Oh What a Year!

This is traditionally the time when people reflect back over the year that was and reminisce over the happy and sad times of the past twelve months.  Unfortunately this year there wasn’t a lot of opportunity for happy times.  The main and some would say, only event of 2020 was COVID-19. It has disrupted life as we knew it.

With the production of this last year’s wine supply still in progress, the situation heavily impacts the existing product stocks of the winemakers looking to sell the wine reserves of 2018. However, due to the measures applied in the spring by most countries, the biggest wine producing countries – Italy, France, Spain and the US – have seen sales decline steadily.

Mid-spring to early autumn is when wineries here in Canada do most of their business. However, with wine tours, tastings and exploration being limited or completely on hold for the foreseeable future, the number of visitors to wineries was drastically reduced along with associated wine sales. The sale of other merchandise, such as food and clothing, was also negatively impacted.  Some wineries closed entirely because of the virus.

The Demand for Champagne

Sales of champagne, one of France’s most iconic products, have tumbled over the past year with industry representatives estimating that some 100 million bottles will be left unsold.   Lower demand due to the pandemic has led to an exceptionally low harvest quota in France’s Champagne region, with pickers in the vineyards harvesting one-fifth less than last year.

With many cafes, hotels and restaurants being closed at various times, and weddings and music festivals being called off, people consumed less champagne.  However, lower demand will not necessarily lead to lower prices.

Australian Wild Fires

Wild fires wreaked havoc from late 2019 until the early part of this year in Australia.  The Adelaide Hills wine region was the hardest hit, destroying 30% of its production.  The Cudlee Creek fire affected more than 60 growers and producers in the region.

The financial blow to the Adelaide Hills wine industry was significant. The region lost $20 million worth of wine, which translates to 794,000 cases.

The Wild Fires on the U.S.  West Coast

Wineries were already facing great financial strains due to the reduction in restaurant traffic and smaller crowds visiting vineyards for tastings.  Many tasting rooms were closed due to fire and smoke risks, while many grapes have been damaged or totally ruined.

Oregon, Washington and California together produce about 90% of all U.S. wine. The true impact on the $70 billion industry will not be known for months as crop damage can vary greatly from region to region.  Smoke blanketed much of the U.S. West as fires charred in excess of 2 million hectares.

Canadian Wine Awards

The judging of the 20th Anniversary Edition of the National Wine Awards of Canada has been postponed indefinitely due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The sessions were to be held the week of June 24 to 28 in Penticton, British Columbia. The hope is that the competition can resume in 2021.

The 2020 COVID-19 version of the Ontario Wine awards finally took place on August 28th.  A small group gathered at Kew Vineyard, in Beamsville, Ontario as the awards were presented in front of a small, socially-distanced gathering.  Unlike previous years there were no judges and no formal tastings for the four main awards.  Instead the Awards Committee reached out to judges who had participated in the last three years of the competition and asked them to nominate their top three white, red and sparkling wines they had tasted during the year. Based on those responses the top scoring wines were tabulated.

Onward and Upward

Now that the COVID-19 vaccine is starting to be administered hopefully everyone who wants it will be able to have it within next few months.  Then we can begin the journey toward a world that is better than what we are experiencing today.  In the meantime stay safe and though it may be much quieter than usual, have the happiest New Year that these times will permit.

Sláinte mhaith


I have been asked on more than one occasion the meaning of the phrase Sláinte mhaith which appears at the end of each of my posts.  These are the words of an Irish toast which are pronounced ‘slawncha va’.  It means ‘good health’.  It is often shortened to just Sláinte.  If you have ever experienced a true Irish pub, in all likelihood you will have witnessed the raising of a glass and Sláinte given as a toast.

A toast is a ritual in which a drink is taken as an expression of honour or goodwill.  As legend has it the custom of touching glasses came from concerns about poisoning.  By one account, clinking glasses together would cause each drink to spill over into the other glasses.  Another theory is that the word toast became associated with the 17th century custom of flavouring drinks with spiced toast.

The International Handbook on Alcohol and Culture says toasting “is probably a secular vestige of ancient sacrificial libations in which a sacred liquid was offered to the gods: blood or wine in exchange for a wish, a prayer summarized in the words ‘long life!’ or ‘to your health!'”

Toasting has deep roots in Western culture, with some anthropologists suggesting that it goes back to ancient religious rites. While a toast is generally positive — good health and good luck are common — the act carries certain negative superstitions in at least three European countries. Making eye contact while toasting is considered polite in many countries and the penalties for failing to do so can be severe. French and German superstition suggests that you’ll suffer through seven years of ‘bad sex’ if you don’t maintain eye contact during a toast. Many Spanish believe that the same curse will befall those who toast with glasses of water.  Toasting with an empty glass may be viewed by some as acceptable behavior for the non-drinker though pretending to drink from an empty glass seems ridiculous.  I am not sure how the people who think toasting with water is not acceptable feel about toasting with an empty glass.  However, in many countries toasting with an empty glass is preferable to refusing a toast altogether.

