Gamay, Pinot Gris and Rosé – Medal Winners from NWAC 2021

Announcing the Results from the 2021 National Wine Awards of Canada

The 20th National Wine Awards of Canada wrapped up in October in Penticton, B.C., fittingly judging a record-setting number of wines from coast to coast. It’s been an amazing two-decade journey for the most respected and important Canadian wine competition. The week-long tasting is but a snapshot of Canadian wine, yet like old family photos, much has changed over two decades. The inaugural competition in 2001 drew 528 wines from 71 wineries, judged by eight men. In 2021, 26 judges — 14 men and 12 women — tasted 2,075 entries from more than 260 wineries. 

As in previous years, we have decided to break the announcement of the results into more manageable pieces. Starting today, we begin announcing a few categories a day over a two week period, concluding with the highly-anticipated Platinum winners on November 10th, the Best Performing Small Winery of the Year on November 11th, and finally the Winery of the Year along with the nation’s Top 25 Wineries on November 12th.

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We’ve asked a few of our judges to summarize their impressions of each category. Today we present Gamay, Pinot Gris and Rosé:

Platinum Pack 2021 NL


Category Overview by Judge Janet Dorozynski


It is a short and simple hashtag, and a rallying cry of sorts, that I came up with ten years ago. It was during a time when some wineries were saying that gamay was difficult to sell and were replanting to other varieties. I am not sure if it is easier to sell these days but there does seems to be growing interest among trade and consumers for gamay.

Gamay is the variety of Beaujolais and we see all styles of gamay made in Canada. From the lighter, fresh, juicy, and infinitely drinkable to medium bodied, more serious and complex styles, from single vineyard sites with varying degrees of oak treatment. While the latter are slightly more expensive, they are still less costly to make and buy than pinot noir and a great alternative and value for those looking for lighter reds.

The history of gamay in Ontario dates back to the beginnings of the modern wine industry and is part of early vinifera planting trials. It is also a historically significant variety. Donald Ziraldo and Karl Kaiser, the co-founders and co-owners of Inniskillin Wines, received the first winery license since Prohibition in 1974, to make wine for an LCBO submission for 500 gallons of wine from gamay.

Plantings in Ontario number over 400 acres while in British Columbia there are less than 200 acres. There are also small amounts of gamay grown in Quebec and Nova Scotia. The variety is prolific and benefits from crop thinning in the vineyard to temper its vigorous growth and ensure uniform ripeness and concentration. Gamay is also one of the most winter hardy vinifera, even more so than chardonnay or cabernet franc, and ideally suited to many parts of Canada.

The top scoring gamay from NWAC 2021 come as no surprise since both Deep Roots from the Naramata Bench in British Columbia and Malivoire from Ontario’s Beamsville Bench have been winners in the past. Malivoire was an early adopter and gamay specialist and thought to have the largest vineyard plantings and production of gamay outside of Beaujolais.

There are also a few new comers to the category from various parts of the Similkameen and Okanagan Valleys in British Columbia, along with wonderful examples from both Escarpment and Niagara-on-the-Lake sub-appellations along with Prince Edward County in Ontario. Check out the winners below and if you haven’t tried any Canadian gamay yet, all I can say is what are you waiting for?


Pinot Gris / Grigio

Category Overview by Judge John Szabo

2021 saw the most imaginative and inspiring array of pinot gris/grigio yet tasted at the National Wine Awards of Canada. Historically, the category has been split between the simple, pale, crisp and light, inexpensive grigio style (think northern Italy), and the richer, fuller bodied (and more interesting) ‘gris’ style, for which Alsace is still the benchmark. But this year, with the growing interest in, and experimentation with, varying degrees of skin contact, the range of flavours, from tart citrus to autumnal orchard fruit, and colours, from pale platinum to pinkish-amber, were nothing short of captivating. Indeed, there were questions around the judging room as to whether some wines should be moved to the skin contact/orange category instead.

In the end, six out of 100 entries were awarded gold, a small percentage, but the silver and bronze categories are certainly worth attention. Many of the outliers and idiosyncratic styles, on which panels couldn’t quite agree, ended up here, the inevitable result of judging by committee. Be sure to check the tasting notes for an indication of what fun awaits in the glass. In any case, the Canadian gris/grigio universe has never been so interesting and pan-Canadian, with medalists from Vancouver Island to Prince Edward County and in between.



