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Cuvee Gold

Some wine competitions are like children's birthday parties: everyone in attendance gets a prize. The annual Cuvee awards, which were handed out last night at a gala celebration at Fallsview Casino Resort in Niagara Falls, are unique for two significant ways. First, they are a peer-assessment. It's the principal winemakers from participating wineries who come together to select the top wines of the competition. Second, the winning wines are all available for sale right now. As such, the awards are a great tool for consumers who want to taste the best bottles coming from the wine regions of Ontario.

Wine lovers should take keen interest in the results, particularly the special Cuvee Gold designation, which was introduced in 2005 to promote wines the judges believed to meet international standards for winemaking excellence. Only a small fraction of the 190 entries in this year's competition were awarded this distinction. Having participated as part of the evaluation process as a member of an independent review panel, along with other wine writers and sommeliers, I assure you it is a meaningful distinction.

When it comes to Cuvee Gold honours, judges recommend only the wines that they feel would be awarded a gold medal in international competitions. In past competitions, wines have been named the best of its category, but not awarded a Cuvee Gold medal.

Ontario's winemakers are a critical bunch. They know what make a good wine and what make a great wine. (They also know what makes a bad wine, as winemakers can - and do- reject wines from the competition that they believe aren't representative of quality winemaking. These wines aren't allowed to be poured at the Cuvee gala tasting.)

A full line-up of the award-winning wines from Cuvee 2008 are available online at http://www.cuvee.ca/.

Cuvee celebrations continue along the wine route this weekend as the industry comes together to focus the spotlight on the best efforts of Niagara's grape and wine industry. In some instances, this might be your only chance to taste some of the smaller production wines that won awards. Medal winning wines tend to sell out quickly.

Wines of the Week:
Here are three wines that are being launched this weekend that are worth seeking out.

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Featherstone Estate Winery and Vineyard 2007 Gewurztraminer Estate Bottled
Niagara Peninsula $18.95
Featherstone's David Johnson has a particularly keen interest in Gewurztraminer, and a winning way of crafting fresh and fragrant white wines that are intensely aromatic and extremely enjoyable. This has a lovely perfumed nose and a slightly oily texture that emphasizes the benchmark quality of the grape. One of the first 2007 white wines to hit the shelves, this gives a clear indication of the caliber of the vintage. (http://www.featherstonewinery.ca/, 3678 Victoria Ave., Vineland, 905-562-1949)

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Lailey Vineyard 2006 Old Vines Chardonnay
Niagara River, Niagara Peninsula $29.95
Winemaker Derek Barnett makes serious Chardonnay, none more than Lailey's top-of-the-line Chardonnay produced from a block of vines planted in the early 1970s. The 2006 Old Vines is a rich, complex, focused Chardonnay that stands out as one of Barnett's finest bottlings to date. A sip will send your mind reeling for descriptors: "delicious," "outstanding," "brilliant..." were some of my first impressions. Finish a glass and there's no doubt, this is an absolutely stunning wine. The four-barrel production, all brand new French oak, is being given away at this price. (http://www.laileyvineyard.com/, 15940 Niagara Parkway, Niagara-on-the-Lake, 905-468-0503)

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Southbrook Vineyards 2006 Triomphe Syrah
Niagara Peninsula $24.95
Southbrook celebrates the opening of its new hospitality centre later this year. In the meantime, its staff is receiving visitors in a temporary wine boutique in a trailer at the winery. (Don't let the construction deter you!) It's worth going to be first on your block to get the scoop on what is planned for the site, while there you won't want to miss out on this exciting Syrah. I loved the white pepper and smoked meat aroma of this robust red and its mouthfilling flavour and plush texture. (http://www.southbrook.com/, 581 Niagara Stone Road, Niagara-on-the-Lake, 905-641-2548)

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