Irrelevant of which theory is true, toasting traditionally involves alcoholic beverages. Sparkling wine, often Champagne, is considered festive and is widely associated with New Year’s Eve and other celebrations. Many people nowadays substitute sparkling fruit juice (often packaged in champagne-style bottles).

The words used during a toast vary from country to country, though the meaning is very similar.  The Scots of the western half of Scotland, in Scottish Gaelic, say ‘dheagh shlàinte, (pronounced like ‘do slawncha’).  This is often responded  with ‘slàinte agad-sa”, which literally means “health at yourself”.  Scots, like the English, and now Canadians and Americans, often now use the word ‘cheers’.

In Hebrew, it is’ L’chayim’; in French it is ‘À votre santé’; the Germans often say ‘Prost’ (rhymes with toast); in Spanish it is ‘Salud’; in Portuguese it is ‘Saude’; and the Italians say ‘Salute’.

So if a toast is offered up this year at a holiday gathering (no matter how small that gathering may be) now you have some insight as to how the tradition may have began.

Sláinte mhaith

Shopping for Wine Online

During these difficult times, and trying to minimize my contact with crowds, I have become a fan of online shopping through the LCBO.  My overall results have been favourable and my selections are not limited to the products available at any particular store.

My closest liquor store is located in a small town about 10 km. from where I live.  For obvious reasons the selection of items available there is rather limited.  However, online shopping provides me with a full range of products that I can order and then pick up at my local store. The online price is the same as the in store price and all orders of $50 or more are shipped free of charge.

Online shopping provides other opportunities as well.  Many Canadian wineries offer websites with online ordering capability. If you have a favourite wine that you can’t purchase locally, you may find that it is available direct from the winery via their website.  There is no price difference whether you pick the wine up at the winery or order it from their website.  Many wineries offer free shipping with a minimum size order.

There are several online companies that also make both Canadian and international wines available online.  These companies work on a different premise than wine clubs (see my post from October 3, 2020).  These companies simply provide a wide selection of wines for sale at varying prices.  In order to get free shipping you may have to buy up to 12 bottles, though they don’t need to be all of the same type of wine.

Although it isn’t common, bottles may arrive broken. However, if it does occur, the provider will replace or refund any portion of your order that was damaged. An extra advantage of dealing with the LCBO is that if goods were damaged on arrival at the store they are replaced before you pick up your order.  No fuss no muss.

Sláinte mhaith

Grapes and Wild Fires

Smoke has caused a lot of damage to the 2020 grape harvest in California, Oregon and Washington during the past few weeks.  In some cases production has been reduced by over 80.  The smoke can be absorbed right into the grapes’ flesh giving them the flavour of a wet ash tray.

Atmospheric smoke has blocked the sunlight that is essential for the grapes to properly ripen. Poor air quality is slowing harvesting as fieldwork hours are being limited and particle-filtering masks are in short supply due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Wineries were already facing great financial strains due to the reduction in restaurant traffic and smaller crowds visiting vineyards for tastings.  Many tasting rooms remain closed due to fire and smoke risks, while grapes may be damaged or totally ruined.

Oregon, Washington and California together produce about 90% of all U.S. wine. The true impact on the $70 billion industry will not be known for months as crop damage can vary greatly.

Smoke has blanketed much of the U.S. West as fires have charred some 2 million hectares.

Laboratories that test grapes for smoke contamination are being overwhelmed with some taking up to a month to return results, instead of the normal week. Vineyards need this data to determine whether or not to harvest their grapes.

Winemakers and scientists are still learning how smoke can affect wine grapes and how the effects can be mitigated.  Australia has been at the forefront of the research, but studies at American universities have ramped up over the past five years.

The Australian Wine Institute has come up with a few practical ways to manage smoke-exposed grapes.  These include:

  • Hand harvest fruit to minimize breaking or rupturing of skins
  • Exclude leaf material to limit smoke-related characteristics
  • Maintain integrity of harvest fruit, avoiding maceration and skin contact
  • Keep fruit cool to extract less smoke-related compounds
  • Whole bunch press to reduce extraction of smoke-derived compounds

If corrections cannot be made, smoke taint will add two distinct compounds to wine: guaiacol (commonly called Creosote) and 4-methyl guaiacol.

White wines are often more susceptible to smoke than reds. Low levels of smoke can mask the fruit and give a dirty finishing flavour and higher levels negatively affect the smell and taste ashy.   Washing grapes with water might help get ash off the grapes but it does not reduce smoke compounds in the fruit.

