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COVID-19 can’t stop the Ontario Wine Awards in 2020, and the winners are …

By Rick VanSickle

Ontario Wine Awards founder Tony Aspler wasn’t about to let COVID-19 stand in the way of handing out at least the main awards for the 26th year of the esteemed competition.

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Winemaker of the Year Philip Dowell and Ontario Wine Awards founder Tony Aspler at Kew Vineyards.

There were no judges and no formal tastings for the four main awards given out annually, but Aspler was determined that “we celebrate the quality of Ontario’s VQA wines in the fashion of the day.”

A small group gathered at Kew Vineyard as Aspler gave out the awards in front of a small, socially-distanced gathering on a lovely night on the Beamsville Bench.

In order to choose the winners, Aspler “reached out to judges who had participated in the last three years of the competition and asked them to nominate the top three white, red and sparkling wines that they had tasted during the year. From their responses we tabulated the scoring wines,” he said.

Judges (full disclosure, I was one of them) were then asked to vote on whom they considered should be honoured with the title “Winemaker of the Year” sponsored by Quench Magazine.

The results for 2020 are:

Allen Red Wine of the Year Award — Rosehall Run JCR Pinot Noir Rosehall Vineyard 2018 (Prince Edward County, Dan Sullivan above)

Recent review from Wines In Niagara:

Rosehall Run JCR Rosehall Run Pinot Noir 2018 ($42, fall release, 94 points) — This 15th vintage of the JCR (the monogram of Rosehall’s co-founder John Campbell Reston) Pinot, from estate vines planted in 2001-2002, is the best I have tasted not only from Rosehall, but perhaps the County in any vintage. It is an outlier for the more delicate, pretty and minerally driven Pinots that are always charming but rarely show the power and depth that this has. Only 300 cases of the Pinot were made and I suspect it will sell out quickly when released this fall. The power of this wine shows immediately on the nose with aromas of crushed violets and garrigue with forest berries, black cherries, concentrated raspberries, cassis and spice that all builds in intensity has it opens up. It’s intense and pure on the palate with black cherries, raspberries, cranberries, bramble and cassis, grippy tannins, depth, complexity, crushed stones and a beautifully long, long finish with finesse and fine oak spices that linger for minutes. Can cellar 5+ years and will integrate further. Such a powerful and well-made Pinot Noir that you need in your cellar.

Quench Magazine White Wine of the Year Award — Charles Baker Riesling Picone Vineyard 2017 (Niagara, Charles Baker above)

Canadian Food and Wine Institute at Niagara College Sparkling Wine of the Year Award — Henry of Pelham Cuvée Catharine Carte Blanche Blanc de Blanc 2014 (Niagara, Paul Speck above)

Quench Magazine Winemaker of the Year Award — Philip Dowell, Angels Gate Estate Winery (Niagara, Philip Dowell above)