Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Love of the grape

The path to becoming a wine writer isn't a predictable one, but it starts with enjoying the product

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2I get asked this question a lot, and I'm in the latter camp -- I came to love wine (and write about it) by chance. I wish the story were more romantic, but it was a case of right place, right time, and a whole lot of luck.

It started nearly 16 years ago -- I was an intermittent undergraduate student at the University of Winnipeg, and was looking for some extra work to help pay the rent, pay down student debt, etc. I wandered down to The Forks Market, resumé in hand, with no idea that I'd end up with a job that would change the course of my adult life.

I ended up working full-time at Fenton's Wine Merchants at The Forks. My only previous wine-related memory was the time I once forgot a bottle of White Zinfandel in the freezer, and ended up with a slushy pink mess as a result. Once I started the job, I quickly got the wine bug -- there are so many different wines out there, and each has its own story to tell, something that intrigued me as an English major.

Was there one wine that completely blew my mind? Not initially, although there have been many paradigm-shifting reds and whites I've since tried. The first wine to really give me the wine bug, however, was the modest/lowly Walnut Crest Merlot. Back in the mid-'90s, it was getting great press/reviews from magazines like Wine Spectator -- the kind of publications I read from cover to cover. The wine was under $10 -- heck, it still is -- and was the first red wine I knowingly drank on a regular basis.

Fast-forward a decade to 2005: I had finished my master of arts in English from the University of Manitoba, and was still working part-time at a wine store (Kenaston Wine Market at this point). In that time I had taken more than my share of wine courses, and had even helped teach a few.

Somehow, word trickled out that the Winnipeg Free Press might be looking for a new wine writer -- with my writing and wine backgrounds, I couldn't imagine a better gig. I sent in some story ideas and started the column in November 2005.

The rest, as they say, is history -- I've been lucky enough to taste some incredible bottles, expand my wine writing nationally via Wine Access magazine, and travel to some of the world's most picturesque, intriguing wine regions.

Occasionally, my excitement for writing about wine wanes, and I long to enjoy a glass of red or white wine without thinking about it critically. That never lasts long -- invariably I try a mind-blowing wine, or I meet a winemaker travelling across Canada who's so passionate about his/her craft, or (my favourite) I get to visit one of the world's incredible wine regions and experience the people and the place that shape what ends up in the bottle. Suddenly there's another story just waiting to be told.

DOMAINE JEAN BOUSQUET 2010 MALBEC (Mendoza, Argentina -- $14.99, Liquor Marts and beyond)

Made with organically grown grapes, the Domaine Jean Bousquet shows plum, ash, blackberry, blueberry, grape and tobacco notes on the nose. It's full-bodied, with big, tart blackberry, raspberry, plum, spice and white pepper flavours. Tannins are light, as is the acidity, and there's a bit of heat on the medium finish. A good steak wine. 87/100

LIBERTY SCHOOL 2009 CABERNET SAUVIGNON (Paso Robles, Calif. -- $23.99, Liquor Marts and beyond)

This California red delivers plum, spice, vanilla, cherry and white pepper aromas on the nose. It's a ripe, full-bodied and plush red with some backbone -- while cassis, blueberry and vanilla notes are somewhat soft, secondary licorice and spice flavours, as well as modest tannin and acidity, add structure before a chocolate/raspberry finish. The vintage may vary, as I had this at the lake in northwestern Ontario. 89/100

HOLLICK 2010 BOND ROAD CHARDONNAY (Coonawarra, Australia -- $24.34, Liquor Marts and beyond)

The nose here is quite complex -- vanilla, spice, flint, peach, ripe apple, pear and butterscotch all come through -- but it is unmistakably New World. A medium-plus-bodied Chardonnay, there's an interesting herbal note that cuts through the ripe apple, stone fruit and tropical notes, bringing a leaner balance so that the rich oaky notes don't overwhelm. The label says to serve with lobster -- I don't disagree. 90/100

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 9, 2012 E4

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