It is too soon to judge how the wildfires will impact 2020 vintages but harvested grape supplies are expected to be much smaller.  With smaller harvests winemakers are expected to buy bulk wine from the 2019 season for blending with what is available from this year.

The reduced supply will most likely increase prices making U.S. wines less competitive in the international wine market for the next couple of years.

Sláinte mhaith

The 2020 Ontario Wine Awards

The 26th edition of the Ontario Wine Awards was scheduled to be held back on June 4th.  However, due to COVID-19 the event was postponed.  For the previous 25 years the entries were assessed blind by panels of accredited wine judges from the wine writing and teaching community. The criteria for judging the entries not only required an appreciation for wine, but also necessitated knowledge and expertise of wines from the Ontario region. Included amongst the winning categories; Ontario Red, White and Sparkling Wines of the Year, Ontario Winemaker of the Year, and the Ontario Journalism Award, which recognizes the best article published on the Ontario wine industry.

The award winners left to right in the order presented below.

The 2020 COVID-19 version of the awards finally took place on August 28th A small group gathered at Kew Vineyard, at Beamsville, Ontario, as the awards were presented in front of a small, socially-distanced gathering.  Unlike previous years there were no judges and no formal tastings for the four main awards.  Instead the Awards Committee reached out to judges who had participated in the last three years of the competition and asked them to nominate their top three white, red and sparkling wines they had tasted during the year. Based on those responses the top scoring wines were tabulated.

In addition, the judges were asked to vote on whom they considered should be honoured with the title “Winemaker of the Year”.

The Ontario Wine Awards results for 2020 are:

The Allen Red Wine of the Year Award was awarded to Prince Edward County’s Rosehall Run for its 2018 ‘JCR Pinot Noir Rosehall Vineyard’. I was lucky to obtain a few bottles on my recent trip to the County and heartily concur.

The Quench Magazine White Wine of the Year Award went to the 2017 ‘Charles Baker Riesling Picone Vineyard’ from Niagara.

The Canadian Food and Wine Institute at Niagara College Sparkling Wine of the Year Award was awarded to the 2014 ‘Henry of Pelham Cuvée Catharine Carte Blanche Blanc de Blanc’ from Niagara.

Finally, the Quench Magazine Winemaker of the Year Award went to Philip Dowell of Niagara’s Angels Gate Estate Winery.

Looking forward to 2021, we can only hope that life will return to a more semblance of normal.  However, at this point it is anyone’s guess.

Sláinte mhaith

The Ins and Outs of Wine Auctions

There are numerous reasons why individuals wish to buy or sell wine on the secondary market.  There are those who purchase certain wines or vintages purely as an educated, but speculative investment, looking to resell once the particular wine has appreciated in value, assuming it actually does increase.

The reverse can also be true where a purchaser can seek out good wines that, for whatever reason, failed to maintain their initial value, and thus can later be purchased at a more reasonable cost.

It’s also where you can find back-vintages of excellent wines that aren’t known to draw big collectors at live auctions.

Auctions also provide buyers the opportunity to purchase iconic wines that were either not readily available to the general public at the time of the initial release or may not have been affordable to the buyer in the past.

While many collectors have embraced online auctions for the convenience, it’s become a place for wine consumers wanting to dabble in the auction world to do so at a much lower cost of entry. While the financial point of entry for online auctions may be lower, the quality of the wines is good.

Wine Auctions in Ontario

In Ontario, Waddington’s is the sole company permitted to sell fine wines and spirits by auction, under the authority of the LCBO.  Auctions arranged through Waddington’s can either be live or online.

Registration for a live auction is free and can be completed at their office during the preview for an auction or on the day of the auction.  The process for registering and bidding is pretty much the same as for any other type of live auction.

Registration for an online auction is completed using Waddington’s web site.  The good news is you only need to register once to participate in all of their online auctions.

Once registered, you can place online bids anytime up to the noted end time for the desired lot.

If a bid is received in the final five minutes of the auction, the countdown clock is reset an additional five minutes until no further bids are received.

You can also leave ‘absentee’ bids by entering the maximum amount you would like to bid up to; the software will bid on your behalf up to that amount.

Following payment you can either pick up your purchased auction items or arrange for shipping. Items purchased and not picked up after 10 days following the auction may be subject to storage fees on a per lot basis at $15/week, unless Waddington’s is otherwise notified at time of payment.

Waddington’s does not undertake packing or shipping. The purchaser must arrange for the services of an independent shipper and is responsible for all shipping and insurance expenses and any necessary export permits that may apply.

Be Prepared

Explore the online catalogue of any auction you are interested in. Items are researched by Waddington’s specialists and catalogued with an image, description and value estimation to help understand each item.

