The Grape Nut
with Ben MacPhee-Sigurdson
05/23/2013 1:22 PM
Other than sherry, sour beer has been the toughest category for me to truly embrace/"get into" in all my years tasting grown-up beverages. (Well, schnapps might be up there too but that has more to do with a bad experience in Germany on a high-school band trip.) It took a while but I've come to embrace Spanish fortified wines as better-quality options became available in our market.
Thankfully, I can now say with some certainty that I'm a sour beer convert as well. It just so happens that Half Pints Brewing Co. is releasing the Old Red Barn this Saturday — the brewery opens at 9 a.m., and if you want to grab some of this stuff for yourself you'll have to move quickly.
It's the brewery's first foray into the world of sour beers, a style that's popular among the hardcore beer geeks but not so much on a wider scale. With nasty-sounding bacterial cultures in the brew like Brettanomyces, Lactobacillus, and Pediococcus, it sounds more like high-school science class than it does beer.
Well, these cultures are what create the sour notes as well as complex, earthy/barnyard characteristics in the brew. Brettanomyces (or Brett as it's often called in the drinks world) pops up in certain wines as well, delivering a slightly funky, gamey component sometimes found in reds, particularly from South Africa, Portugal, Spain and occasionally Italy.
Anyway, the Old Red Barn has was fermented in both stainless steel tanks and oak barrels over the course of the last couple of years. Only 500 bottles (650ml format) were produced, and they're sure to sell out at the brewery this Saturday — likely by lunch time. There's a three-bottle limit per customer, and with a devoted legion of fans (read: beer geeks), Half Pints surely won't have leftovers. Get there early.
Half Pints Old Red Barn Strong Ale (Winnipeg, MB - $13.30 [plus tax and deposit], brewery only this Saturday)
I got a sneak peek at this brew last week, and really liked what I tasted. Cloudy in colour and looking a bit like a glass of iced tea, the Old Red Barn has a remarkably complex nose of sour cherry, earth, barnyard, raisin and some resinous notes. There's certainly some bitterness on the palate, but in a way that accentuates the sour cherry flavours and raisin notes positively. There are hints of figs and dates in there too, and just a touch of sweetness — but light acidity and 6.4 per cent alcohol keep things vibrant and lively on the palate.
More on local beer to come, including Half Pints' Queer Beer (a fantastic seasonal brew for warmer weather) and the latest incarnation of Fort Garry's Angry Fish Pilsner (one of my favourite beers in a can). With the Winnipeg Goldeyes having won the American Association championship last season, here's hoping their beer delivers a home run as well.
There's a continuing trend to honour certain grapes/wines on a particular day of the year in the social media/marketing world, and it just so happens today (Thursday, May 23) is Chardonnay Day. With the #ChardDay hashtag being used by wine lovers everywhere on Facebook and Twitter, it's a chance to pop open a bottle of the much-maligned stuff and enjoy while contributing to a global conversation about the stuff.
I've always loved Chardonnay — the trouble is navigating the ones on our shelves to avoid examples of the wine that are over-oaked and overripe. When made in this style they get sweet, creamy and flabby, showing bruised apple and tropical fruit notes. California was a major culprit in this style's popularity some 15ish years ago, although the Aussies did their bit to further the problem.
Thankfully, producers worldwide have dialled back the oak and malolactic fermentation — the conversion of malic acid to the softer lactic acid, which imparts the creamier texture — and as a result more and more Chardonnay in our market brings balance as well as vibrant fruit... sometimes with no oak at all. Some of the most delicate, balanced Chardonnay I've ever tasted was when I was in Australia, where cooler regions like the Yarra Valley, Mornington Peninsula and Tasmania work their magic.
The balance of cool-climate Chardonnay means Canadian producers are well-positioned to take the lead globally when it comes to making these whites with finesse and elegance. Judging by the response to a recent tasting of Canadian wines in London, it seems as though people are starting to take notice beyond our borders.
It's Thursday — why not crack open a nice Chardonnay?
