Having pored through the list of wines being poured at the Winnipeg Wine Festival's public tastings (via the program, available at Liquor Marts), I've noticed a few trends that run through the Friday and Saturday main events.
Here are a few observations and tips for as you descend on the RBC Convention Centre next weekend...
Private wine stores are back... sort of: While the six standalone private wine stores won't be at the Winnipeg Wine Festival -- they haven't been for a few years now -- the two food-and wine stores, G.J. Andrews and Calabria Wine Market, will be. A slate of four wines from Ontario's Pelee Island Winery, as well as four Chilean wines from a winery called Telena -- will be poured by the two, available exclusively at the two shops (they won't be for sale at the fest). Will the standalone stores ever return, inciting that kitchen-party vibe they brought with them in years past? That remains to be seen.
The French wine resurgence: I whined a bit last year about the lack of French wines being poured at the public tastings. Thankfully, there's been a bit of an up-tick in the number of French wines available to taste this year. Six booths are pouring French wines -- up by a few from last year -- but they're still under-represented at the Winnipeg Wine Festival. Better than nothing, I suppose.
Taste the regional sub-festivals: While Australia, the Winnipeg Wine Festival's theme region this year, is obviously well-represented with 26 booths, Italy, Chile and Spain are all well-represented, with 15, 11, and 10 booths each (the number drops off significantly from there). It makes me wonder whether one of these wine-producing regions might be the theme region next year. My money's on Chile.
Not a lot of Chardonnay: While an impressive 500-plus wines will be poured at the Winnipeg Wine Festival's weekend public tastings, only around 30 of them are Chardonnay. As one of the most popular white wine grapes going -- especially in Australia, which is well-represented -- that seems pretty low.
Try new wines: Whether you're taking notes or just out for a fun night of sipping wine, skip the stuff you're familiar with and find a new favourite. There'll be plenty of new stuff to the province being poured at the festival -- especially from Australia -- so diversify your palate and get busy.
Help Special Olympics Manitoba: A lot of people don't realize the Winnipeg Wine Festival is the largest fundraiser for Special Olympics Manitoba, helping make it what it is today (other than the volunteers, of course). Over the past years' fests, more than $2 million has been raised for Special Olympics Manitoba.
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Cape Heritage 2011 Inception (Western Cape, South Africa -- $14.99, Liquor Marts and beyond)
A South African Shiraz-Petit Verdot-Mourvedre red blend, the Inception is landing just in time of the Winnipeg Wine Festival. Sweet cherry and blackberry are most notable on the nose -- once you get past that common smoky note found in South African reds. It's medium-bodied and bordering on off-dry, with plenty of residual sugar that accentuates the cherry and blackberry flavours but is almost overbearing. It's a bit of an odd combo with the smoky note, but worth a go for fans of the fruit-forward California red blends. 2 1/2
Ca' Momi 2011 Rosso di Napa (Napa Valley, Calif. -- $14.99, Liquor Marts)
Speaking of which... the grape varieties on this California red blend proved elusive online, but I'd hazard a guess that it's Zinfandel- or Merlot-heavy. Ripe plum, blueberry, cherry and hints of spice show well enough on the nose. It's medium-bodied, with big, ripe, red fruit, almost-sweet vanilla notes and just a tough of tannin. It's a fairly simple red California blend with more going on than many of its Golden State counterparts. 2 1/2
Palacios Remondo 2012 La Vendimia (Rioja, Spain -- $15.99, Liquor Marts and beyond)
Blackberry, raspberry, pencil-lead, ash and blueberry notes on the nose bring plenty of complexity. It's a dry, full-bodied red (made from the Tempranillo grape), with prominent pretty blueberry flavours the foreground as well as black tea, plum and white pepper (the latter thanks to modest but firm tannin. Try this wine with everything from fajitas to a roast or stew. 4 stars
William Fèvre 2012 Petit Chablis (Petit Chablis, France -- $24.99, Liquor Marts and beyond)
This Chardonnay from the Petit Chablis region (within Burgundy) brings plenty of chalky mineral notes on the nose to go with red-apple skin, pear and lemon-rind notes. It's medium-plus bodied and dry, with bright red apple, chalky lemon, pear and tart-peach notes, with subtle oak that adds to the complexity rather than overwhelming this white. Delicious; try with shellfish, mild cheeses or salmon. 4 stars