Don’t hesitate to email auctioneers with questions about lots before bidding.  Every auction house has wine specialists on staff that should be able to answer any questions about lots that you are interested in.   Things that would be helpful to know include:

  • The ownership history (the provenance) of the wine. The provenance includes information about how the wine was acquired by the current owner and under what circumstances. Provenance is particularly important for establishing the estimated value of very old, rare or valuable wines.
  • The manner in which the wine has been stored, such as
    • Temperature controlled unit
    • Passive cellar, which is a room in a residence with no means of maintaining a permanent temperature.
    • Underground/subterranean cellar, which is an underground cellar that can also be passive or temperature controlled. A passive underground storage area is always preferable to an above ground passive residential cellar. Underground storage is almost always a cooler environment, less susceptible to damaging light, and generally very still.
    • Professional storage facility which provides lockers in temperature-controlled buildings that can be rented by wine collectors.

Auctions provide the opportunity to look for vintages that may not have initially been well received.  Some wines receive less than favourable reviews at the time they are released but time and experience prove those reviews to be wrong with those wines drinking well now.

Bidding on mixed lots is not recommended as you can’t be certain of what you are getting.  Selecting single bottles or even small verticals (several consecutive vintages of the same wine) is the recommended way to go. Mixed lots are a great way for auction houses to move along their cellar’s random one-offs.

Waddington’s charges a buyer’s premium of 20% on the hammer price. Buyer’s premium and applicable Canadian taxes are added to the final bid amount.

Conditions of Sale

In order to purchase alcoholic beverages through an online or live auction you must of course be able to prove you are nineteen years of age or older.

All lots are sold “as is”. Any description issued by the auctioneer of an article to be sold is subject to variation to be posted or announced verbally in the auction room prior to the time of sale.  Descriptions provided by the auction house are only statements of opinion.  No opportunity of inspection is offered prior to the time of sale. No sale will be set aside on account of lack of correspondence of the article with its description or its photo, if any. Some lots are of an age and/or nature which preclude their being in pristine condition and some catalogue descriptions make reference to damage and/or restoration. The lack of such a reference does not imply that a lot is free from defects nor does any reference to certain defects imply the absence of others.  In other words, the auction house cannot speak for how well the wine has been maintained while in the possession of the current owner or possible previous owner(s).  

The potential saving grace is that the buyer, prior to removal of a lot, may make arrangements satisfactory to the auctioneer, for the inspection of the purchase by a fully qualified person acceptable to the auctioneer in order to determine the genuineness or authenticity of the lot. This inspection must be completed within a period of 14 days following the sale. The results must be presented to the auctioneer to the effect that the lot is not genuine or authentic, accompanied by a written request from the buyer to rescind the sale.  The sale price will then be refunded to the buyer.

Unless exempted by law, the buyer is required to pay HST on the total purchase price including the buyer’s premium. This is important to keep in mind as it can significantly increase the total cost of your purchase.

Each lot may be subject to an unpublished reserve which may be changed at any time by agreement between the auctioneer and the consignor.

In Closing

Auctions can be exciting, challenging, frustrating and rewarding.  Your own experience will in part be a factor of your preparedness for the event. Do your homework; predetermine the maximum you are willing to pay for the item you are interested in, and be prepared to stand down if the bidding surpasses that amount. It is not a competition. “Winners” have been known to have buyer’s remorse if they have gotten carried away in the heat of the moment.

Sláinte mhaith

Corona and Wine

No matter what you call it, Coronavirus, COVID-19, or the pandemic, it is having an effect on everything and everyone.  Although the environment has been helped in a positive fashion, and more attention is being paid to health care and other essential workers, and seniors in retirement homes, the vast majority of effects have been nasty.

With the production of this last year’s wine supply in progress, the situation heavily impacts the existing product stocks of the winemakers looking to sell the wine reserves of 2018. However, due to the recently applied measures imposed by most countries, the biggest wine producing countries – Italy, France, Spain and the US – have seen sales decline steadily.

Mid-spring to early autumn is when wineries here in Canada do most of their business.  However, with wine tours, tastings and exploration being limited or completely on hold for the foreseeable future, the number of visitors to wineries will be drastically reduced along with associated wine sales.  The sale of other merchandise, such as food and clothing, will also be negatively impacted.

The larger wineries that produce enough volume to distribute their products through the distribution channel for sale to consumers in wine and liquor stores will be less impacted than the smaller wineries that rely totally on customers coming through their door.  To compensate for the reduced walk-in traffic, wineries are turning to online sales.  Wineries that already had online purchase capability are enticing customers by offering free delivery, while wineries that did not previously have the capability are scrambling to make it available.  The smaller, lesser known wineries are still at a disadvantage because if consumers are not already familiar with them and their products, they are less likely to be searching out their web site.

