08 NOV 2018: Last weekend at the invitation of the Royal Winers, I sat on a panel for the Judgement of Kingston 2018. How could I say no? It was a fundraiser for the Cancer Centre of Southeastern Ontario. Just as compelling, it gave me a chance to check out the scene in Kingston and what I had to judge couldn’t have been more pleasurable to my palate.

Kingston is largely a college town. Home to Queen's University, the Royal Military College of Canada and St. Lawrence College, the city has the most PhD graduates per capita and likely the best-educated workforce in Canada. The members of the Royal Winers whom I met were mostly professors of various disciplines, with at least one thing in common. They all love wine.

The Royal Winers was formed in 1992 by a small group of RMC professors who had an interest in learning about wines. Queen’s University colleagues and other wine enthusiasts soon joined in. They still meet regularly, more than a quarter-century later.

The burgeoning wine region of Prince Edward County is an hour or so drive away and they are proud of it. With this in mind, the Winers decided to pit wines from the County against others. The Judgment of Kingston is a take on The Paris Wine Tasting of 1976 (aka the "Judgment of Paris" - an allusion to the ancient Greek myth), a famous blind tasting competition where French wines were judged against American, and to universal surprise at the time, a Californian wine rated best in both the red and white categories.

Kingston Judgement organizer Lubomyr Luciuk, a professor at RMC, said that their idea was to bring some of the better wines from Prince Edward County and compare them to other great wines from other major wine growing regions. At the first event in 2016 the group compared County chardonnays to some of the American chardonnays that won in the Judgement of Paris.

Four independent judges, who were blind tasting, ranked County wines first, second and tied for fourth best out of seven wines. Last year, County pinot noir wines were compared to the red pinots of Burgundy and France came out with the top two but at least a County wine tied for third place. This year, County chardonnays were compared to wines from British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley.

Our master of ceremonies was Sandor Johnson, a handsome model, former CNN announcer and actor turned winemaker. His Potter Settlement Artisan Winery is just north of Tweed – which is crazy - as that makes it one of the most northern in North America. (The property has been in his family since 1836 and his brother, Robin is a professional winemaker and graduate of Brock University’s Cool Climate Oenology & Viticulture Institute.) He was the perfect MC, knowledgeable about wine but not from the County, so no conflict of interest.

Johnson pointed out that the Okanagan has 10,00 acres under vine compared to PEC’s 700, and about 120 wineries versus just over 40 in the County. Despite that advantage, the judges (myself included) ranked two County wines the best of the lot this year. The 2016 Rosehall Run “JCR” Chardonnay ($35) won gold and the 2014 Keint-He “Greer Road” Chardonnay ($40) took silver. British Columbia’s CheckMate Artisanal Winery’s 2014 “Little Pawn” Chardonnay ($110) snagged the bronze. The tasting public who tasted blind along with us judges and got to vote on their top three, concurred with our top two picks.  For third place they voted for another County wine, Closson Chase’s 2016 “Churchside” Chardonnay.

After the big “reveal” organizers and judges went out to dine at Olivea facing Kingston’s Market Square, a family run Italian trattoria known for its excellent pastas. Those of us that were a bit early for our reservation, stopped in at Toucan, one of the many pubs in the city.

I’d say pubs and microbreweries pretty much rule in this college town. Local tour companies have capitalized on this. Beer & Bites is a walking tour of local pubs, micro breweries and hot spots. It includes tastings of seven different local beers accompanied by snacks while the tour guide talks about Kingston's historic downtown and its long history with beer. www.kingstonfoodtours.ca  

Kingston Gananoque Beer Tours’ Limestone Ale Trail has participants board the barley bus to four local breweries, choosing from MacKinnon Brothers Brewing Company, the Gananoque Brewing Company, the Napanee Beer Company, King’s Town Beer Company, Riverhead Brewing Company and Spearhead Brewing Company. www.kingstonganbeertours.com  

The “Limestone City” on the shores of Lake Ontario where the St. Lawrence River and Rideau Canal meet, turned out to be a great place for a weekend get-away. Cool local draughts were available on practically every downtown corner, and fine County wines were a scenic one-hour or so drive away along the historic Loyalist Parkway, a pioneer colonial route.

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Margaret Swaine

Margaret is a nationally published wine, spirits, food and travel writer, who has authored thousands of articles on these subjects for magazines and newspapers.

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