Anthony Gismondi: The Nationals are Canada’s most important wine competition

It’s been an amazing two-decade journey for the Wine Align National Wine Awards, and looking ahead to this year’s awards, there is almost no comparison between years one and 20.

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Twenty-six astute wine tasters will make their way to Penticton to participate in the 2021 Wine Align National Wine Awards in 10 days.


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Full disclosure, I am a co-head judge and have been running the awards founded by myself and Ontario wine scribe David Lawarason since 2000.

Unfortunately, COVID-19 cancelled the 20th anniversary last year, but we are ready to go on Oct. 1, and are expecting a record-setting number of wines to kick off the third decade.

It’s been an amazing two-decade journey, and looking ahead to this year’s awards, there is almost no comparison between years one and 20. Of course, enthusiasm by all participants remains high, so there is no change there, but as we have said for years, the weeklong tasting is only a snapshot in time, and like those 20-year-old family photos, things have changed considerably.

The inaugural 2001 year drew 528 wines from 71 wineries, judged by eight men in terms of numbers. In 2021 we expect 2,100 entries from more than 200 wineries. There will be 26 judges — 13 men and 13 women, and it will take three days to prepare the backroom and assemble the more than 260 flights of wines poured and served to the judges throughout the five days of tastings.


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Canadian wines have been winning some big awards worldwide, but The Nationals is the most important peer competition they can enter. I can tell you that in 2021, just about every winery of note in the country is competing, and with very few exceptions, they have all sent their best wines. I can assure you that this is not the case at most national wine tastings worldwide. As a result, what happens at The Nationals is of the utmost importance to both the wineries and consumers. It also provides the judges, many of whom are writers or retailers, with valuable information that would take years to assemble if you were to visit every winery in the country.

A good example of how big the competition has become is the rising star category of Canadian sparkling wine.


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The growth of sparklers has been exponential. Yet, back in 2000, very few producers made sparkling wine despite growing conditions across the country that would suggest sparkling wine would be a safe bet. In 2001, 11 sparkling wines were entered, and the top wine scored 88 points: Lang Vineyards Canadian Maple Brut Method Classique selling for $24.50. This year, we expect just under 150 sparkling wines to enter the competition, reflecting widespread growth across the country. Prices will range from $11 to $97. I’m predicting the top wines will have to score 93-95 points to get a platinum medal.

Pinot Noir was another interesting category in that in 2001. The judges panned every entry awarding five silver medals and 13 bronze medals out of 28 entries. The top-scoring wine garnering 90 points was the Kacaba 1999 Pinot Noir from the Niagara Peninsula in Ontario, followed by the 89-point Hawthrone Vineyard Gold Label Pinot Noir from Okanagan Falls. In 2021 we already have 172 Pinot Noir labels submitted, from $20 to $80. Again the winning wine will have to fend off some staunch competition and hit some 92-plus points to grab the Pinot mantle.


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When we say things have changed exponentially, we mean it. Cabernet Franc entries have jumped from 32 to probably over 100 labels; Chardonnay will rise from 68 to nearly 200 different bottles; Riesling will go from 40 to 140 plus entires, while red blends have risen from 35 entries to amazing 200-plus wine.

What makes it so enticing to enter is the opportunity to have your wine assessed and benchmarked in a rigorous two-stage blind tasting against the best in the country. It also makes the results particularly meaningful to wineries, consumers and judges over the next 12 months. It should be an exciting week.

Look for our report on the important B.C. results later in October once the sediment settles in Penticton.


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Weekend wine picks

Orofino Chardonnay 2019, Similkameen Valley, British Columbia, Canada

$21.65 I92/100

UPC: 626990126003

It’s sometimes hard to imagine how far B.C. wine has come until you taste something like the Orofino 2019 Chardonnay. It spends nine months on its lees and another nine months in bottle before it is released. The attack is all minerals, bones, citrus and Meyer lemons with crisp fruit dusted in sagebrush and magic desert scrub. Savoury, salty, focused and delicious, there is nothing but finesse here. And they are giving it away — Burgundy be scared.