For consumers who do know what they want, they can have a wide selection of wines available to them without having to travel to the winery to get them.  The only caveat is that the post office will currently not provide home delivery so purchasers will need to pick up their wine at their local post office.

Some of the more sophisticated winery web sites are adding virtual tours of their cellars to further entice their customers.

In Europe in particular, increases in direct sales will reduce the middleman.  For example, in France the wines are first distributed through courtiers (brokers) who take a small percentage of the cost.  Next the right to sell the futures is passed on to the négociants (shippers) who set a new price for the wine, referred to as the ex-négoce price. With very few exceptions, no one deals directly with Bordeaux’s châteaux; they deal with the négociants.  However, if the châteaux offer their wines online direct to consumers, the traditional distribution system is circumvented, potentially providing more profit to the wineries while enabling consumers to purchase at less cost.

With the tightened measures imposed by the government banning all public and private events, including restaurants, bars, sports facilities and cultural spaces, wine sales were obviously negatively impacted.  Even when these establishments begin to allow patrons once again, the reduction in the numbers permitted within an establishment at any one time will impact sales.  However, if  take out and home delivery options, which were introduced to help counter the negative impact of COVID-19, are allowed to continue, it will help soften the effects of the reduction in patrons.

Canadian wine competitions, both provincial and national, are postponed indefinitely.  Many wineries, especially the newer or lesser known ones, rely on these competitions to better establish themselves and gain credibility.  The cancellation of these competitions, even for just one year, could have a catastrophic effect on some of the smaller, lesser known wineries as there are buyers who are heavily influenced by award recognition.

In France, COVID-19 is having a devastating impact on Champagne’s economy.  With weddings and other celebratory events being cancelled or postponed all around the world, there has been a massive reduction in demand for the famous bubbly.

The impact of the virus has allowed for a strong feeling of solidarity to emerge in the wine industry as it has in other areas. A number of wineries have donated part of their profits to the hospitals and other related health care providers. In Italy, Inserrata, a family-run organic farm in Tuscany, is donating all its profits generated by the sale of their Sangiovese rosato “Inebriante” to the Italian Red Cross. Instagram channel Cantina Social has started the iorestoincantina and project to put in touch wineries and customers, while donating 10% of the revenue to the winemaker’s local hospital or to Italy’s Civil Protection Department.

Due to the uncertainty in the evolution of the spread of the virus, it is yet too early to predict the future of the wine industry.  However, one thing for certain is that life as we knew it won’t be returning anytime soon.

Sláinte mhaith

Wine Competitions and Awards

The 2020 wine award competition season is now underway.  The number of wine competitions each year has been on the rise.  While no one really knows how many there are, the number has grown rapidly in the past several years. In many cases, over half of entrants are getting medals.

At the same time, the 10 most respected international wine competitions have similarly seen an increase in the number of wines entered each year.

The arguably top award events, where competitors appear by invitation only are:

  • Sommeliers Choice Awards
  • London Wine Competition
  • Decanter World Wine Awards
  • International Wine Challenge
  • International Wine & Spirit Competition
  • San Francisco International Wine Competition
  • Cyprus Wine Competition
  • The Balkans International Wine Competition
  • The Berlin Wine Trophy
  • The International Wine Contest Bucharest
  • USA Wine Ratings
  • Brazilian Sparkling Contest
  • Thessaloniki International Wine & Spirits Competition

And for those that don’t get to go to the big leagues there are national and regional competitions.  In many of these competitions wineries only need to register and pay the entry fee in order to partake. In Canada there are:

  • National Wine Awards of Canada
  • All Canadian Wine Championships
  • Ontario Wine Awards
  • British Columbia Lieutenant Governor’s Wine Awards

Entry to national or regional competitions is often limited to those wineries produced in the named region.

There are also a few competitions which are limited to one type of wine, like the Canberra Riesling Challenge in Australia or Chardonnays du Monde in France.

Are the results from wine competitions something you should pay attention to when searching for wines to enjoy?   Here is some information to help you decide.

How They Work

Wine competitions are blind tastings in that the judges don’t know whose wine they are tasting. All of the wine samples are poured by staff members in a separate room.  The glasses are identical and coded by number or letter, and then brought to the judges’ tables – normally about 10 glasses at a time.

Within the parameters of each competition, it is really the wineries themselves that determine the wines that are tasted.  Some wineries submit many wines in many competitions; others just a few wines in a few competitions; and still others don’t take part at all.  The decision may depend on the winery’s size, marketing strategy, or opinion about the value of wine competitions in its overall business plan or philosophy. It comes down to a question as to whether the associated costs return appropriate business value.

