Results from the 2023 Nationals – Merlot

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 week. 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 Merlot winners.


Category Overview by Judge John Szabo, MS

Merlot is a category dominated by British Columbia. It’s the province’s most planted red variety by a good margin, representing nearly 20 percent of tonnage by variety (2020 data), followed distantly by pinot noir at under 7 percent, the second-most–planted red grape. And although it’s widely planted in Ontario as well, running neck and neck with cabernet franc at 10 percent of production by volume — Ontario’s two most productive red varieties — much of that province’s merlot ends up in red blends rather than single-variety wines.

It’s also treated less seriously as a stand-alone grape in Ontario overall than in B.C., where it takes pride of place, and often the top price tier, in many producer’s portfolios. Yet despite this, out of 84 merlot entries in 2023, no platinum medals were awarded, even if with 16 gold medals it equalled cabernet franc as a percentage of gold medal winners, of which three are from Ontario and the rest from B.C.

Judges often commented on the toughness and high extraction of many examples, wines that in the best case need more time in bottle to settle out, or in the worst case, will likely remain hard and unyielding for a lifetime. Balance — of tannins, acid, oak and fruit — is what really drives success, all of which confer drinkability and pleasure, features absent in the less successful wines.

And thus, perhaps counterintuitively, price is not always your best guide to quality in this category, where high price usually equals high extraction and abundant oak. In fact, the average bottle price among gold medal winners was slightly lower, $40.88, than the average price of silver and bronze medalists combined, $41.37, indicating that sometimes less is more.

We’d suggest you read through the judges’ reviews to get a sense of when the top wines will be at their prime.

NWAC 2023 Sponsors: