National Wine Awards

National Wine Awards celebrate best of Canada’s wineries

The 21st edition of the WineAlign National Wine Awards of Canada wrapped up on June 23 in Niagara, celebrating the best of what the country has to offer.

Defined by co-founder Anthony Gismondi as “a yearly snapshot of the state of Canadian wine,” the National Wine Awards are comfortably Canada’s largest wine awards, with nearly 1,900 entries this year.

The awards were conceived to give wineries a place to benchmark their wine among their peers across the country, to give consumers an unbiased report on the latest in Canadian wine, added Gismondi.

The awards are relocated every year in order to support different Canadian wine regions. In the last few years, they have been held in Penticton, BC; Prince Edward County, ON; and Wolfville, NS. Next year, they will be back in BC.

For 2022, the awards were held in one of Ontario’s most prestigious and prodigious wine regions: Niagara.

The process

At Niagara’s Club Italia, some 1,890 wines and ciders entered (times three bottles or six cans each), spread across numerous panels over several, with each panel having a dedicated back room table or 75-foot run.

“We pride ourselves on the level of detail and organization we put into the awards to ensure the wines are treated as fairly as possible,” WineAlign’s Head Wineaux Bryan McCaw tells RestoBiz. “We spend three days just setting up, followed by five full days of judging. We bring together top judges from across Canada along with several international judges. The judges work with small flights and only taste about 85 wines a day to ensure their palates stay sharp.”

Photo: Jason Dziver

The judges, which included numerous Masters of Wine and Master Sommeliers, determine the best wines and put them through to the second round for final analysis and scoring by larger panels. In the end, a wine needed a “silver medal” rating to make it to the finals; sometimes, only gold in the first round will get a wine to the second round. The final round — two-day judging of some 25 to 27 per cent of the chosen wines — went to the panels of five or six judges tasked with the same goal of evaluating the wine and giving it a score out of 100.

This year’s awards showcased many examples of Canadian wineries having re-imagined themselves and their operations during the pandemic. There were several new wineries and many existing wineries that had never before entered the awards. Many participants are exploring new grape varieties and styles — particularly sparkling wine and rosé — and there was new and improved branding and labelling on show in the fight for consumer confidence.

The winners — which include among others the Platinum medal winners, who scored in the top one per cent, and the top awards of Winery of the Year and Best Performance by a Small Winery, calculated by a winery’s highest five medals — were announced in stages over recent weeks this summer.

Platinum wineries

The judges don’t award Platinum medals at the Nationals; they are instead determined from the highest scoring one per cent of entrants. In every case, they made it through two rounds of judging, facing tougher competition as they moved through the system. The scarcity of Platinums ensures only the best make the list.

In 2022, 24 wines achieved Platinum designation:

13th Street 2015 Premier Cuvee
13th Street 2020 Reserve Syrah
50th Parallel 2020 Chardonnay
Black Hills Estate Winery 2020 Ipso Facto
Bordertown 2019 Cabernet Sauvignon
Broken Stone 2019 Chardonnay Home Farm
CedarCreek 2019 Aspect Collection Block 5 Chardonnay
CedarCreek Platinum 2020 Jagged Rock Syrah
Flat Rock Cellars 2020 Nadja’s Vineyard Riesling
Fort Berens 2020 Pinot Noir
Four Shadows 2021 Riesling Classic
Hainle 2020 Merlot
Hidden Bench 2019 Pinot Noir Felseck Vineyard
Kitsch 2019 Esther’s Block Riesling
La Frenz 2019 Syrah Rockyfeller Vineyard
Le Clos Jordanne 2019 Le Grand Clos Chardonnay
Meyer 2020 Old Block Pinot Noir McLean Creek Road Vineyard
Mission Hill 2020 Terroir Collection Jagged Rock Syrah
Redstone 2019 Bistro Riesling
Road 13 GSM 2019
See Ya Later Ranch 2019 Ping Meritage
SpearHead 2019 Coyote Vineyard Pinot Noir
Storm Haven 2020 Riesling Gibson-Block 3
Vieni 2020 Riesling

Photo: Jason Dziver

Small Winery of the Year

Meanwhile, SpearHead Winery in the Okanagan Valley is the 2022 Best Performing Small Winery of the Year. 

This award goes to the winery with a production of 10,000 cases or less that chalked up the highest aggregate score for its five top-scoring wines. While Spearhead 2019 Coyote Vineyard Pinot Noir took a coveted Platinum medal, seven of the winery’s wines also struck Gold, followed by three Silver medals and five Bronze, for 16 medals overall.

The top three Small Wineries of the Year were all from BC, as SpearHead beat La Frenz Estate Winery and Fort Berens Estate Winery.

Winery of the Year

Meanwhile, the grand prize of 2022 Winery of the Year went to CedarCreek Estate Winery, an East Kelowna winery located in the northern Okanagan Valley.

CedarCreek Estate topped all 251 producers at the National Wine Awards of Canada.

CedarCreek’s wines honour the extremely rare terroir of its Home Block vineyard, a tiny parcel of land with soil diversities so unique they can be found only here and nowhere else in the world, says owner Anthony von Mandl, O.C., O.B.C.

“The quality of the wines produced here embody the soul of our valley and our pioneering efforts to place the Okanagan Valley on the world wine map,” Von Mandl added. “It is a testament to the legacy we continue to build at CedarCreek, shattering the world’s perception of this still young and emerging wine region by crafting wines of exceptional quality in the Okanagan that can rival the best in the world.”

Championing Canadian

Ultimately, whichever wineries emerge victorious, the National Wine Awards of Canada are all about honouring and championing the very best in Canadian wine.

Co-founder of the awards David Lawrason noted that the reputation of Canadian wine is growing quickly, “in step with the quality”.

“The National Wine Awards of Canada results are witness to this fact and create more awareness every year,” Lawrason added. “As Canadians and visitors to Canada become increasingly tuned in, they will be seeking to explore Canadian wines in our restaurants And they will find that the brightness, freshness, and energy of the Canadian style excels at the table.”

Check out the full breakdown of the 2022 National Wine Awards of Canada winners here.