Results from the 2023 Nationals – Other Red Single Varieties

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 Other Red Single Varieties winners.

Other Red Single Varieties

Category Overview by Judge Geoffrey Moss, MW

Perhaps a more apt name for this category is emerging red varieties. These are single-varietal red wines made from grape varieties represented by a relatively small number of entries. Even collectively, this category represents only four percent of submissions. So, yes, we’re talking about varieties that fall well outside of the status quo.

It’s not purgatory, though. The clear path out: more entries. Look no further than malbec, which feels like it’s on the cusp of a breakout. There were 20 entries this year, of which 70 percent earned a medal. It’s an impressive medal accumulation, which puts the grape alongside other Canadian stalwarts like riesling and cabernet franc.

It’s no secret why. Malbec is flourishing in the Okanagan Valley, even if the total acreage remains relatively meagre. Plantings increased by 20 percent from 2014 to 2019, totaling 122 acres as of the most recent acreage report. This year’s results make a good argument for more plantings — and more single-varietal expressions. (Last year, malbec was also responsible for four of the six gold medal wines in this category.) Look no further than gold medal efforts from Painted Rock, CedarCreek, and Van Westen. All three demonstrate why Okanagan malbec is so compelling: enticing aromatics, expressive dark fruit, and a distinctive, savoury freshness. At this stage, malbec has rightfully earned its own seat at the table. 

Another Bordeaux variety, petit verdot, isn’t far behind. Typically, petit verdot is added in small amounts to bolster a Bordeaux blend. But single-varietal bottlings can be more than just a curiosity — especially in exceptional vintages. It’s no surprise that three of the four gold medal winners come from 2020, a warm, benchmark vintage for both Niagara (Organized Crime) and the Okanagan (Blasted Church and Road 13). The 2019 Seaside Pearl Petit Verdot is the impressive exception.

Beyond malbec and petit verdot, it’s encouraging and reassuring to see wineries continuing to experiment with less-common varieties. No doubt, it would be easier to plant chardonnay or merlot. For those on the frontier, there’s no predicting the results. If anything, this category serves as a litmus test for what’s working (and what’s not).

Zinfandel is more commonly associated with the warmest winegrowing regions of California, but Orofino shows it can perform just as well in the Similkameen. Light, juicy reds also have done well this year, with a strong showing of Austrian and Italian varieties among the gold medal winners. Lailey — reborn under new ownership — makes the case for zweigelt in Niagara, while Modest Wines does the same for blaufränkisch in the Similkameen Valley. Italian varieties don’t always travel well, but Moon Curser has demonstrated for years that dolcetto thrives on the sun-soaked Osoyoos East Bench. Further north on the Naramata Bench, Tightrope shows that another Piedmontese variety, barbera, does well in the Okanagan, too. Now we’re just waiting for nebbiolo next year (hopefully).

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