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Okanagan wine named top red at new international wine competition in Calgary

By Rick VanSickle

A Canadian winery emerged as the top red wine in an exciting new international wine competition in Calgary that featured 556 wines from Canada and around the world.

The Osoyoos Larose Le Grand Vin 2019, a blend of all five Bordeaux red grapes from the estate’s 80-acre vineyard overlooking Lake Osoyoos in the south Okanagan Valley, was named Top Red Wine at the Stampede Cellar Showdown, adjudicate over three days by an international panel of judges last week in Calgary. Only one other red wine topped it — the Grand Champion, which was the Poggio Landi Rosso di Montalcino 2020, which was chosen the winner over every wine in the competition.

Canadian wine

“We had an incredible showing for the inaugural Stampede Cellar Showdown,” said Peggy Perry, above, chair of the Calgary Stampede Wine Competition Committee. “To have the Canadian wine Osoyoos Larose named the top red wine in this international competition was fantastic. The results of the Stampede Cellar Showdown will create a great new wine offering in venues across Stampede Park during this year’s festival and throughout the year. With the investment in this wine competition, the Calgary Stampede is once again illustrating the focus on providing an exceptional wine and food experience for all Calgary Stampede guests.”

Osoyoos Larose is owned by the Taillan Group, based in Bordeaux, France, and has a robust history dating back more than 20 years in the Okanagan Valley. Michael Kullmann is the managing director and winemaker. The Grand Vin 2019 sells for $54 in B.C.

The winery started as joint venture between Canada’s Vincor International and Group Taillan of Bordeaux, co-owner of Chateau Gruaud Larose in Saint-Julien. To make their first Bordeaux-inspired red, they hired French winemaker Pascal Madevon, who several years ago left the company. The blend is made from Merlot (58%), Cabernet Sauvignon 26%, Cabernet Franc 7%, and Petit Verdot 7%.

The Top Canadian Wine award was presented to Meyer Family Vineyards in the Okanagan Valley for its McLean Creek Road Pinot Noir 2022 ($38 in B.C). The top Canadian award was established from all the Canadian wines submitted, while the Top Red Wine won by Osoyoos Larose was chosen from all the red wines in the competition.

The grapes for the Meyer Pinot were harvested from the estate’s McLean Creek Road Vineyard in Okanagan Falls. It was aged in French oak barrels for 11 months (25% new) and was crafted by winemaker Chris Carson.

The other top award, The Reserve Grand Champion, was awarded to Collard-Picard Cuvée Prestige Extra Brut Champagne NV.

The rest of the competition champions include:

Top Value Wine – Bodegas Salentein Reserve Malbec 2020
Top White Wine – Dr. Loosen Ürziger Würzgarten Riesling GG Alte Reben 2019
Top Sparkling Wine – Nicolas Feuillatte Réserve Exclusive Brut Champagne NV
Top Sweet Wine – Stag’s Hollow Vidal Icewine 2017 Top Fortified Wine – Ramos Pinto Quinta do Bom Retiro 20 Year Tawny
Top Fruit/Flavoured Wine – Il Mio Gusto Hugo NV Top Mead – Spirit Hills Flower Winery Whitetail

The full list of medal-winning wines, including Bronze, Silver, Gold and Double Gold distinctions, will be unveiled in the coming days.

The inaugural competition highlighted beverage production and showcased the best-of-the-best in Canadian and international wine. More than 550 wines from approximately 80 different wine agencies were poured and tasted over three days of judging. Red wine, white wine, sparkling wine, sweet wine, fortified wine, fruit/flavoured wine, and mead were all represented, with every entrant in the competition required to be available for purchase in Alberta.

The high-profile new competition aligns with the Stampede’s Agri-food and Beverage vision to create inspiring experiences that connect the agriculture industry to Calgarians and southern Albertans by facilitating signature programs and building understanding between regional food and beverage producers and consumers, according to a news release.

“Agriculture has always been at the heart of the Calgary Stampede,” said Joel Cowley, Calgary Stampede CEO. “Grape wine is one of Canada’s highest value-added agricultural products and we are proud to highlight its importance through a new series of events and experiences that celebrate the best in Canadian and International viticulture. The first ever Stampede Cellar Showdown was an incredible success, and we are looking forward to winning wines being featured by retailers and restaurants as well as at Calgary Stampede events throughout the year.”

The panel of judges, seen above getting white hatted before the judging began, was drawn from the supplier, wholesale, retail, and restaurant branches of the wine trade and were selected based on their credentials, as well as their overall knowledge and reputation within the local and national wine community. To ensure a fair, unbiased assessment, the judging panel was provided with no information regarding the producer of each wine, and each was evaluated on its own merits, including aroma, taste, structure, and overall quality.

The Calgary community will have the opportunity to celebrate the top wines of the 2024 Cellar Showdown, paired with some of local food from Alberta, at Stampede Cellar Uncorked. This wine and food-tasting event is coming to Stampede Park in June 2024. And, during Stampede 2024, the best of the Cellar Showdown wines will be featured at multiple venues on Stampede Park, including the new Stampede Cellar Wine Garden.

The Stampede Cellar Showdown is organized by a volunteer committee of the Calgary Stampede.

