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Do we need another wine competition in Canada? We have some answers

By Rick VanSickle

A reader recently posed the question: Do we really need another wine competition in Canada?

Note, also in this Canadian Wine Report: Our recommendations for the Niagara wines coming to Vintages stores March 16, including, Malivoire, Bachelder, Sue-Ann Staff Wines, Cloudsley and Featherstone.

Canadian wine

It’s a fair question, and one that has been hashed out ad nauseam. The reader who wrote his response in the comment section of this website, in relation to the new Stampede Cellar Showdown wine competition based in Calgary, views these judging events as “marketing opportunities for wineries” and wonders, “does the public, the general wine buyer, really care?”

Just walk into any LCBO store or wine shop anywhere and you’ll see thousands of wines proudly displaying a badge from one competition or another. I suspect many are swayed by the medals a wine has collected from this or that wine competition otherwise wineries wouldn’t pay to enter and then purchase the cute badges that adorn their bottles.

But let’s face it, not all wine competitions are created equal. The number of wines, quality of wines, makeup of the judging panels, competition rules and reputation need to be considered, but rarely are. The sad reality is that in most consumers’ eyes, a medal is a medal, who really cares where it came from, right?

There are several wine competitions in Canada: the Ontario Wine Awards, All Canadian Wine Championships, WineAlign’s National Wine Awards, Atlantic Canadian Wine Awards, British Columbia Lieutenant Governor’s Wine Awards, the new Calgary Stampede Cellar Showdown, and a few I’ve missed. All but one of these competitions features Canadian wines only, and that’s the newest one.

The Stampede Cellar Showdown is different, in many ways, but most intriguingly by the fact that Canadian wines compete against international wines. About 20% of all wines submitted were from Canada, with the bulk of those from B.C. While there was a separate category for Canadian wines, if wines in tasted in that category were awarded gold or double gold, they were bumped up into a grand finale round (37 of the highest scoring wines tasted) and had a chance to emerge as a overall major winner, such as 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, did after being named Top Red Wine at the Cellar Showdown. Only one other red wine topped it out of all the other red wines in the competition — the Grand Champion, which was the Poggio Landi Rosso di Montalcino 2020, chosen the winner over every wine in the competition.

Osoyoos Larose’s accomplishment can’t be ignored. There were a lot of high-end red wines from around the world at this competition. I was there for the grand finale judging and can tell you competition was tough. The Poggio Landi Rosso di Montalcino deserved its top billing, while the Canadian wine also deserved its placing.

Stampede Cellar Showdown chair Peggy Perry holds up the top Canadian wine at the competition.

This new Calgary competition, conducted in a province without a wine industry of its own, has decided to do what no other competition is doing — judge the best from the world with the best of Canada and see what happens. Granted, the competition is limited to only products from Canadian and International wine distributors that are registered within Alberta, but still … it’s a test for Canadian wines to sit at the same table and be judged in a double-blind competition. To come out a winner makes a bold statement for Canadian wines.

I was invited as judge because of my background of writing a wine column in Calgary in the late 90s-mid-2000s, which has led to a 24-year-plus wine writing career. The organizer, Peggy Perry (who spent 28 years as president of Calgary’s largest privately owned wine/beer/spirits store, Willow Park), is one of the brightest wine minds I know, and she put together a stellar panel of judges, including two MWs, a MS and whole gaggle of knowledgeable Alberta and Canadian palates, many of whom I have known for years. The head judge/adjudicator was the talented MW Elsa Macdonald (below), who ran a tight ship on the judging. Other judges included Eugene Mlynczyk (MS), Elyse Lambert (MS), Sandra Oldfield (Elysian Projects and former owner of Tinhorn Creek winery), and another 26 high qualified other people from various backgrounds in wine.

I rarely participate in wine judging these days, but the format intrigued me as compared to Canadian-wines-only Ontario and B.C. competitions. After all, Canada’s competition is the rest of the world, not Canadian wines. All of that, and the winners will have their wines placed front and centre at the Calgary Stampede later in July, so consumers benefit from a well-curated list of Canadian and international wines.

The top wines were tasted several times by various panels, which gives immense credibility to the winners. I was intrigued, I was impressed, and saw it as a fresh approach for a Canadian wine competition without bias. It was incredibly well run and organized for a first effort, with 565 wines submitted on short notice. I can only anticipate the Cellar Showdown getting better and bigger every year going forward. As Perry said following the competition: “Next year it’s going to be 1,000 wines.” I wouldn’t doubt her for one second.