The judges are a diverse group of “wine experts” from many different professional areas, whether they be wine makers, wine educators, wine writers, sommeliers, or wine retailers.  They all have two things in common: a passion for wine, and daily exposure to it.  In most competitions the judges also represent many regions and countries, which provides a broader perspective and protects against viticultural prejudice. Some judges have specific academic credentials like Master of Wine or Master Sommelier, but the majority are simply individuals whose profession involves regular wine tastings.  Ideally, the panels have judges from different aspects of wine’s professional life because they bring different perspectives to the event.

Judging occurs in two phases, the medal round, and the “sweepstakes”.  For the medal round, the judges are split into panels of 2 to 6 people.  Some competitions prefer the odd numbers because it’s easier to get a decision by a simple majority.  Others prefer panels of 4 because when there is a split, it must resolved by discussion and consensus.

Each wine is judged on its own merits, colour, clarity, aroma, bouquet, taste, finish (aftertaste), and overall quality.  In a particular flight, there might be 1 Gold, 3 Silver, and 2 Bronze medals, for example, and 4 receiving no award; but there are no predetermined numbers or percentages of medals. 

Normally, sparkling wines and white wines are tasted first, followed by Rosé and red, and finally dessert wines.  When there are different levels of sweetness, with Riesling for example, the wines are tasted from dry to sweet, because tasting the sweeter wines first would make the dry wines taste bitter.

The judges are presented with flights (groupings) of about 10 wines of the same type (e.g. Chardonnay) in coded glasses which each judge separately tastes in silence, making notes and deciding on the appropriate medal for each wine on its own merits, Gold, Silver, Bronze, or No Award. Some competitions have a Double Gold category, which requires unanimity among panelists that the wine deserves a Gold medal, whereas a Gold medal just requires a majority.  Simplistically, you might consider Double Gold as “exceptional”, Gold as “excellent”, Silver as “very good”, and Bronze as “good”.

When all judges have finished tasting, they compare notes to decide on a final, group medal for each wine.  When there is agreement on their individual scores (80-90% of the time in most cases), no discussion is needed and the medal is assigned.  When there is significant disagreement, the judges discuss and often retaste the wine to arrive at a consensus

In addition to the medals given to each wine, the panels normally determine which Gold medal wines advance to the “sweepstakes” round to determine the Best of Class, Best of Category, and at some competitions Best of Show.  The “sweepstakes” round is the grand finale of the competition, with all judges tasting all the wines that have been advanced.

In the “sweepstakes” round all of the wines to be tasted are the best wines of the competition.  One way to determine the best wines in large categories is by “acclamation voting”.  Each judge may vote as many times as he or she likes, since the wines are of different types (Chardonnay, Riesling, Cabernet Sauvignon etc.).   

Many competitions end with a Best of Category (e.g., Red, White, Rosé), and some also select a “Best of Show” among them as well.

Interpreting the Results

A wine competition is one moment in time.  The results reflect the collective opinions of expert judges about a specific group of wines on a particular day.  But there is a lot of consistency among different competitions held in different places at different times, so wine competitions do provide good guidance for purchasing wines.

Wine competitions provide a unique blend of objective and subjective opinions.  The objectivity involves several people in a blind tasting process which eliminates personal bias for a region or winery.  The subjectivity involves the personal taste sensitivities and preferences of different people.

The judging panel may be as few as two or up to six tasters or even more; the larger the panel, the less discussion.  Differences in judges’ tastes can relate to where they live; Europe, Australia, North America, or South America.  Taste can even differ based on a region within a country.

There are also differences between people who are wine makers or vineyard owners and those who are sommeliers, retailers, or writers. The winery related judges tend to focus on the technical qualities of the wine, whereas the consumer-focused ones are looking for a good wine for their customers to enjoy.

Over the years due to changes in the industry the wines from around the world have become so much better.  There used to be much more variation in quality, but research into grape growing and winemaking, plus the commitment to quality by producers worldwide has raised the bar, making it harder to distinguish and identify what separates a Gold from a Silver, or a Silver from a Bronze.  This is good for consumers, and it’s good for producers because consumers are more likely to see wine as a positive experience.

A medal can be of great value to a winery, otherwise they wouldn’t be paying the registration fee per wine to enter. Getting a medal can translate into higher wine sales, since the medal is usually mentioned in press releases and shown on the winery website.

However the all-important question is whether a wine is or isn’t an award winner, impacts your decision to purchase a particular bottle of wine.  The decision is yours.

It remains to be seen how COVID-19 will impact this year’s competitions.  While some of the European events have already taken place others, such as the Ontario Wine Awards, are being postponed until further notice.

Sláinte mhaith

Enjoy Easter with Wine

Easter is traditionally a time for family celebrations that end with a scrumptious dinner.   I will look at traditional menu options but given the current climate where traditional family gatherings may not be possible, I will look at adding some glam to an everyday meal.

Also, given the strains being experienced by the local economy, all of my wine suggestions will be Canadian.


