such as in the northern Okanagan. Regardless of origin, trending among the submissions were styles that were dry to just off-dry. The most notable pitfalls were lack of concentration and heavy-handed use of sulphur dioxide (resulting in dirty aromas). The best examples offered good acid-sweetness-alcohol balance which can be hard to achieve with this variety.

Sauvignon Blanc

Category overview by judge and panel leader Janet Dorozynski

Sauvignon Blanc is the classic white grape variety of Sancerre in the Loire Valley and as a blending component in the some of Bordeaux’s most interesting white blends. But it was New Zealand who really brought Savvy, as they call it, to the attention of many of the world’s wine drinkers and I’m sure has been the inspiration behind a number of the vineyards planted in Canada.

There is a decent amount of plantings of sauvignon blanc in both British Columbia and Ontario, with the former producing wines that tend to be riper, more fruit forward and at times blowsy. In Ontario, where the variety is particularly sensitive to winter cold, the sauvignon blancs leans toward a leaner, more herbaceous style with a more prominent display of the characteristic bell pepper for which the grape is known.

The entries at this year’s Nationals were split almost evenly between Ontario (all 3 appellations) and British Columbia (the Okanagan Valley and Vancouver Island) and after last year’s absence of gold, there were 5 gold medals with Ontario edging out BC slightly with one more gold in the count. There was also a strong showing with 10 silver medals, with much to discover for fans of this grape variety.

The team at Peller Estates and Trius in Ontario continue to lead the way for sauvignon blanc, with intense but restrained styles with added complexity from their use of wild yeast fermentation.  While in British Columbia, the top scoring sauvignon blancs from Howling Bluff and Maverick tend toward more fruit intensity and richness coming from either oak or some skin contact in the initial stages of wine making.


Category overview by judge Sara d’Amato

It is not easy to make great viognier. The grape is inherently low-yielding, late-ripening, susceptible to mildew and produces low acidity and high alcohol. A top viognier requires exacting conditions and very sensitive winemaking. It is no wonder it was on the brink of extinction after phylloxera. Jancis Robinson reports in her landmark book Vines, Grapes & Wines written in 1985, that she was able to identify only 32 hectares of this grape variety planted globally. At the time, most of those plantings were located in the northern Rhône region of Condrieu. The steep, rocky terraces to which this paltry amount of viognier was clinging were challenging to farm and a notable example of “extreme viticulture”.

Despite precarious prospects, the viognier fairy tale does have a happy ending. Due to its high quality potential expressing wildly addictive perfume, opulent texture as well as an overall heady profile, regional producers persisted and as a result, global respect and demand followed. Now, the land planted to viognier has increased 5 times in the northern Rhône and has spread to the south where it is characteristically blended with marsanne, roussane and grenache blanc among other varieties. Stunning examples are now grown in relative abundance in Australia as well as California. Chile and New Zealand continue to impress with their results while British Columbia and Ontario have also joined the ranks of viognier producing regions.

The results of the National Wine Awards of Canada 2018 show that there is still work to be done in this category but there is potential for some outstanding quality, most notably in British Columbia. With the exception of one Niagara example, all of the medals were awarded to B.C. wines from areas where heat units were high and humidity low.

Producers have to contend with a number of issues when making viognier and because we are relatively new to the variety in Canada, it is understandable that some refining is necessary. Some of the pitfalls include over-cropping which can lead to dilute and uncharacteristic wines. Despite the emphatic aromas of viognier, oak treatment can be a downer, muffling the wine’s exuberance. High scoring wines had dialed back new oak, allowing viognier’s glorious perfume to dominate. Better examples used sulphur judiciously. Small amounts of residual sugar were noted in some wines as sugar in viognier is inherently high and can be difficult to ferment fully dry on occasion. Styles overall were varied but the best manifested the exotic disposition of this sun-seeking variety.

Other White Single Varieties

Category overview by judge and panel leader Treve Ring

It was an impressive medal year in the White Single Varieties (others) category, and especially so for BC, sweeping all but three of the medals, and taking all of the platinums (Note: Platinum awards will be announced on Friday). It’s a testament to the diversity of grapes and styles being produced here that the seven platinum and gold medals awarded covered roussanne, semillon, albarino, and chenin blanc, with the first three grapes each gaining two medals. Bronze continued to trek through the grape encyclopedia, bringing grüner veltliner, siegerrebe, muscat, madeleine sylvaner, petit milo, ortega, vidal and ehrenfelser to the podium. Top wines combined concentration with freshness, and structure with sensitivity, understanding that power alone is not ever enough to rise to the top of the ranks.

National Wine Awards of Canada National Wine Awards of Canada Judges