Jackson-Triggs 2011 Black Label Reserve Chardonnay (Okanagan Valley, BC - $13.99, Liquor Marts and beyond)
This Chardonnay sees eight months in oak - a 50/50 combination of French and American barrels, only 10 per cent of which are new (used barrels offer more subtle wood, while new oak is more intense). Red apple, peach, and lemon candy on the nose are bright, while there's an underlying vanilla/butterscotch component that reflects the time in barrels. It's a medium-plus bodied Chardonnay that has flavours of red apple skin (the whole thing - skin, fruit and seeds), mango, pear, peach, lemon candy, and some modest vanilla on the finish. The oak and malolactic fermentation provide a slightly viscous texture, yet the crisp acidity of the fruit means it ain't flabby. Great value. 88/100
05/17/2013 2:48 PM
While my initial plan was to write about many more of the wines brought in special for the Winnipeg Wine Festival, a quick trip to the Grant Park Liquor Mart (where all the leftovers landed) Thursday revealed many of the wines have already flown out the door.
What I thought I'd do instead then is let you know about a half-dozen of my favourite festival-only wines that you are still actually available at the Grant Park Liquor Mart. A few of the Argentine and New Zealand wines I wrote about a few days ago are still hanging around too, but not in large quantity for the most part.
Cono Sur NV Sparkling Rosé (Bio-Bio, Chile — $13.99)
This dry pink bubbly is made from Pinot Noir grown in the Bio-Bio region of Chile — further south than most grape-growing regions, Bio-Bio is a touch cooler than other spots, which is good for Pinot. Toasty bread dough notes work well with raspberry, cherry and strawberry aromas on the nose. It's lighter on the palate and the bubbles are very lively, adding intensity to the red berry flavours here. That bread dough note comes through on the finish as it does on many of my favourite sparkling wines. A fantastic value. 89/100
Musita 2012 Catarratto (Sicilia, Italy — $13.99)
Mineral, peach skin, perfume, lemon and green apple notes are aromatically intense on this Sicilian white. It's a medium-bodied, viscous white (Catarratto is the grape variety, incidentally), with big red apple and mineral notes, a dollop of honey and an almost-peppery complexity to the finish. It sounds weirder than it is; the Musita over-delivers for the price, and would be excellent with most seafood dishes. There's some of the 2012 Grillo left too, which is also quite a good Italian white. 90/100
Lionel Osmin 2011 Villa Grand Cap (France — $16.23)
A blend of Colombard, Sauvignon Blanc and Grand Manseng grapes, this French white offers mineral, herbal, lime rind, pear and spice notes on the nose. It's a lean, light-plus bodied white with lots of complex mineral, chalky, herbal, and lemon flavours and a splash of racy acidity that would work wonderfully with mild, creamy cheeses or pasta with a cream sauce. I still can't get over the fact that of the 130+ booths at the Winnipeg Wine Festival, only two were pouring French wine. More on this in a column to come. 88/100
Peter Dennis 2011 Matilda Shiraz (McLaren Vale, Australia — $20.04)
Aussie winemaker Peter Dennis can be found pouring his wines himself nearly every year at the Winnipeg Wine Festival, and this year was no exception. Cherry, raspberry, perfume, vanilla and spice aromas are accentuated by a hint of wet earth. A full-bodied Shiraz, the Matilda delivers on these same traits on the palate, with some black pepper notes in there that are typical of the grape. This is an elegant, restrained Shiraz. 88/100
Rodney Strong 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon (Alexander Valley, California — $29.99)
If you like California Cabernet Sauvignon, you'd be doing yourself a favour by treating yourself to the Rodney Strong. Juicy blackberry, blueberry, licorice, vanilla and spice notes on the nose are unmistakably (and enticingly) New World. It's a dense, silky, full-bodied Cab that balances dark ripe fruit with a hint of bell pepper, light but firm tannin and just enough oak. Impressive stuff. If you want to take it to the next level, the 2010 Symmetry, Rodney Strong's icon red blend, is one for the cellar and available among the fest wines at Grant Park for $79.99. 91/100
Rosewood 2008 Mead Royale (Ontario — $16.01)
If you've never tried a mead (honey wine) before, this is as good a place to start as any. Perfume, light herbal, citrus rind and floral notes make the distinct honeyed aromas sing. There's a great viscous texture to the Mead Royale, and while it's unmistakably honey in here it's not overly sweet. Floral and spice notes add great depth here, as does a bit of time in oak barrels. I typically try about a dozen meads a year — most of which are made in Canada but aren't available here — and this is one of the best I've had. 90/100
05/13/2013 11:22 AM
How many wines did I try at the 2013 Winnipeg Wine Festival? From the opening ancillary event to the end of the Saturday matinee tasting, I figure about 200. And while I can't possibly talk about all of them in great detail, I did pick a few of my favourites.
