Wednesday, May 20, 2015

The 10 best Canadian wines from Northern Lands

Some Canadian wines go well with mouth-caught salmon
The best Canadian wines can definitely compete on the world stage. That said, unless you're reading this in Calgary, you'll probably never see them.

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.

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Jameson said...

Any sparkling in the "other" category? I was very impressed with a zero-dosage Riesling from Tantalus in BC.

W. Blake Gray said...

Maybe, but we didn't get any. Most of the "others" were stickies.

Unknown said...


How did the icewines fair in the opinion of the judges -- a category that Americans can find in stores.

(Example: Inniskillin.)


W. Blake Gray said...

Bob: People in the Canadian wine industry seem tired of ice wines, in several aspects: talking about them and drinking them. I can see why, as a little ice wine goes a long way.

Ice wine to me is one of the best examples of how an absolute 100-point-scale, as opposed to a relative one, fails consumers. Because they're more impressive and expensive, almost every ice wine gets a higher score than almost every rosé. But which would you rather have a fridge full of?

Unknown said...

Point taken.

The rapid satiation of one's thirst drinking unctuous dessert wines probably accounts for their being "honored more in the breach than in the observance" -- praised, but rarely purchased/consumed.

Wine cellar organization clients of mine rarely drink their Sauternes and Ports.

First, they know they age superbly, so there's no "ticking clock" economic argument to "drink 'em up!" before they go bad.

Second, by the time the final dessert course comes around when entertaining guests at home, diners either abstain from the added calories -- or choose one (food) over the other (beverage), but rarely both. So one more "special occasion" is lost to pulling corks.

And I know of no collector who brings Sauternes or Ports to restaurants with the intention of paying a corkage fee.

(Aside: bringing a dessert wine to a BYOB wine gathering of collectors almost always assures the donor that his/her bottle never gets consumed. A devious ploy to make a "grand gesture" while never having to honor it -- as invariably the bottle goes back home.)

Kate MacKay said...

Nice selection of wine! I'm not clear on one point, though: was all the wine from BC, or was there wine from Ontario/Nova Scotia that simply didn't make the top 10?

Kayla K said...

I was just in Kelowna wine tasting at Tantalus, Quail's Gate, Mission Hill, Summer Hill, Ceder Creek and Little Straw. What stood out to me was that Riesling and white wines dominated tasting sheets despite the 40 degree Celsius summer heat staff claimed they received. I loved all the BC wine I tasted, even the Foch which I had never heard of before. Kelowna was an incredibly relaxing trip and true hidden gem.

W. Blake Gray said...

Katems: There were Ontario and Nova Scotia wines and an Ontario wine won Best Overall White at the competition. I liked some of them, but none cracked my own top 10.