Atlantic wine was put on a pedestal this past weekend when results were revealed for the first annual Atlantic Canada Wine Awards. Thirteen wineries walked away with awards and most winners, unsurprisingly, were from Nova Scotia.
About two-thirds of the 119 wines entered in the Atlantic Canada Wine Awards won at least a bronze medal, and 21 scored high enough to deserve gold. Most interesting were the medals for the two new producers: Muir Murray Estate Winery won gold for baco noir, and bronze for rosé and foch; Annapolis Highland Vineyards won Silver for pinot gris and bronze for Dechaunac. That's impressive for wineries just out of the gates. (See the sidebar for a full list of Nova Scotian golds).
Because this recent competition dealt only with regional wines, one has to look at the results in context. If that sounds like I am already making excuses for our wines, let me explain. Context is what good wine is all about. Terroir, referring to the environment in which a wine is made---its soil, geography, climate and even culture---is an often used, but never tiresome or trite, term.
Just as the terroir is unique in France's Burgundy region, our Atlantic terroir is unique and it defines us. Judging wines from the same terroir means a more accurate evaluation: on the judging panel, we picked out regional nuances rather than judging on broad caricatures, which can happen in national contests.
Comparing our industry to other Canadian regions can be difficult. For one, we use different grapes. Choosing grapes here is important; they must ripen properly. That's why the winning grape varieties were typically not household names like shiraz and chardonnay but other grapes, like baco noir, Marechal Foch, L'Acadie blanc and New York muscat.
The coastal wines of Europe are mainly refreshing whites and the same applies here. These varieties ripen well in our climate and produce fruity wines with crisp acidity that pair well with food, especially local white wines with local seafood; that's why announcing the winners at last weekend's first CATCH Seafood Festival made good sense.
When we do grow the same grapes as other places, such as riesling, cabernet franc, chardonnay and pinot noir, they are leaner, with more acid. This plays well with some judges, but not all.
Overall, our Maritime acerbic personality hasn't hurt much at national competitions. Last May, Nova Scotia wineries won 28 medals at the 2009 All Canadian Wine Championship. Six of those were "double golds" (Best in Category). Jost Vineyards, based in Malagash, won three double golds: for their complex 2005 baco noir, aromatic 2008 Habitant Blanc blend and 2007 Valley Road Marechal Foch. Other double golds included L'Acadie Vineyards' Soleil dessert wine made from dried grapes, Gaspereau Vineyards' Vitis red blend and 2007 Barrel Select Lucie Kuhlmann.
This is the first year for this competition, so we'll see if the wineries can turn the medals into increased sales, encouraging consumers to go coastal.
Nova Scotian gold
Trilogy red blend, Pinot Noir and Frontenac Gris
Muscat/Chardonnay blend, L’Acadie Blanc, Muscat, Riesling
Domaine de Grand Pré
Muscat Ice Wine, Seyval Blanc, and Pomme D’Or apple dessert wine
Seyval Blanc and Vidal Icewine
Traditional Method sparkling Brut and Seyval Blanc
Sainte Famille Wines
Craig Pinhey is a certified beer judge, sommelier and freelance writer. Visit him at frogspad.ca.