Wines in Niagara published the big winners of the competition here last week, but the Stampede has just released the full list of the medal winners. We are publishing just the Canada medal winners from Ontario and B.C. They are as follows:

Ontario Gold Medal Winners

The Foreign Affair Winery Conspiracy Vintage: 2020 Awards:
Value Cabernet Sauvignon Blends Class Champion
Value Cabernet Sauvignon Blends Canadian Class Champion

B.C. Gold Medal Winners

Osoyoos Larose Le Grand Vin Vintage: 2019
TOP RED WINE Super Premium Merlot Canadian Class Champion

Meyer Family Vineyards McLean Creek Road Pinot Noir Vintage: 2022
TOP CANADIAN WINE Super Premium Pinot Noir Canadian Class Champion

Stag’s Hollow Winery Vidal Icewine Vintage: 2017 Awards:
TOP SWEET WINE Sweet Wine Class Champion Sweet Wine Canadian Class Champion

Red Rooster Winery Brut Rosé Vintage: 2019
Sparkling Rosé and Red Class Champion Sparkling Rosé and Red Canadian Class Champion

Noble Ridge Vineyard & Winery King’s Ransom Meritage Vintage: 2017
Luxury Merlot Canadian Class Champion

Dirty Laundry Vineyard Hush Red VQA Vintage: 2020
Malbec Reserve Class Champion Malbec Reserve Canadian Class Champion

Red Rooster Winery Meritage Vintage: 2018
Midrange Cabernet Blends Class Champion Midrange Cabernet Blends Canadian Class Champion

Stag’s Hollow Winery Albariño Vintage: 2022

Ontario Silver Medal Award Winners

Henry of Pelham family Estate Baco Noir VQA Vintage: 2021
All Other Varieties Red Class Champion All Other Varieties Red Canadian Class Champion

Henry of Pelham Riesling VQA Vintage: 2022

Thirty Bench Riesling Vintage: 2020

Lakeview Vidal Icewine Vintage: 2021

Fielding Estate Winery Riesling Vintage: 2022

B.C. Silver Medal Award Winners

Summerhill Pyramid Winery Cipes Brut Vintage: NV
Sparkling Traditional Method Canadian Class Champion

Hester Creek Estate Winery Rosé Vintage: 2022
Midrange Rosé Reserve Class Champion

Clos du Soleil Winemakers Series Syrah Vintage: 2020
Midrange Syrah Class Champion Midrange Syrah Canadian Class Champion

Sandhill Wines Rosé Vintage: 2022
Midrange Rosé Class Champion Midrange Rosé Canadian Class Champion

Cedar Creek Estate Winery Estate Riesling Vintage: 2021
Riesling Canadian Class Champion

Clos du Soleil Signature Red Vintage: 2020
Super Premium Cabernet Sauvignon Canadian Class Champion

Clos du Soleil Celestiale Red Wine Vintage: 2021
Midrange Merlot Class Champion

JoieFarm Winery Noble Blend Vintage: 2023
Aromatic Whites Canadian Class Champion

Noble Ridge Vineyard & Winery Reserve Pinot Noir Vintage: 2020
Midrange Piont Noir Reserve Class Champion Midrange Piont Noir Canadian Class Champion

Burrowing Owl Estate Winery Meritage Vintage: 2020
Midrange Chardonnay Canadian Class Champion

Poplar Grove Winery Cabernet Franc Vintage: 2019
Cabernet Franc Class Champion Cabernet Franc Canadian Class Champion

