Results from the 2023 Nationals – White Blends

Announcing the Results from the 2023 National Wine Awards of Canada

The 22nd running of the National Wine Awards of Canada wrapped up on June 28 in Penticton. Category results will be rolling out throughout the rest of July, with the final Platinum, Best Performing Small Winery, and Winery of the Year announcements coming at the end of this month. We hope you will stay tuned to follow the results and become engaged in anticipating the final results.

We’ve asked a few of our judges to summarize their impressions of each category. Today we are pleased to present the White Blends winners.

White Blends

Category Overview by Judge Michael Godel

As far as the National Wine Awards of Canada categories are concerned, none are as broadly defined as that of “White Blends.” Many different grapes are used and in seemingly endless combinations. These are wines that consistently receive more medals, year after year.

Defining “White Blend” is complicated because in Canadian wine regions there are few hard fast or must adhere to rules, save for Nova Scotia’s Tidal Bay, an appellative wine conceived back in 2010. They are in their own class and of the nine such entries at this year’s competition, seven were awarded medals. NWAC 2023 saw a record 57 medals awarded for the White Blends category, which tells us that the judges and by extension consumers are fans of the concept.

What exactly is a white blend? Mixing sauvignon blanc and sémillon as per the Bordeaux model seems the most obvious example to emulate, closely followed by northern and southern Rhône examples in which marsanne, roussanne and viognier are the most used grape varieties. Alsace fits in prominently, as do places like Rueda (Spain) and the Loire Valley. Chardonnay is often used as an anchor and is blended with both aromatic and non-aromatic varieties. In all Canadian provinces the use of non-vinifera and hybrid grape varieties can create lovely blends – especially from the aforementioned Nova Scotia but also from Québec and B.C. 

The NWAC 2023 medals count 11 Gold, 19 Silver and 27 Bronze, with British Columbia taking home 44 (or 80 percent). Only 10 are awarded to Ontario wines, two of them Gold and yet three are simply labeled VQA Ontario, meaning their fruit sources do not qualify for a specified appellation or perhaps the parent company prefers the marketing ubiquity in order to sell their wines Canada-wide. Three winning examples (two Silver and one Bronze) are wines labeled “Canada,” they being from Cannon Estate Winery in Abbotsford, in the Fraser Valley. Three Québec blends are by Vignoble Rivière du Chêne (two Silver and one Bronze) and so these “outliers” represent eight of 57, or 14 percent of the hardware. This points to Canada’s ability to craft quality wines from newer grape-growing frontiers.

For the most part the high quality of the Gold winners are certainly trained towards more traditional blends. Ontario’s Beamsville Bench, Niagara Lakeshore and BC’s Okanagan Valley do Bordeaux iterations really well. The Okanagan Valley also works well for the Rhône Valley theme. The Okanagan takes on Austria and Alsace while the sub-appellation of the Naramata Bench pays homage to Rueda.

The awarding of Silver and Bronze medals continues to celebrate the classic Old World white blends but increasingly those best qualified as miscellaneous, variegated, bohemian, non-conformist, idiosyncratic and even eccentric. Wines that find the wherewithal to become the sum of their constituent parts must be lauded and encouraged because emerging wine regions find their way and place through these kinds of experimentation, trial and error. This must include cold-climate hardy hybrids and also PIWI-developed varieties. (PIWI is the German-coined abbreviation that stands for fungus resistant grape varieties.) In future times of climate crisis these grapes will help fill our glasses, often in the face of drought, fire and deluge. Here’s to all the misfits and motley crews in appellative or those suspected of being appellative white blends. The future is for the consumer and white blends will be their saviour.

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