Judgment: The process of forming an opinion or evaluation by discerning and comparing. (Merriam-Webster)

How do BC wines stack up beside the rest of the world? It’s a question we used hear a lot, though, nowadays not so much. That BC wine has come of age is old news (at least to Canadians). After all, it’s hard to dispute the success of an industry which now supports some 300 wineries. And counting. Not to mention attendant tourism and hospitality that generates some $600 million annually.

But the time was when even the biggest BC boosters were inclined to  cloak their enthusiasm. There was always an inkling of doubt that wines from elsewhere were still, in some way, “better.”

A judgment reborn

The Judgment of BC has been held annually at Summerland Resort, in the heart of the central Okanagan Valley, BC, Canada

The Judgment of BC has been held annually at Summerland Resort, in the heart of the central Okanagan Valley, BC, Canada

Over the last three years the BC Wine Institute has been working to dispel that myth. A significant series of annual tastings has taken place in Summerland.

Titled “The Judgment of BC”, they’re a nod to the celebrated 1976 Judgement of Paris. That tasting put California on the world wine map. The results challenged the then long-held notion of absolute French domination. And effectively launched California as a modern day world wine power.

Decanter columnist Steven Spurrier (who was behind that Paris tasting) presided at the first BC ‘Judgment’, in 2015.  In that tasting, BC Chardonnay and Syrah more than held their own with the rest of the world.

The following year came UK wine guru Jamie Goode and other international judges. They were impressed with the Riesling and Pinot Noir line-up in front of the 20 plus strong panel.

Last month, the third judgment focused on Pinot Gris and Merlot. The panel comprised 18 Canadian judges (including myself) and 5 international palates from the UK and US.

The varieties selected (by wine educator DJ Kearney) for the first two judgments generated a fair degree of excitement. It’s fair to say, not so much the choice of Pinot Gris and Merlot. Yet it needed to happen, as these are the province’s most planted white and red varieties. Moreover, almost every corner of the province now grows Pinot Gris. But that also means the styles of BC Pinot Gris are, well, all over the map.


Pinot Gris: a mixed bag

The Pinot Gris results were middling. Perhaps that’s not surprising, considering the diversity of Pinot Gris in front of the panel. The wines ranged from Alsace Grand Cru to crisper Italian and fruitier new world styles. Top spot went to Kim Crawford Pinot Gris 2016 (Marlborough). It was not surprising that this well-made, ‘commercially’ styled, dry and varietally precise wine captured broad support.

Second place went to the superb Zind Humbrecht Pinot Gris Turkheim 2014 (Alsace).

Next came the Okanagan producers. 50th Parallel Estate 2016, Gray Monk 2015 and Arrowleaf 2016 placed 3rd, 5th and 6th. Coincidentally, those three wines are all made from grapes grown in or around the north central Okanagan.


Merlot to the rescue

BC fared better in the Merlot flight. CheckMate Black Rook Merlot 2013 edged out Duckhorn 2013 (Napa) for top spot. (CheckMate is Mission Hill’s artisan wine project, now coming into its own.) The CheckMate (Okanagan Black Sage Bench) showed excellent dark berry fruit and an acid balance. Well managed French oak and a gently savoury, lingering close. ($85).

La Stella flagship Maestoso 2012 (Okanagan, $90) popped up in 3rd place. (From Lake Breeze) McIntyre Heritage Reserve Ardua 2012 finished 6th. No small feat, considering that also in the running were wines from Bordeaux, Washington State and Chile.

The Merlot result more than lends credibility to BC’s growing crop of premium wines on the wider stage. All the wines that placed in the top six are “top tier” labels within an existing range.

More important, however, is what the judgments achieve overall. These tastings allow international top palates to experience the Okanagan and its wines first hand.

For the most part, they are duly impressed.


In summary

“It was a fascinating and very difficult exercise. There was such a diversity of style, especially with the Pinot Gris, that it was hard to say which were from BC,” notes Richard Hemming MW. “The quality of the Merlot is really strong for BC.

“The wine that I liked the most (he continued) was the wine that ranked first collectively, and there were several in the top half of the ranking which were really strong displays of the variety and the origin with aging potential, complexity and persistence. I think that bodes well to have the number one planted red variety capable of such great quality.”

The BCWI stresses: The purpose of the Judgment is to provoke conversation, to ask questions that demand answers, and further the narrative and exploration of BC’s potential.

“It’s not about British Columbia wines winning or losing, but rather tasting our wines and trying to understand their distinctiveness and strengths against a global competitive set,” explains DJ Kearney.

“It’s a courageous exercise that developing industries like ours can benefit from and take pride in. Benchmarking allows us to evaluate our progress, and adds to our collective knowledge.”


Check BCWI for the full list of results