Below are some of my picks, in no particular order, that stood from Argentina and New Zealand, the two theme regions of the fest. Most of what you see here was brought in special for the festival, and some may have sold out on-site. Anything left was sent to the Grant Park Liquor Mart, and are there while supplies last. Get while the getting's good.
My next post will feature wines from other countries that I tried and loved...
Giesen 2011 The August 1888 Sauvignon Blanc (Marlborough, New Zealand — around $33)
Wild yeast fermentation and about six months in oak helped Giesen's flagship Sauvignon Blanc stand out from the many lighter, racy examples of the grape at the "Big Sky Party" Argentina/New Zealand showcase tasting/ancillary event at the Qualico Family Centre. Lovely honey and light vanilla notes join the tropical, peach, and lemon-lime notes here — it's a medium-bodied, viscous, elegant Sauvignon Blanc. Sadly, I think this one might be all gone — it's made in pretty small quantities — but their entry-level and "The Brothers" mid-price Sauvignon Blancs are also excellent. This was probably my top pick from the entire festival. 93/100
Seresin 2010 Sauvignon Blanc (Marlborough, New Zealand — $26.02, Liquor Marts and beyond)
Kiwi cinematographer Michael Seresin has worked on such films as Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban and The Life of David Gale, but is also making some pretty stellar wine. This Sauv Blanc brings honey, peach, fresh lime and tropical notes with a hint of nuttiness. There's some great texture and complexity here. This wine's regularly available, and will be flipping to the 2011 vintage shortly. 90/100
Sileni 2011 The Straits Sauvignon Blanc (Marlborough, New Zealand — around $20)
Bright herbal, lime rind, lemon, gooseberry and mild bell pepper aromas are pretty textbook Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc on the nose. The Sileni shows great balance on the light-bodied palate, with the herbal and lime notes front and centre and secondary herbal and green apple notes bolstered by bright acidity. The entry-level Sauvignon Blanc is also very good (and regularly available) at $13.49. 89/100
Kim Crawford 2012 Unoaked Chardonnay (Marlborough, New Zealand — around $20)
Peach, red apple, tropical fruit and lemon candy notes on the nose are gorgeous, and on the medium-bodied palate there's some honey notes added into the mix thanks in part to malolactic fermentation and aging on the lees (dead yeast cells - it's a good thing, trust me). Maybe it seemed a welcome reprieve from the abundance of crisp, citrusy New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs, but this unoaked Chardonnay showed very well. 90/100
Finca Las Moras NV Sparkling Viognier-Shiraz (Mendoza, Argentina — $13.95)
I've heard of Viognier (a white grape) being blended in small quantities into Shiraz (a red grape) in Australia — it can add great aromatic complexity and actually darken the colour — but I've never heard of Shiraz added to Viognier, in Argentina or otherwise. This bubbly was a goldmine of intense aromas: pineapple, spice, fresh flowers, peach and more. Medium-bodied but rich on the palate, the bubbles lift the tropical notes as well as some minerality, and there's almost a hint of tannin herer from the Shiraz. 89/100
Amalaya 2012 White (Valle Calchaqui, Argentina — around $13.99)
While the red blend in this line is regularly available, as far as I know the white was a festival-only pour. A blend of Torrontes and Riesling (a 90-10 split), there's loads of bright peach, mandarin orange and floral notes on the nose. Honey and tropical fruit flavours dominate on the dry, medium-bodied palate, with orange peel notes lifted by a hint of sweetness. 90/100
Yealands 2008 Pinot Noir (Central Otago, New Zealand — $21.25, Liquor Marts and beyond)
Another regularly available wine from Liquor Marts (and private wines that choose to carry it), it's rare to find a New Zealand Pinot Noir from a relatively older vintage. The Yealands is turning a touch brown in colour around the edges (completely normal), but aromatically still shows pretty berry, cherry and plum notes on the nose as well as a hint of caramel — all without seeming sweet. It's light-bodied, and the berry and cherry notes are still alive thanks to a splash of acidity to counter the light black-tea-like tannin. With age this Central Otago Pinot Noir has started tipping its hat to Burgundy while retaining that new World fruit. 88/100
Bodega Septima 2010 Gran Reserva (Mendoza, Argentina — around $22.99, Liquor Marts and beyond)
This blend of 55 per cent Malbec, 35 per cent Cabernet Sauvignon and 10 per cent Tannat is available regularly at Liquor Marts and beyond, although not in great quantities. Cherry and blackberry aromas work well with dark chocolate and black tea notes; on the dense, full-bodied palate there's some medium tannin that provides grip and vanilla/spice notes thanks to time in oak. 91/100 (PS. The festival-only Septima Noche Pinot Noir was fantastic as well, especially for those that like the grape made in the more Old World/Burgundian style.)
