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The Nationals: Canadian wine comes into focus



The 2016 National Wine Awards of Canada by Wine Align released its medal results earlier this week and today the online wine site announced the prestigious list of Canada 's Top 25 Wineries based on their performance at the just completed 2016 competition. Since we live in British Columbia I have taken the national list and ferreted out the top 10 performing B.C. wineries along with the highest rated wines for each producer. You can't get a better shopping list than this and the results are as current as it gets.

Full disclosure. I am a co-head judge of The Nationals and have been for all 16 competitions. In all, 21 judges from across the country took part, plus two internationals — one from London, England, and one from Sonoma, California. The number of wineries that participated was 230, also from across the country; they entered 1,527 wines. In the end, 16 platinum medals, 103 gold medals, 454 silver medals and 190 bronze medals were awarded.

Canada's Small Winery of the Year went to Naramata-based Lake Breeze Vineyards after having finished first in B.C. and second in the country, just behind Tawse Vineyard from Niagara. Winemaker Garron Elmes has been making the wine at Lake Breeze since the doors opened 21 years ago. The highest-rated white wine of the competition was the Lake Breeze 2014 Semillon garnering a platinum medal. The winery also struck gold with its 2012 Winemaker's Series Riesling, the 2015 Sauvignon Blanc and 2015 The Spice Jar White Blends. Lake Breeze is family-owned by Albertans Drew and Barbara McIntyre who bought the winery in 2001.

Second in B.C. and third in the country went to the Oliver/Golden Mile Bench-based Road 13 Vineyards. Winemaker J.M Bouchard has taken the winery down the Rhone-style path and two of his labels grabbed platinum medals: Road 13 Vineyards 2014 Syrah Mourvèdre and a new label using fruit from the Similkameen Valley is The Similkameen Collective 2013 Syrah Viognier. It was an impressive performance by the south Okanagan producer.

Number three in B.C. and fifth in Canada was Okanagan Falls Meyer Family Vineyards. Winemaker Chris Carson was awarded four gold medals for his 2014 Pinot Noir Micro Cuvee McLean Creek Vineyard, his 2014 Okanagan Valley Pinot Noir, the 2014 Old Block Pinot Noir McLean Creek Vineyard and 2014 Chardonnay McLean Creek Road Vineyard Chardonnay. Meyer is focused on high-quality pinot noir and chardonnay and as the vineyards get older in Okanagan Falls and Kelowna the wine is getting better and better.

Speaking of pinot noir, on the strength of two platinum medals for their pinot noir SpierHead Winery finished fourth in B.C. and sixth in the country. It's hard to script the same winery getting the two top pinot noir medals after two rounds of tastings that boasted 15 flights in Round 1 and eight flights in Round 2 but they did. It's high praise from tough judges but there is a purity of flavour at Spierhead that has been there since Day 1 and the judges liked that in pinot noir. The platinums went to the 2014 Pinot Noir Cuvee and 2014 Pinot Noir GFV Saddle Block. The east Kelowna winery also took home a well-deserved gold medal for their tasty 2015 Pinot Gris Golden Retreat Vineyard.

Fifth overall in B.C. and ninth in Canada was Black Swift Vineyards, perhaps better known as The Hatch. The West Kelowna winery is just beginning to stretch its legs but took home a platinum for its Black Swift 2013 Long Road Syrah and gold for The Hatch N/V Brut Rose Octobubble. The laid-back winery tasting room is next door to Quails' Gate and well worth visiting.

Number six in B.C. and 11th in Canada goes to Naramata-based La Frenz Estate Winery. It grabbed two gold medals and five silvers. The top medals went to the La Frenz 2014 Syrah Rockyfeller Vineyard and La Frenz 2015 Riesling Freedom 75. Winemaker Jeff Martin has a long history of turning out quality wines and is a force on the Naramata Bench.

Lincoln University trained Chris and Beata Tolley to make the wine and run Osoyoos-based Moon Curser Winery and the couple finished seventh overall in B.C. and 12th in Canada. The winery grabbed two golds and three silver medals, winning the judges over with their flagship blend Moon Curser 2013 Dead of Night, a unique blend of syrah and tannat, and the always-rich Moon Curser 2013 Syrah.

Further north in Oliver, along the Black Sage Bench, Church & State Wines finished eighth in B.C. and 14th in Canada. Once again the warm, south Okanagan yielded to fine red wines: The flagship red blend Church & State 2012 Quintessential and the Church & State 2013 Coyote Bowl Series Syrah Second Chapter Vineyard.

Ninth overall in B.C. and 17th in the country went to the well-established East Kelowna CedarCreek Estate Winery. With one platinum and seven silver medals the winery turned in a strong performance led by the appropriately named CedarCreek 2014 Platinum Chardonnay Block 5 and a perennial favourite of this writer, the CedarCreek 2013 Estate Merlot.

Number 10 and 19th in Canada takes us back to Oliver and the Black Sage Bench, the home of Burrowing Owl Estate, who grabbed two golds for a pair of reds that thrive in the south Okanagan heat — Burrowing Owl 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon and the Burrowing Owl 2013 Athene Red Blend.

From my viewpoint Canadian wine is in a good space and B.C. is well-positioned among the country's best wine producers. What is really encouraging is the groundswell of improvement at so many small wineries. Interestingly, the awards point to many areas of expertise in B.C. and a lot of it has to do with your geographical location. I know terroir and sub-appellations who would have thought it might be important.

In 2016 the pinot noir in B.C. really shone and it can only get better as producers turn out more and more nuanced versions. Organic and natural wines are finding their place. Cabernet franc, syrah, riesling and white Rhone varieties are all showing huge promise and chardonnay is getting back on track.

The National Wine Awards are only a snapshot of the state of Canadian wine but it's as clear a picture as we have taken yet. Complete results are at

Anthony Gismondi is a globetrotting wine writer who makes his home in West Vancouver, British Columbia. For more of his thoughts on wine log onto

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