Sauvignon Blanc, Syrah & Riesling – Medal Winners from NWAC 2022

Announcing the Results from the 2022 National Wine Awards of Canada

The 21st running of the National Wine Awards of Canada wrapped up on June 23 in Niagara. Category results will be rolling out throughout the rest of July, with the final Platinum, Best Performing Small Winery, and Winery of the Year announcements coming at the end of this month. We hope you will stay tuned to follow the results and become engaged in anticipating the final results.


Platinum Pack Case 2022 with Light


We’ve asked a few of our judges to summarize their impressions of each category. Today we present Sauvignon Blanc, Syrah & Riesling:

Sauvignon Blanc

Category Overview by Judge Janet Dorozynski Ph.D, DipWSET

While sauvignon blanc is not widely planted in Canada and is susceptible to our cold winter temperatures, a number of wineries do plant the variety to make both single varietal wines and as part of a blend with Semillon or other aromatic white varieties. Stylistically Canadian sauvignon blanc is neither New Zealand nor Sancerre though leans toward the latter if anything. In terms of quality, if I had to had to pick a “most improved” category since I’ve been judging at the Nationals it would be sauvignon blanc. Gone is the trepidation upon hearing flights of sauvignon blanc were on the way, but rather enjoyment and excitement from a new wave and crop of wines from east and west.

The medal winners are almost equally split between Ontario and British Columbia with Ontario having a slight majority. The winners are a mix of tried and true names along with wineries that are lesser known for the variety. The complexity and superiority of this year’s gold medal wines, two from Ontario and one from British Columbia, serve as a testament of  good quality fruit and delft handling in the winery, whether that be through lees contact, whole bunch pressing or indigenous yeast fermentation. The Trius Showcase Wild Ferment has made several past high scoring appearances at previous Nationals, which I believe illustrates that there is something special about the warmer sites and sub-appellations of Niagara-on-the-Lake, along with other pockets throughout the Niagara Peninsula and the Naramata Bench sub-GI of the Okanagan Valley.


Category Overview by Judge Geoffrey Moss, MW

Syrah is responsible for some of the most exciting wines in Canada and that’s reflected in this year’s results, with four platinum and 14 gold medals. The Syrah flights are a joy to taste, not just because of the incredible highs but also the consistent quality. Across Canada, the story is evolving. It’s no longer about the potential of Syrah. Canadian Syrah has rightfully earned its reputation – not just coast-to-coast, but internationally as well – and the top wines are highly sought after. 

Year-in and year-out, Syrah is arguably the top-performing red grape variety in the Okanagan and Similkameen. 83 percent of this year’s Syrah medal winners come from British Columbia, which is indicative of the province’s ability to produce world-class Syrah. The wines often show a combination of ripe, lush dark fruits balanced with the variety’s inherent savoury qualities. It makes for wines that are captivatingly complex, and that still manage to retain their freshness even after long, warm summer days.

CedarCreek and Mission Hill’s platinum medal Syrahs, both from Jagged Rock Vineyard and the spectacular 2020 vintage, show the opulent ripeness expected from the Black Sage Bench, bursting with fruit and lifted by floral aromatics and desert sagebrush. Across the valley on the Golden Mile Bench, on sandy soils interwoven with gravel, La Frenz’s platinum 2019 Syrah from Rockyfeller Vineyard is juicy and elegant, with peppery spice.   

Other gold medal winners show that exceptional Syrah can truly be found throughout the Okanagan and Similkameen. Painted Rock’s 2019 Syrah comes from their estate vineyard on Skaha Bench, a relatively new sub-GI in the Okanagan overlooking Skaha Lake. And Lake Breeze’s 2018 Mistral Syrah is sourced further north from the well-travelled Naramata Bench. Or there’s the neighbouring Similkameen Valley, with highlights like Corcelette’s 2019 Syrah from Keremeos’ Upper Bench. 

There’s also more focus on site, and single vineyard bottlings represent a number of the top wines. Look no further than Rust Wine Co. and their collection of single vineyard Syrahs, which includes their 2019 South Rock Vineyard Syrah.

In Niagara, the ripeness may be dialled back, but the wines are no less compelling. They’re more often red-fruited and intensely savoury, with outstanding freshness and purity. This is beautifully illustrated by the spicy, meaty platinum-winning 13th Street Reserve Syrah, as well as the gold medal wines from Stratus and Trius. It leaves you wanting more (just 592 tons of Syrah were processed in Ontario in 2021), but the real challenge is the variety’s cold hardiness. It thrives on the warm sites in part because it survives on the warm sites.

Whether from British Columbia or Ontario, we see Syrah in a multitude of expressions. Most importantly, what often comes through is a true sense of place. The wines are not Rhône-styled. They are not Barossa-styled. They’re uniquely Okanagan, Similkameen, and Niagara – each identifiably its own. 



Category Overview by Judge John Szabo, MS

Canada’s proficiency with, and refinement of Riesling continues with relentless progress. In 2022, at least by the numbers, it is the single most successful category overall, with 96 medal winners. The most impressive statistic, however, is the six platinum medals awarded this year, two more than any other category (pinot, chardonnay and syrah each garnered four platinum medals), and an NWAC category record. Compare that to just one riesling platinum awarded in both 2021 and 2019. Now add in the 23 gold medals this year, and it’s abundantly clear that Canada does riesling really, really well, and is getting even more confident with the grape.

The other unmatchable aspect of the riesling category is value, or more poignantly, pleasure for money. The average price of a bottle across all 96 medal winners comes in at $27.63. And if you’re thinking that the bronze medal-winning wines in the mix bring down that average price, check this out: the average price for the six platinum rieslings is less, at just $27.41. (The 23 gold winners averaged $27.86 per bottle). While the most expensive Canadian rieslings now reach $50, that still means there are plenty of medal/pleasure-worthy wines under $20, and even under $15. That’s exciting.

Regarding the geographical distribution of excellence, this year’s results prove once again that Ontario and BC run neck and neck with the variety. Canada’s two largest winemaking provinces earned an even three platinums apiece, while Ontario just nips the post with 12 of the 23 gold medals. Digging slightly deeper, it was clear again the hot spot for riesling in BC is the northern Okanagan Valley around Kelowna, and in Ontario along the Niagara Escarpment in the so-called “Bench” sub-regions, with, of course, a handful of notable exceptions worth a detour.

All in all, no big surprises in the riesling category in 2022, just continued clarity on the best sites, and confirmation of the overall excellence and value on offer. Riesling lovers, rejoice!



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