Starting with the traditional Easter menu, the first option is lamb.  Lamb has a long tradition of being part of Easter celebrations.  It is available in many forms, suitable for any budget, ranging from a leg of lamb, to a loin, to chops, or even burgers. 

Lamb in any form is well complimented with a Cabernet such as Lakeview Cabernet Sauvignon ($29.95) or Featherstone Cabernet Franc ($19.95).


Ham is another classic Easter dish that can be prepared in a multitude of ways.  It can be baked using cloves and or a number of different glazes, ranging from savory to sweet.  Ham is also available in a variety of cuts ranging from the traditional ham on the bone, to small packaged hams to ham steaks.

Pinot Noir is a good option for serving with ham.  Flat Rock Gravity Pinot Noir ($34.95) or Henry of Pelham Pinot Noir ($16.95) are a couple of options.


Turkey is a classic choice for Easter.  Not only is it suitable for large family gatherings but provides options for smaller dinners.  Alternatives to purchasing a full-size bird include, prepackaged turkey thighs or turkey breasts, or you can substitute chicken for turkey.

There are both red, as well as white wine alternatives to have with your turkey or chicken.  White wine suggestions include, Flat Rock Chardonnay ($19.95) or Inniskillen Montague Vineyard Chardonnay ($25.95).  Red wine options include Kew Vineyards Pinot Noir ($23.95) or Tawse Growers Blend Pinot Noir ($25.95).

Roast Beef

Over the years roast beef has been the choice of many for Sunday family dinners and Easter is no exception.  Featherstone Cabernet Franc ($19.95) or The Foreign Affair Dream ($29.95), which is a Merlo, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc blend , are two good choices.


Salmon, though less traditional, is a good healthy option for your Easter dinner.  It can be baked, poached, or my favourite, tossed on the grill, wrapped in lemons, onions, and capers.  It can be a great alternative if you are forced to a smaller than usual family gathering.

Sauvignon Blanc or Rosé pairs well with salmon.  Options include Wildass Sauvignon Blanc ($16.95) or Malivoire Vivant Rosé ($19.95).

Vegetarian Alternatives

Vegetarian alternatives to the traditional meat dishes are very popular.  These dishes are obviously a good alternative to meat any time, not just on special occasions.  Wine pairings  for vegetable mains are the same as those for salmon; Sauvignon Blanc or Rosé. 

Non-Traditional Options

No matter what your mood or what you are serving, wine can make the simplest of meals more elegant.   Here are some general options:

White Wine

  • Chicken based soup – Angels Gate Chardonnay VQA ($14.95)
  • White fish  – Sandbanks Summer White VQA ($14.95)
  • Mac and cheese – Peninsula Ridge Pinot Grigio VQA ($15.95)
  • Pasta with a white sauce – Mission Hill Five Vineyard Pinot Blanc VQA ($16.95)
  • Poultry – Tawse Sketches of Niagara Chardonnay VQA ($19.95)
  • Sea food – Cave Spring Riesling Dry VQA ($15.95)

Red Wine

  • Beef ribs – Strewn Rogue’s Lot Cabernet Sauvignon Cabernet Franc VQA ($14.95)
  • Beef based soups – Peninsula Ridge Merlot VQA ($15.95)
  • Hamburgers – 13th Street Burger Blend Gamay Pinot Noir VQA ($14.95)
  • Pasta in a red sauce –  Pelee Island Baco Noir VQA ($21.95)
  • Pork ribs – Pelee Island Pinot Noir Reserve VQA ($17.95)
  • Tomato based soups – Henry of Pelham Pinot Noir VQA ($16.95)

No matter what your Easter has in store, whether it be a family dinner with all the fixings, or a simple affair for only one or two people, make it more elegant with wine.

Sláinte mhaith

Hosting a Wine Party

Are you suffering from the mid-winter blahs?  If so, have you ever given any thought to hosting a wine party?  A wine party provides the opportunity for self-awareness as you may discover you like a wine you never thought you would.  It is a great way to expand your horizons and try different wines.

Depending on the number of participants, ask each person or couple to bring a favourite wine.  It doesn’t need to be expensive and you can even put a price cap on it if you like.

If you will be sampling both whites and reds then follow the standard practice of wine tasting – whites first, reds last.  You could also do a theme tasting, such as have all the wines from the same region or country, or wines made with the same grape varietal.

Blind tastings where the labels are covered can be both challenging and fun.  Doing a blind tasting allows your participants to try and identify the wine they brought.  You can try identifying the various types /varietals, and possibly even hazard a guess as to the country/continent of origin that each wine came from. 

When tasting the wine you can see if you can distinguish between the different smells and tastes, such as florals, honey, fruit varieties, cedar, chicory, earthiness, leather, tobacco, etc. and then see whether your perceptions match the wine reviewers’ claims.

