I was thrilled to hear that I would be a judge at the National Wine Awards of Canada alongside the country's top wine professionals.
Together we tasted a vast number of Canadian wines (1,930, to be precise). But the initial excitement didn't take long to turn into a serious case of the jitters. Only a few weeks after writing the four-day Master of Wine exams, my mindset before the awards was no different from preparing for these tests: I needed to prove myself worthy of this wonderful yet daunting opportunity. As a first-timer, I didn't know what to expect but I was surprised from the very start by the people and the wines.
There were just a few newbies invited to partake in this year's judging, yet the judges knew us by name and provided the warmest of welcomes. Seeing how open-minded everyone was and how generously they shared their judging skills was inspiring. As the mother of a toddler, I've come to appreciate the notion that it takes a village to raise a child, but I did not immediately realize that I had set foot in one. My initial worries about proving myself to others quickly melted away by the respect, humbleness, and inclusiveness I felt throughout the entire experience.
My first day was one of the purest examples of teamwork I have ever encountered, and each day, I found myself working with a different dream team. Our mutual goal for the five days was to judge these wines from across Canada as fairly and objectively as possible, aiming to reach a consensus about every submission. This goal was achieved with an inspiring display of collaboration among the judges and the staff members pouring and serving the wines.
It felt like the wines were cooperating with this teamwork, surprising us flight after flight in such pleasing ways. The chardonnay flights shined among the various categories and varieties we tasted, showing consistency in quality despite the wide stylistic diversity. Chardonnay is undoubtedly one of the best-performing grapes in Canada, year in and year out, coast to coast. This was the case again at this year's awards, with chardonnay taking home three Platinum and 22 Gold medals.
I initially thought that styles from the West and East would be easier to pinpoint, but it was a lot harder to distinguish, except for the presence of more ripeness in examples from the West. Finding differences between West and East was not our objective, anyway. It's more a matter of stylistic choice by the individual producers and how they reflect the diverse terroirs of their respective regions. All in all, it was evident that Canada's best chardonnays are genuinely world-class.
Here are the top chardonnays that I tasted during the awards. It is worth noting that I tasted less than 25% of the total wines submitted. Here, you can view a list of the 2023 top chardonnays submitted to this year's competition.