Results from the 2023 Nationals – Viognier and Gewürztraminer

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 Viognier and Gewürztraminer winners.

Viognier and Gewürztraminer

Category Overview by Judge Sara d’Amato

Better conditions over the past couple years for viognier and gewürztraminer in B.C. led to several strong golds. Viognier and gewürztraminer had a similar number of entries, with 39 for the former versus 34 for the latter. With five versus two gold medals, the overall quality of viognier seems to have been slightly favoured over gewürztraminer, but several reliable contenders prevailed, and the results show that these wines should not be overlooked.

Two of the world’s most unctuous wines result from grape varieties that are found in very disparate benchmark growing regions in France. Yet both are grown across Canada’s largest wine growing regions. These grapes have more in common than you might imagine — both are cold averse and can be a challenge to overwinter in Canada; they produce high-alcohol and low-acid wines; and they both suffer from a stylistic identity crisis.

We expect a high degree of satisfying viscosity from these grape varieties but, more and more, whether intentionally or not, a style is emerging globally that results in fresher, leaner expressions from earlier harvested grapes or young vines. Does a near-nervy viognier satiate? Does an airy light-hearted gewürztraminer fall short of your expectations or is it welcome and invigorating?

Well-aware of this diversity in these categories, we judges spent less time debating their validity and more time discussing the deliberate intentions of the winemaker. Was the wine green and underripe or was a fresher expression desired? Was it unbalanced and cloying, or did it have character and integrity? Existential vinous discussions are often spawned when evaluating viognier and gewürztraminer. The quirks and quiddities of a wine are scrutinized with more rigor.

On the judging tables, these are flights that had to be tasted back and forth and side to side, as more discreet, subtlely complex examples can easily be overshadowed by a more showy, ostentatious wine. Tangentially, I find it ironic that we seem to be craving more refreshment in our wines as the climate warms — which is inverse to what comes more naturally in the vineyard because of rising temperatures.

It is not surprising that we don’t see a great deal of Ontario wines in the medal category for these varieties due to notable vine death over the 2021-2022 winter. Low temperatures after a high-yielding and wetter vintage resulted in significant crop damage in certain, less hardy varieties in Ontario. In fact, all medaled entries from Ontario in the viognier and gewürztraminer originated prior to the 2022 vintage. Strikingly, according to the Grape Growers of Ontario Annual report, in 2021 there were 1,778 tonnes of gewürztraminer processed by producers compared to a mere 422 tonnes in 2022.

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