Category Overview by Judge Michael Godel

A record medal haul for Canadian Rosé

Canadian Rosé continues to diversify and for consumers across the country this means higher quality

Salty, lithe and spirited is what most of us need, but who wants only light, southern French styled Rosé when you can also have full fruit, plenty of colour and a healthy dose of personality? In many Canadian cases the nearly pale and vin gris examples still persist and excite but there too are those bled and rendered, heavily hued and teeming with fruit. Canadian made Rosé is more focused, diverse and complex than ever before. You can no longer think on it in mere terms of salinity, sapidity and satisfaction. Something more and other must be considered. Style. Style is what separates Canadian Rosé and in 2021 it exudes with prejudice and finesse. In terms of working for the consumer that means more choice and that’s a beautiful thing. Whether you are making yours to be a crowd pleaser with a heathy dose of residual sugar or dry as the desert, the unequivocal voice of necessary conscience will always whisper “balance in Rosé is key.” You also don’t want to get too serious with Rosé so a little pop music with a slightly salty and bitter sound seems like just the plan.

At the 2021 Nationals the judges found happiness and excellence at various checkpoints along the Rosé spectrum. The coterie of wine assessing beaks found examples redolent of fresh-picked strawberry, Maldon sprinkled and just herbaceous enough to express on behalf of signature red grape varieties like gamay, pinot noir and cabernet franc. When aridity, a sour edge, fine acids, minerality, near brininess and stoic balance was noted it just added to the mystique and charm.

The 2021 WineAlign National Wine Awards of Canada saw to three Gold Medals, 16 Silver and a record 57 Bronze. The total of 76 medals is quite a remarkable number and means that the number of Rosé wines scoring at an average of 88 points or higher translates to a hole helluva lot of good drinking for Canadian consumers. The last time we looked at Rosé (in 2019) there were 44 medals awarded, six Gold, six Silver and 32 Bronze. In 2021 The Golds all belonged to Okanagan Valley producers and their world class winemakers; Amy Paynter’s Liquidity 2020, Taylor Whelan’s CedarCreek 2020 Platinum Home Block and Evan Saunders’ Blasted Church 2020 Blaufränkisch. These are neither fluke nor happenstance occurrences but real life affirmations of great minds and talents putting the work in to craft exceptional Rosés. The same deconstructed logic applies to many of the leaders in the Silver category including Jay Johnston’s Hidden Bench 2020 Locust Lane Rose, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario; Shiraz Mottiar’s Malivoire 2020 Moira Rosé, Beamsville Bench, Ontario; Barclay Robinson’s Road 13 2020 Rosé, to name but a few.

About Liquidity’s Rosé 2020 I wrote “dry enough if more than just about this, surely saline, rusty and very much nosing pinot noir as per the varietal sway. Plenty of fruit, juicy, generous and just a pleasure to drink. Crunchy Rosé, made the way those who know will and for those who can handle the truth this way.” This says everything about how I personally feel about Rosé and since I am the judge writing this category write-up I feel justified in laying my personal blush beliefs out there for all to read. Employing pinot noir is an essential tool and never a varietal waste from Canadian vines because in reds the misses often equal the hits. Liquidity’s and CedarCreek’s are made from pinot noir, as are Malivoire’s Moira, Hidden Bench Locust Lane, Enrico Winery Red Dragon 2020, Seven Directions Tractor and Vines Vineyard 2020, Huff Estates 2020 Getaway and Unsworth 2020. Blasted Church’s made from blaufränkisch, St. Hubertus Frizzante 2019 and London Born Camden 2020 (gamay), Stag’s Hollow 2020 (syrah) and Wayne Gretzky Okanagan 2020 (cabernet franc) speak for solo varietal intendment. Road 13’s (syrah, cabernet franc and sangiovese), Corcelettes Oracle 2020 (pinot noir, syrah and grenache), Quails’ Gate Lucy’s Block 2020 (pinot noir and pinot meunier), Vignoble Rivière du Chêne La Cantina Vallée d’Oka Rosé du Calvaire 2020 (pinot noir and chardonnay) and Fielding Estate 2020 (pinot noir, cabernet franc, pinot gris, sauvignon blanc and gamay) speak on behalf of the assemblage diversity in the category.

Canadians need to be thankful of a path taken that continues to avoid the “dextrinization” of Rosé, meaning winemakers are eschewing chemical avenues to seek viscosities, solubilities, colour and stability for more natural and meaningful methodologies. Manipulations that change hue, aroma and flavour are disappearing into the vaults of the past. Whether it be light crushing, pressing or saignée, no less than 76 Rosés tasted at this years NWACs displayed fitting means to their multifarious Rosé ends. Congratulations to all the award winners and to the producers we say this. Continue to make proper, honest, quality and crushable Rosé and we will applaud your efforts. This applies to every part of this country where grapes are grown and Rosé is possible. An increasing number of Canadian Rosé drinkers thank you and know that when it comes to purchasing choices it has never been clearer where to look. Canadian Rosé rocks.


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