Is tasting hundreds of wines over a few days your idea of fun?

Double gold, bronze medal, 93pts… shelf-talkers at wine and liquor stores are fast to showcase any recognition that a wine has gained. But what does it all really mean?

I recently judged at the All Canadian Wine Championships in Ontario and the Lieutenant General’s Awards for Excellence in BC Wines, here in Victoria. The ACWC, which is in its 35th year, attracted 1356 entries from 237 Canadian wineries, meaderies and cideries. The 13th LG Awards saw 425 submissions from 116 BC wineries. Different wines, different judges, different processes. Here’s what I learnt.

Judging is hard work. Tasting hundreds of wines over a few days sounds like fun, but it takes an incredible amount of focus. You arrive bright and early, sit down and look at your first wines full of optimism and energy. As the day progresses and you’ve stumbled into a few that you wish you hadn’t, it gets harder to stay excited – but that’s your job and you do it, because no matter how tired you are, that 100th wine deserves as much attention as the first.

LG WinnersJudging is serious. Awards can make a huge difference to sales and, for the judges, your professional reputation is on the line. Much has been written about how competitions tend to favour big, bold wines – they jump out of the glass, the allure is obvious and it’s easy to rank them highly. More delicate and subtle wines may not have that immediate impact, but they can definitely show their pedigree in the complexity they offer and in their length. The judges I admire most, approach every wine with an open mind and pay attention to exactly what’s going on in the hidden depths of the glass. Such diligence is exhausting.

Judges like to debate. A lot. Not just the wines, but the process. Every competition has different rules about how to rank or score the wines, how wines progress through the rounds and what awards are available. There’s always much discussion about the best way, but my experience is that whatever the details, the best wines come out on top. Looking at the two competitions, the LG Awards recognized the top fourteen wines. Eight of those were also part of the ACWC and five received high recognition by winning either best of category (double gold) or gold.

ACWC Best White Trophy Winner

ACWC Best White Trophy Winner

Look for 2102 Blasted Church Vineyards Holy Moly Petit Verdot, 2012 Cassini Cellars Cabernet Franc Collector’s Series, 2014 Inniskillin Okanagan Vineyards Winery Riesling Icewine, 2014 Ruby Blues Winery Commune Viognier, 2014 Wild Goose Vineyards and Winery Mystic River Gewürztraminer.

Church & State’s Quintessential was also awarded at both competitions; the 2012 vintage at the LG Awards and the 2010 vintage at the ACWC. Given that the ACWC covers the whole of Canada and over three times the wine, that kind of consistency is impressive. Still, it’s fun to argue process over a beer at the end of a long day.

Here are a few other highlights from the two competitions.

At the ACWC, the Best White of the Year went to 2013 Wild Goose Vineyards, Stoney Slope Riesling. Being both an Islander and a pink fan, I was thrilled to see Unsworth Vineyards, from Mill Bay, winning the best Rose award (double gold) with their 100% Pinot Noir offering. At the LG Awards, Enrico Winery & Vineyards won with their 2014 Tempest Ortega, marking the first time a Vancouver Island winery or an Ortega has won. Exciting times for the Island – however, you want to judge it.

ACWC (full results )

Lieutenant Governor’s Award Winners (full results )

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