|Some Canadian wines go well with mouth-caught salmon|
I was one of several mid-NAFTA judges flown in April to Edmonton for an innovative, painstaking wine competition called Northern Lands. There were few enough entries -- 82 red wines, 73 whites, 27 other -- that each flight was judged by more than one panel on more than one day.
This obviously wouldn't work for a competition like the Concours Mondial de Bruxelles, which gets 8000 entries, so that each judge ends up tasting less than 2% of them. Every judge left Edmonton having tasted all the top awards winners, giving us all a survey of what's going on up there in the Great White North.
My overall impressions:
* Syrah is the best red varietal being made in Canada right now. Not only did a Syrah deservedly win overall Best Red Wine; its runner-up could probably have won as well.
* White wines are not all about Riesling, even though one did win Best White Wine. I voted for a Pinot Gris first and a Chardonnay second.
* This won't be news to Canadians, but there's almost no cross-country traffic in wine. It's really hard to find an Ontario wine in British Columbia, or vice versa. (Of course, you can say the same about buying New York Riesling in California, but at least wine travels in one direction in the U.S.)
* Top Canadian wines are good values. Of the 20 wines I rated 90 points and higher, four were under $20, only three were over $33, and none cost more than $40. And that's Canadian money.
Now here are the 10 wines I liked best, arranged from cheapest to most expensive. Two of them you can actually order in the U.S. right now!
Lake Breeze Vineyards Okanagan Valley Pinot Gris 2014 ($17)
Delicate and floral on the palate. I voted for this nicely balanced wine as Best White, and I'm not normally a big Pinot Gris advocate. It didn't win, but it did win best Pinot Gris.
Mission Hill Family Estate Reserve Okanagan Valley Pinot Gris 2013 ($17)
It turns out Pinot Gris does well in the Okanagan Valley. Lively fruit-driven wine with a nice mouthfeel.
Moon Curser Vineyards Okanagan Valley Syrah 2012 ($25)
A light, pretty entry and a complex finish. Nice texture. Tasted it blind or I would have given it bonus points for a name that sounds like it was made by werewolves.
Bartier Bros. Cerqueira Vineyard Okanagan Valley Merlot 2012 ($27)
I think this didn't do as well with other judges because it's kind of California-like, dense with fruit and rich in the mouth, but it has good freshness and isn't heavy.
Church and State Winery Coyote Bowl Okanagan Valley Syrah 2011 ($30)
Spicy, peppery and lively, with black fruit in the background and a nice mouthfeel. This was included in the Best Red competition and I voted it second. U.S. residents can buy it here, shipped from California! And you should.
Burrowing Owl Estate Winery Estate Grown Okanagan Valley Merlot 2011 ($30)
This did not win Best Merlot, but I voted for it. Cherry fruit, silky mouthfeel, good freshness, persistent finish. Really everything you want in a Merlot. U.S. residents can buy it here!
Burrowing Owl Estate Winery Estate Grown Okanagan Valley Cabernet Franc 2011 ($33)
Lovely aroma, leafy with red plum fruit. Nice mouthfeel. Savory. Old World style with more generosity on the palate. This won Best Cabernet Franc and deserved it.
JoieFarm Winery Reserve "En Famille" Okanagan Valley Chardonnay 2012 ($38)
We didn't get the Mission Hill Chardonnay that won its category on my panel, and I liked that one a lot when I encountered it in the finals. But I loved this one too. Its toasty, leesy, alluring aroma made me want to dive right in. Good balance and length on the palate. Ontario does some terrific Chardonnays, but this proves western Canada does also.
Meyer Family Vineyards McLean Creek Okanagan Valley Pinot Noir 2013 ($40)
Light and juicy, with friendly berry fruit. This won Best Pinot Noir and deserved it.
Road 13 Vineyards Jackpot Okanagan Valley Syrah 2011 ($40)
We tasted this a few times and I wavered between loving it, merely liking it, and really loving it. The aroma is alluring: peppery, earthy, with dark plum and hints of wildflowers, probably from the 2% Viognier. It wasn't originally in the Best Red grouping but was included by popular demand and ended up taking the title.