Narrative Rosé 2019, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada

$17.49 I 88/100

UPC: 626990194378

Narrative Rosé has the quintessential light pink colour, and now the label itself comes in colour, giving the fun wine extra curb appeal. Narrative is meant to tell an Okanagan story, and at Okanagan Crush Pad, it is one of freshness and respect for nature. The blend mixes grapes from Summerland and Oliver, all destemmed and given 12 hours of skin contact before a light press and a ferment in concrete. The result is a delicious, bone-dry pink with sweet red berry and fresh citrus-lined finis. Party, anyone? Serious value.


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Fort Berens Grüner Veltliner 2020, British Columbia, Canada

$19.99 I 88/100

UPC: 626990451044

This Grüner Veltliner comes out of the southern Okanagan at Bordertown Vineyard, from the warm Osoyoos region. That said, FB has done a decent job of giving the wine a hint of the lean, spare coolness of Grüner while fighting off the ripe, warm flavours of the South Okanagan. The attack is medium rich and but there is a touch of minerality and desert scrub throughout its creamy, soft, pear palate. Traditional Grüner fans will want a more pointy end to this wine, but many will like it just how it is. There will be a Lillooet version in time, so keep the faith. We love the price.

Modest Wines By Jove Sangiovese 2019, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada


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$29.99 I 89/100

UPC: 812289192693

This impressive little juicy red, that is in a small way very Tuscan on the nose, was made specifically with cowboy cuts and Tuscan T-bones in mind. Fresh, savoury and low in tannin, it is a perfect red wine for a dinner conversation based on life, not wine. It is characterized with tongue in cheek as their first “super-Okanagan,” basked in the sun-drenched, sage-scented slopes of the black sage bench. It is 85 per cent Sangiovese with a dash of other reds that’s comes with a modest 13.5 per cent alcohol.

Clos de los Siete 2017, Valle de Uco, Tunuyán, Mendoza, Argentina

$26.99 I 91/100

UPC: 3258691254579

Clos de los Siete is a blend of Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah and a little Petit-Verdot and Cabernet Franc. The styling is all Bordeaux, and it is polished and elegant. It represents France and Argentina’s best, offering restraint and rich, powerful black fruit with a strong sense of terroir. The tannins are dense but supple and will only disappear as time slips away. It’s a delicious wine at a fair price that you need to decant at the moment or that you can cellar for five to seven more years until it reaches its peak.


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The Victor Crab Cakes.
The Victor Crab Cakes. Photo by Bill Milne /Handout

Recipe match: Crab cakes

Created by the team at The Victor at Parq Vancouver, these crab cakes are perfectly creamy with a nice crisp. Pair with some vegetables for a light supper, or serve as an appetizer at your next celebratory meal.

Crab cakes

1 lb Dungness crab, picked and cleaned

1 lemon, juice and zest

1 small egg

1/2 bunch green onion, finely chopped

4 tbsp (60 mL) Japanese mayonnaise

1/2 cup (125 mL) Panko bread crumbs

Spray four, 2-inch-by-2-inch stainless steel ring molds with non-stick spray and set aside. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

In a mixing bowl, add all the ingredients except for the panko breadcrumbs. Mix well and adjust seasoning with more lemon or salt if needed.

Pack the crab mix into the ring molds so they are as full as can be. Top each open end of the crab cake with panko breadcrumbs, be sure to pack the breadcrumbs in as much as you can so you can create a good crust.


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In a non stick pan, heat up 2 tbsp of canola oil, once you start to see whisps of smoke, add the crab cakes into the pan and sear each side of the panko crusted crab until you reach a nice golden colour.

Take the crab cakes out of the pan (the cake should still be in the ring mold) and place on a silicone lined baking sheet and bake in the oven for 8-10 minutes, until warm throughout.

With a knife, carefully remove the ring mold from the crab cake and set onto your plate. Serve with side salad of your choice and your favourite flavoured aioli.

Recipe match

Crab cakes are a good opportunity to use a favourite fresh white as you would squeeze lemon to freshen a dish.

Dirty Laundry Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2019, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia $19.99

Expect an easy-sipping style mixing tropical mango, papaya with a touch of tomato leaf and citrus. All in all, a fresh style will attract Kiwi Sauvignon drinkers.

Foxly Pinot Gris 2020, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, $20.99

Look for an open, yellow fruit nose with hints of citrus and honeysuckle. On the palate, lime rind and melon dominate a lean white wine with a touch of spice and a fresh demeanour. Reminiscent of the northern Italian style. Ready to drink.



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