Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Lieutenant Governor’s Wine Awards 2015

 Photo: The 14 winners in 2015

In 2015, the Lieutenant Governor’s Awards for Excellence in British Columbia Wines broke new ground.

For the first time in the competition’s 12-year history, a Vancouver Island winery – Enrico Winery & Vineyards – was among the winners.

There was a significantly stronger showing overall by island wineries, reflecting both the recent excellent coastal vintages and the maturing winemaking.

The coastal wineries in either the semi-final or final judging rounds, in addition to Enrico, included Blue Grouse Estate Winery, Symphony Vineyard, 40 Knots Vineyard & Estate Winery and Sea Star Vineyard & Winery.

As the wine industry knows, this is a difficult award to win because only a limited number of awards are given. This year, 14 awards were given for what the judges deemed the very best among the 408 wines entered.

One winery owner has been quoted as saying this is like winning the Stanley Cup. It is an apt comparison, considering that award was established by a Governor General. The wine award was established in 2003 by The Honourable Iona Campagnolo when she was Lieutenant Governor. A similar award has since been established by Ontario’s Lieutenant Governor.

A slight amendment of the judging procedure this year improved the rigor of the competition, assuring that the best wines were winners.

The judging team was enlarged and three panels were established. In the first round of judging, each panel tasted about a third of the wines, narrowing down the selection of wines for the semi-final round.

The 84 wines in the semi-final round were tasted by the full judging panel. They refined the selection to 30 wines for the final round of judging. Inserting the semi-final round of judging was new this year.

Thus, the winning 14 wines were tasted twice by all nine judges, and three times by some judges. The winners were tasted 27 times. There was unanimity or strong majorities for the winners.

While a large number of wineries entered, I noted with surprise that some major producers, among them previous winners, did not enter while they do enter national and international competitions.

That makes absolutely no sense. It costs around $100 an entry to submit wines for national or international competitions. There is no entry fee for the Lieutenant Governor’s competition. Wineries are asked just for three bottles each of up to four entries.

Of course, the difficulty of winning an award – only 14 awards from 408 wines – might strike some as lottery odds. The point is that the exclusivity of these awards makes them especially prestigious.

Other competitions hand out far more awards, including of bronze medals, to which there is limited prestige.

This competition also stands apart because the awards are handed out personally in the last week of July by the Lieutenant Governor (Her Honour Judith Guichon) in ceremonies at the winning wineries. The event is all the more grand because many members of the British Columbia consular corps also attend.

The consuls are not just there to party. They also buy wines for their own cellars. One year, they purchased so much wine that their bus was overloaded and a truck had to be rented to carry all of the wine. For winning wineries, this can be a nice payday.

Here are this year’s winners.

BC Wine Studio Siren’s Call Syrah 2012 ($25). This big and bold red begins with aromas of black cherry, oak and delicatessen spices. On the palate, there is more black cherry and plum with classic notes of white and black pepper.

Blasted Church Vineyards Holy Moly 2012 ($31). This is 100% Petit Verdot, a late ripening variety comparatively rare in the Okanagan. The wine begins with an intense dark red colour. The aromas span the gamut from floral perfume, plum and cherry to raw steak. The wine has flavours of black cherry and plum with spice and sage on the finish. There is even a hint of graphite on the finish of a very complex wine.
Cassini Cellars Cabernet Franc Collector’s Series 2012 ($29). Beginning with brambleberry aromas, this concentrated wine has flavours of plum, blackberry and black currant, with a tarry, earthy note on the finish.

Church & State Winery Quintessential 2012 ($55). This is the eighth vintage of Church & State’s award-winning Bordeaux blend. The wine is generous in texture and in flavours. It begins with aromas of black cherry, black currants, vanilla and truffles. On the palate, there are flavours of plum, mulberry, black cherry and dark chocolate.

Enrico Winery & Vineyards Tempest (Ortega) 2014 ($17.50). This wine begins with lovely floral aromas. On the palate, it is intensely fruity with flavours of peach and lime. The residual sweetness lifts the flavours and gives the wine a juicy texture.

Ex Nihilo Vineyards Pinot Noir 2013 ($32). This is a seductive wine, with aromas and flavours of strawberry and cherry. It is light ruby in colour but, on the palate, the wine has a surprising full texture and persistent flavours.

50th Parallel Estate Chardonnay 2013 ($32).  This wine was fermented and aged 12 months in premium French oak barrels. The wine begins with a buttery and spicy aroma of expensive oak (think of cinnamon and apple pie). That translates to a creamy palate, with flavours of hazelnut, marmalade, baked apple and a never-ending finish. This is an elegant and satisfying Chardonnay.

Inniskillin Okanagan Reserve Riesling Icewine 2014 ($34.95 for 200 ml). A superb Icewine, this has aromas and flavours of lime and ripe pineapple, with brisk acidity to balance the residual sugar. The finish is elegantly fresh and long-lasting. Earlier vintages of this winery’s Icewine also won LG awards in 2013 and 2006.

Lake Breeze Vineyards Merlot 2012 ($17.39). This is a ripe, almost jammy wine with concentrated flavours of cassis, black cherry and blueberry.

Noble Ridge Vineyard & Winery “The One” Sparkling 2010 ($39.90). This sparkling wine cuvée is 70% Chardonnay and 30% Pinot Noir. The wine spent about 26 months en tirage before being disgorged in June 2013. It displays the toasty, bready aromas and flavours one expects with Champagne. The bubbles give the wine a creamy mid palate but the finish is crisp and dry.

Platinum Bench Gamay Noir Block 28 2013 ($34.90). This is a dense and concentrated wine with the structure of a Beaujolais Cru (Morgon, perhaps). It has aromas and flavours of black cherry and plum. The fruit is sweet. There are savoury and earthy notes on the finish.

Red Rooster Syrah Reserve 2012 ($26). Dark in colour, this wine has aromas of black cherry, delicatessen spices, rare steak and pepper which are echoed in the flavours. The long finish is pleasantly earthy and peppery.

Ruby Blues Winery Viognier 2014 ($25). This is the third year that this winery has won an award of excellence for Viognier. The 2014 wine is fresh and vibrant with floral fragrances. On the palate, there are flavours of peach, citrus and apple. The wine is juicy and refreshing.

Wild Goose Vineyards & Winery Mystic River Gewürztraminer 2014 ($20.10). This is the eighth award of excellence won by Wild Goose in the 12-year history of the competition. It begins with intense aromas of rose petals and spice and continues with flavours of orange peel, grapefruit and lychee. The wine is dry but the exceptional fruit flavours trick the palate into perceiving slight sweetness.

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