How does the world see Canadian wines?
For the past 14 years I have been judging Canadian wines at the Decanter World Wine Awards in London. This year, there were over 17,000 entries from all over the world, making it the largest such competition on the planet. Our Canadian panel for the past nine years has consisted of Barb Philip MW, a buyer for BC’s liquor monopoly, Rhys Pender MW, a wine writer and educator who owns his own small winery in BC’s Similkameen Valley called Little Farm, and myself as Chair. The fourth member of the panel is a European judge, usually Master of Wine or Master Sommelier, and they change each day. The year I started judging at DWWA there were just enough Canadian wines to fill a day and a half’s judging, after which I moved on to panels tasting French wines for the rest of the week. But over the years, more and more Canadian wineries have entered the competition.
This year, producers from BC and Ontario entered a grand total of 329 wines (including one sparkler from Nova Scotia).
All the wines are tasted blind, of course, and the only information we are given about them is the region they are from, the sub-region if applicable, the vintage, style, principal grape and percentage (percentage of other grapes if it’s a blend), the alcohol level, whether the wine was aged in oak and if so for how long, and the retail price band (although I think the organisers were translating the Canadian dollar figure directly as British pounds!).
As panelists, we make our notes directly on individual iPads; we rank each wine out of 100 points. After tasting each flight we discuss the wines and — by consensus — award each wine either a Gold medal, a Silver, a Bronze, a Commendation or no medal. If there is a significant disagreement among the panel over a particular wine we call in one of the three uber-judges to arbitrate the final score.
Those wines to which we have given a Gold medal are tasted again by another panel the week following the competition and its members will either confirm our decision or knock the wine down to a Silver medal.
At the time of writing I am not privy to the final results (these will be published in the October issue of Decanter magazine) but I can tell you that — when the dust had settled and our panel all had black teeth — after four solid days of tasting over 80 wines a day, we awarded a total of 17 gold medals and 46 silver medals (nobody cares about bronze, unfortunately).
And what, you may ask, do we do at the end of a strenuous day’s tasting (which is both physically and intellectually exhausting)? We repair to the nearest bar for a cleansing ale.
What impressed me about the number of Canadian entries in the competition is the commitment our winemakers have to thrust themselves into the international market and the confidence they have in doing so. While they are not necessarily competing against wines from other countries in this competition — and only against themselves for the medals — they are participating on a world stage and their best efforts (the Gold medal winners) are put out, still clothed in their anonymous sealed bags, with “Canada” emblazoned on the label, for the other judges from around the world to taste at their leisure.
No doubt, the number of Canadian entries into the Decanter World Wine Awards will grow each year and I hope, in the future, we’ll see more Nova Scotia representation as well as some wines from Quebec.