The Cellar Showdown judging

Full disclosure, I was one of 31 judges from Canada and the U.S. who participated in the three days of judging for the inaugural Stampede Cellar Showdown. I was paid an honorarium and was hosted by the Stampede during my stay in Calgary.

While the entire competition was headed up by the chair of the Showdown committee, Peggy Perry, the judging was led by Master of Wine Elsa Macdonald, one of two Masters of Wine (the other was Eugene Mlynczyk). There was also a Master Sommelier, Elyse Lambert, a range of somms mostly from Calgary, and wine writers, with the bulk of the judges coming from the wine industry at large — retail, wholesale, suppliers, and executives tied to the world of wine. It was an eclectic collection of judges with each one strategically placed in rotating panels to find the winning wines from 556 bottles submitted to the contest.

Five panels of five judges with one team leader were appointed for the first two days, with a so-called “super panel” only for the third and final day to choose the grand champion wines from the best of the best wines chosen in previous days.

Judge Sandra Oldfield.

While the competition used a variety of judges from all corners of Canada (and one from Texas), the wines submitted were also an eclectic list of red wines (tilted in favour of big, full-bodied reds, a reflection of the market where the wines will be poured), white wines, sparkling wines, dessert wines, fortified wines, Canadian wines (made up of 20% of the wines submitted), top fruit or flavoured wines and even mead.

The goal for the judges on the first two days was to establish gold, silver, and bronze medals across all the categories and styles. The judges all tasted through the wines before they worked as a group to determine medal winners through discussion or consensus. All the top wines chosen over the first two days were brought back for the third day and then up to the super panel to decide the Top 10 from 37 wines, which became top wines of the competition.

It took the “super panel” of six judges (which I was a part of), including Sandra Oldfield (Elysian Projects and former co-owner/founder of Tinhorn Creek in B.C.), MW Mlynczyk, MS Lambert, Stephanie Earthman Baird (from Texas), and Margaux Burgess (The Swirl Wine Imports, from Edmonton), several hours to cull the 37 wines down to the Top 10. Each judge worked independently to come up with their list with no discussion from the other panellists. The results were tallied up after we were finished our tasting and the winners not announced until the Stampede Cellar Showdown organizers were ready to release the results.

There was also a “celebrity” panel that worked alongside the other professional panels (who sounded like they were having a lot more fun) that included Will Osler (Stampede president and chair of the board), chefs Connie DeSousa and John Jackson, NHL hockey broadcaster Kelly Hrudey and prominent business leaders in Calgary.

I was impressed with how this unique competition was judged, in fact, I found parts of it quite interesting the way it was conducted. I loved the “paddle” system in the early rounds. How it worked was each judge tasted through their wines in their category and when they were done, each judge wrote down on a paddle one of four results for each wine: Gold, Silver, Bronze, or No Medal. The panel head then would begin a conversation if there was a split panel, or simply move the wine along if there was consensus. It made for some lively conversation. Because the competition was tasted double blind, a wine receiving a low mark on one panel could have a second life on another panel. It really gave all wines the full spectrum of opinions of where it stood in the competition.

I do not know the full list of Canadian and Niagara wines that were submitted, but I understand it was more limited than it should have been due to restrictions on entry if your wine wasn’t already available in Alberta wine shops. I hope organizers can work with Alberta liquor board to rectify those barriers for the next competition. Afterall, promotion of Ontario and Canadian wines is good for everyone.

About the Calgary Stampede

The Calgary Stampede celebrates the people, the animals, the land, the traditions, and the values that make up the unique spirit of the west.

The Calgary Stampede contributes to the quality of life in Calgary and southern Alberta through our world-renowned Stampede, year-round facilities, western events and several youth and agriculture programs.

Exemplifying the theme We’re Greatest Together, we are a volunteer-supported, not-for-profit community organization that preserves and celebrates our western heritage, cultures, and community spirit. All revenue is reinvested into Calgary Stampede programs and facilities.

Ontario wines coming to Vintages
shelves at LCBO stores Saturday

Lighthall Vineyards Chardonnay 2020 ($36, 91 points) — This County Chardonnay was aged in one-third French oak and the rest in stainless steel. It starts on the nose with rich pear, racy salinity and flint, yellow apple, lemon curd and perfumed spice notes. There’s an interesting and subtle reductive note on the palate with a creamy texture that delivers ripe orchard fruits, stony minerality, citrus zest and a lifted, freshening finish.

Also coming to Vintages, but not reviewed by Wines in Niagara:

• Domaine Queylus Tradition Chardonnay 2019 ($30)
• Frogpond Farm Organic Riesling 2020 ($18)
• Leaning Post The Fifty Chardonnay 2021 ($25)
• Lighthall Chardonnay 2020 ($35)
• Queenston Mile Chardonnay 2021 ($35)
• Reif Reserve Gewürztraminer 2021 ($20)
• Vieni Private Reserve Chardonnay 2016 ($30)
• Henry of Pelham Estate Cabernet Merlot 2019 ($28)
• Jackson Triggs Grand Reserve Pinot Noir 2021 ($30)
• Kacaba Cabernet Syrah 2020 ($25)
• Marynissen Cabernet Merlot 2021 ($19)
• Marynissen Heritage Collection Nanny’s Blend 2020 ($25)
• Vieni Gamay Noir 2020 ($19)