Also consider suggesting food pairings that may complement the wines.

The portions for each tasting need not be more than 2 ounces and it isn’t necessary to swallow the wine.  For those who don’t want to swallow, disposable beer pong glasses make great spittoons.

It is also a good idea to provide water and plain crackers, such as Carr’s Water Crackers, so you and your guests can refresh your palate between wines.

I hosted a tasting where I invited several couples, asking each couple to bring a bottle of white and a bottle of red of their choosing.  I made up score sheets where each person indicated what they tasted, how they rated it, and guessed at the varietal of the wine.  I also provided them with a “cheat sheet” to help them organize their thoughts and aid in their decision making.  The rating card and cheat sheet are below.

The person with the highest score was awarded a prize.  The tasting was followed by dinner and each person could then select their own wine pairing from all the wines we had tasted.

If you don’t have an adequate number of wine glasses on hand, I suggest purchasing inexpensive glass ones.   Your local Dollar Store should have a suitable selection to choose from. In addition to being more environmentally friendly, they are also much less flimsy and less susceptible to spills than plastic glasses.

Your wine party can be as simple or elaborate as you want to make it.  The most important thing is to have fun.

Sláinte mhaith

Score Card

Judge # ______            Wine #______                                                                                 

Determine the Sweetness or Level of Dryness

  1. Do you feel a tingling sensation on the tip of your tongue?
  2. Is there a slight oily sensation in the middle of your tongue that lingers?
  3. Wine has a higher viscosity; wine tears on side of glass slowly. (also an indicator of high Alcohol)

WARNING:  A bone-dry wine can often be confused with a wine with high Tannin.

Do you consider this to be a        sweet        or       dry         wine?


Acidity is tart and zesty. Tasting acidity can be confused with the taste of higher Alcohol. Wines with higher acidity feel lighter weight because they come across as ‘spritzy.’

Acidity Characteristics:

  1. Tingling sensation that focuses on the front and sides of your tongue. Feels like pop rocks.
  2. If you rub your tongue to the roof of your mouth it feels gravelly.
  3. Your mouth feels wet, like you bit into an apple.

HINT:  It is common for wines grown in cooler climates to have higher acidity.

Do you consider this wine to have a high acid content?       Yes       or        No


Characteristics of Tannins

  1. The wine tastes bitter on the front inside of your mouth and along the side of your tongue.
  2. Tannin makes your tongue dry out.
  3. After you swallow you feel a lingering bitter/dry feeling in your mouth.

CAUTION:  Tannin can often be confused with the term “dry” because it dries your mouth out.

Does this wine have a high tannin content?       Yes      or       No


Wines are often characterized by their main fruit flavours. Tasting for fruit flavours in a wine can help you better define your preferences. For instance, wines that have strawberry notes lead into a very different set of wines than enjoying wines that taste like blackberries. The level of fruitiness that you taste in a wine leads to very different growing regions.

Tasting for fruitiness in a wine

Red wind characteristics:  red fruits such as raspberry or dark fruits like blackberry and blueberry

White wine characteristics:  lemon and lime or peach and yellow apple

  1. Can you name 3 different fruits easily?  If so, what are they?    ______________________________________
  2. Do you find it difficult to pick out a single fruit flavor?     ___________________________________________
  3. Does the wine give you stronger impressions of other flavors such as grass, bell pepper, black pepper, olive or meat?  ___________________________________________________________________________________

Body: Light to Full-Bodied

Alcohol Level ABV (or Alcohol by Volume) adds body. The wine will have a higher viscosity which is easily seen in watching it bead on the side of the glass. A high alcohol wine typically tastes fuller bodied than a light-alcohol wine.

Tasting body in wine

  1. How does the wine seem       lighter        or           bigger  ?
  2. How long does the taste last in your mouth after you’ve swallowed?     _________ seconds
  3. Is the wine full bodied up front but then drops off at the finish?             Yes                No


  1. I cannot tell a lie; this wine does not suit my taste in any way, shape or form.
  2. I am not a fan.  It is a bit of a “yawner” if you ask me.
  3. I would be willing to serve this as a house wine for dinner parties.
  4. Yummy, I would be willing to serve this to close friends and/or on special occasions.
  5. Share – no way.  I want to keep this all for myself.

I think this wine came from ______________________________________ (country or continent)

I think the type of wine is

 Gewurztraminer Gamay
 Pinot Gris or Pinot Grigio Baco Noir
 Chablis Pinot Noir
 Pinot Blanc Valpolicella
 Riesling Merlot
 Viognier Zinfandel
 Sauvignon Blanc Cabernet (Cab Franc, Cab Sauv)
 Chardonnay Malbec
 Semillon Syrah or Shiraz
 Other  _____________________________ Other  _____________________________

Cheat Sheet