If You Think Canadian Wine Is Bad, You’re Not Paying Attention

Canadian winemakers celebrated a historic moment at the Global Wine Challenge in Sydney with eight runner-ups, 11 double golds and 17 golds.Watchtower Winery

Just days after Canada’s men’s team left the World Cup with their heads held high, the country’s winemakers celebrated their own historic moment at the Global Wine Challenge in Sydney, with Burrowing Owl Estate triumphing over a legendary producer from Australia, Won the Syrah/Shiraz trophy. Canada also won the top-scoring wine trophies in the Cabernet Franc, Pinot Grigio/Pinot Grigio and dessert wine categories, along with a total of eight runners-up, 11 Double Golds and 17 Golds.

Now in its 19th year, the Global Wine Challenge is a curated competition in which wines from Australia, Canada, New Zealand, South Africa and the United States are nominated by wine experts from their respective regions. Unlike most wine competitions where producers are free to enter any wine they wish to submit, wines need to be invited to participate in this tasting.

Since 2016, it is my duty to nominate Canadian wines, the first time in our country wine Welcome to the challenge. Each country representative was asked to propose wines in 22 different categories, with a maximum of 10 in each category and a maximum of 120 entries.

I’ve always seen this unique competition as an opportunity to change perceptions and maybe even shock the world. Many Canadian wine lovers continue to underestimate the quality of the wines produced in British Columbia, Ontario, Quebec and Nova Scotia. White wines made in Canada may be grudgingly appreciated, but red wines are often immediately dismissed.

Connoisseurs who love to hold a grudge continue to play the Baby Duck card, conjuring the ghosts of Canada’s wine past to defy the industry. At the end of the day, it’s an ego that shows they’re not paying attention. (While Baby Duck continues to have a strong following—more than 7,750 bottles are part of LCBO’s inventory at the time of writing—it’s not representative of the style of wine coming out of Canadian vineyards today.)

The international success of Canadian icewine is nothing new. Since 1991, when Inniskillin won the French Vinexpo for its 1989 Icewine, there has been a steady stream of medals at various international wine competitions, likely contributing to Icewine’s nickname: “liquid gold.” However, the initial recognition was huge, propelling Inniskillin onto the international wine scene and making Canada a major producer of ice wine made from grapes naturally frozen on the vine.

It was equally significant to see Burrowing Owl Syrah 2019 and Mission Hill Family Estate Terroir Collection Jagged Rock Vineyard Syrah 2020 on the podium in one of the most competitive challenge categories. These Okanagan wineries beat Australia’s best wineries at tastings under the watchful eye of Australian judges. Other winners include Hickinbotham Brooks Road Shiraz 2020, Mount Ranjit Gilan Shiraz 2019 and Wynns Coonawarra Estate Michael Shiraz 2019, among other top shirazes that are prized by collectors around the world.

Mission Hill and Burrowing Owl performed particularly well in this year’s Global Wine Challenge. Mission Hill Family Estate Terroir Collection Vista’s Edge Cabernet Franc 2020 took home the Cabernet Franc trophy, the second time the venerable Okanagan winery has won the category. Mission Hill Quatrain 2017, a blend of Syrah, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon, was the runner-up in the red blend category, which includes many highly regarded Cabernet-Shiraz blends from Australia . Meanwhile, Burrowing Owl’s 2019 Malbec was runner-up in the other red wine (full-bodied) category.

The other trophy winners were Gray Monk Odyssey Pinot Gris 2021 and Pillitteri Estates Family Reserve Riesling Icewine 2017, the second time the family-owned Niagara-on-the-Lake winery has won the dessert wine trophy.

Notably, Canadian wines of all styles and colors—including Speck Bros. Three of Hearts Rosé 2021, which won double gold in the recently added rosé category—earned strong recognition at this year’s competition. As a result, Canada achieved its best result so far in the competition. Our stature has improved each year as the distillery has become more supportive of the challenge. Not every nominated producer will attend – more than 200 invitations were sent out to collect 120 submissions.

Winemakers often question the benefits of shipping wine to Sydney, where very little Canadian wine is sold. Another commercial consideration was making nominations in March in time for consolidation and shipping to Australia for tasting, but the results won’t be announced until December. Many of the winning wines sold out before the results were announced, such as Burrowing Owl’s winning red wine and Gray Monk’s trophy winner.

But the chance to be compared with elite wineries around the world and to establish credibility for the industry in Canada is an important card. It’s not about promoting a particular wine, but about the idea that Canadian wine producers are truly among the best in the world.

The judging took place over four days in Sydney in November, and the trophy, double gold and gold wines were selected from 600 entries. On the final day, 20 winners were awarded Show White Wine, Red Wine and Wine of Show. Normally, the wines would be assessed by nominated judges from each country, but this was interrupted by the pandemic.

The following year, points were awarded by a team of Australian Masters of Wine, including Andrew Caillard, Toni Paterson and Andrea Pritzker. The Master of Wine qualification is awarded by the UK-based Institute of Masters of Wine after a rigorous examination to demonstrate exceptional expertise in the wine industry. Currently has 415 MW in 30 countries.

Australia picked up six trophies, including wines on display at Accolade Arras Museum Release Blanc de Blanc Sparkling 2001 and white wines at Deep Woods Estate Reserve Chardonnay 2021, for a total of 53 medals.

The results were announced at an awards ceremony in Sydney on December 9.The full lineup is available via globalfine.wine.

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