Moraine Estate Winery Gewurztraminer Vintage: 2022

Cedar Creek Estate Winery Cabernet Merlot Vintage: 2020

Road 13 Vineyards John Oliver 5th Element Vintage: 2020

Mission Hill Family Estate Reserve Pinot Gris Vintage: 2022

Ontario Bronze Medal Winners

Trius Brut Trius Vintage: NV

Fielding Pinot Grigio Vintage: 2022

B.C. Bronze Medal Winners

Frind Big Red Vintage: 2021

Tinhorn Creek Oldfiled Merlot Vintage: 2020

Road 13 Vineyards Select Harvest Seventy-Four K Vintage: 2020

Hester Creek Syrah Vintage: 2020

Road 13 Vineyards Honest John’s Red Blend Vintage: 2021

40 Knots Winery Spindrift Vintage: 2021

Stag’s Hollow Winery Dolcetto Vintage: 2020

JoieFarm Winery Rosé Vintage: 2023

D’Angelo Estate Winery Pinot Noir Vintage: 2020

Stag’s Hollow Winery Heritage Block Vintage: 2020

Road 13 Vineyards Honest John’s Bright Rosé Vintage: 2022

Summerhill Pyramid Winery Wispering Vines Riesling Vintage: 2022

Red Tractor Chardonnay Vintage: 2021

Black Sage Vineyard Merlot Vintage: 2020

Road 13 Vineyards Honest John’s Crisp White Vintage: 2022

Frind Sparkling Brut Vintage: NV

Sandhill Small Lots Sangiovese Vintage: 2018

Summerhill Pyramid Winery Organic Cabernet Sauvignon Vintage: 2020

Noble Ridge Vineyard & Winery Stony Knoll Chardonnay Vintage: 2022

40 Knots Pinot Noir Vintage: 2022

Stag’s Hollow Winery Sauvignon Blanc Vintage: 2022

Dirty Laundry Hush White VQA Vintage: 2022

Wild Goose Winery Pinot Gris Vintage: 2022

Meyer Family Vineyards McLean Creek Road Chardonnay Vintage: 2022

Burrowing Owl Estate Winery Chardonnay Vintage: 2021

Niagara wines coming to Vintages March 16

Some lovely Niagara wines are coming to Vintages on March 16. Here are our recommendations:

Malivoire Estate Grown Chardonnay 2022 ($22, 92 points) — The estate Chardonnay is a blend of both the Mottiar Vineyard (owned by Shiraz Mottiar on the Beamsville Bench) and estate fruit that’s aged on a combination of new and older French oak barrels. Such gorgeous elegance and poise on the nose with salinity and wet stones to go with pear, apple, toasted almonds, lemon/citrus and just a pinch of spice. It’s harmonious on the palate with the ripe, layered orchard fruits and citrus folding seamlessly into the flinty/stony/nutty accents, elegant spices, and fresh, lively finish. A beauty of a wine at this price.

Bachelder Les Villages Gamay Noir 2021 ($27, 91 points) — The Villages Gamay is a blend of east and west of the canal vineyards including lots from Wismer-Foxcroft, Bai Xu, Bator, Willms and now Wiley, the new terroir in the family on the Short Hills Bench. “It blends the juicy stuff from NOTL with more structure from the Bench,” said Thomas Bachelder. It has a lovely floral note on the nose with a melange of juicy red berries, plums, and integrated spice notes. It’s mouth-filling and fruit-laden with smooth tannins, subtle meatiness, black raspberries, dark cherries, anise, spice, and a tangy, bright finish. It’s drinking fine now but can cellar a few years. Drink until 2026.

Cloudsley Cellars Twenty Mile Bench Pinot Noir 2019 ($35, 91 points) — Cloudsley has established itself among the “terroir-centric” wineries on the Twenty Mile Bench specializing in Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. This Pinot is from a blend of vineyards on the Bench and shows a lighter shade of red in the glass with a subtle reductive note before the perfumy floral notes kick in followed by red cherries, undergrowth, black raspberries, touch of anise, herbs, and integrated oak spices. It’s mouth-coating and shows more precision on the palate with tart cherries, brambly raspberries, violets, chalky tannins, sizzling acidity, and a spicy bump on the lifted finish. This is an interesting Pinot Noir, but I would wait on it for a year or two and it can be cellared to 2029.

Featherstone Red Tail Merlot 2021 ($20, 92 points) — A ridiculously affordable price for a Merlot this good. The wine is aged in 100% fine French oak barrels (25% new) from Tonnellerie Sirgue Nuits Saint Georges for 10 months. There is an intriguing, perfumed note on the nose with dark cherries, black raspberries, cassis, integrated spices, and subtle earthy accents. It’s rich with some tannic structure and weight on the palate followed by juicy red berries, anise, cassis, and elegant spice notes through a long, lifted finish. You can age this for 5+ years and feel pretty damn happy you paid only $20 a bottle.

Sue-Ann Staff Howard’s Icewine Vidal 2016 and 2017 ($40 for 375 mL, 92 points) — This lovely, icewine with a perfect amount of aging shows a profile of ripe apricots, candied citrus, and peach concentrate in a rich, textured and honeyed style. honeyed style. Delicious!

Also released, but not reviewed by Wines in Niagara:

• Rockway Charmat Sparkling ($25)
• Lakeview Cellars Gewurztraminer Icewine 2019 ($35 for 200 mL)
• Flat Rock Cellars Good Kharma Chardonnay 2021 ($18)
• Hare Series Dry Riesling 2020 ($24)
• Henry of Pelham The Dry River Riesling 2022 ($20)
• Trius Distinction Sauvignon Blanc 2021 ($20)
• Cave Spring Estate Grown Cabernet Franc 2021 ($21)