Benvenuto de la Serna 2008 Trisagio (Uco Valley, Argentina — $24.99)
A nearly even split of Malbec, Petit Verdot and Tannat, the Trisagio has an intense nose of blueberry, plum, raisin, perfume and spice. Aged 18 months in new French oak barrels, it's a decidedly rich, full-bodied and chewy red, with blackberry, white pepper, black tea and cocoa notes. This needs a big steak. 91/100
03/29/2013 9:51 AM
Véronique Rivest has made wine-related history, becoming the first woman and the first Canadian to land on the podium at the 14th Contest of the Best Sommelier of the World, held over the past few days in Tokyo, Japan. Rivest was the runner-up at the contest, besting an impressive collection of palates from around the world.
Rivest and Ontario sommelier Will Predhomme earned entry to the international competition, held every three years in different locations, by qualifying through the Canadian Association of Professional Sommeliers (CAPS) national competition in Halifax last September. Rivest and Predhomme came 1-2 in that competition, and Rivest went on to win the title of best sommelier of the Americas as well. Predhomme placed in the top 20 in the Tokyo competition.
(Aside: There were no Manitobans in the Canadian competition, although CAPS is just in the process of setting up a Manitoba chapter, so that should change going forward.)
Contestants in the Tokyo event had to go through a series of tests including simulated wine services skills, decanting, blind tasting, and much more. Fifty-plus contestants began the event, and were then knocked down to 12. Predhomme didn't make the final 12 (he finished 17th), but Rivest did along with two other women — impressive considering there were only six women in the competition to begin with. Rivest then went on to make the final three, marking the first time a woman or a Canadian had done so.
This isn't just glorified restaurant service — it takes serious skills, a perfect palate and quick thinking on your feet to compete with the best. For example, at the national competition in Halifax contestants had to go through a table-side wine service in great detail, explaining the finer points of wine to faux-diners in a language other than their own native tongue.
Oh yeah, it's probably worth mentioning the winning sommelier was Paolo Basso of Switzerland, the runner-up in the 2010 competition. Aristide Spies of Belgium placed third.
Congrats to both Rivest and Predhomme in their impressive achievement — especially to Rivest for her impressive finish and her historic run. I've had a chance to taste wine with both, and they're as down-to-earth as they are wine-savvy. I know Rivest a bit better and she's a complete hoot — the complete antithesis of what one might assume about sommeliers and wine biz folks. (Half of the time we're just looking forward to the post-tasting beers.)
About Ben MacPhee-Sigurdson
When he wasn't bashing on a drum kit in local punk rock bands, Ben spent the mid '90s hucking cases of wine around to pay for two English degrees. Now he's the Winnipeg Free Press wine columnist and blogger.
The extent of Ben's wine experience in the mid-90s was memories of accidentally leaving a bottle of White Zinfandel in the freezer overnight, and the ensuing mess he was left with. Between 1996 and 2005 Ben absorbed all he could about wine while working at wine shops to pay for school. Meanwhile, he was churning out papers for his BA and MA in English (from the Universities of Winnipeg and Manitoba, respectively).
Ben became the Winnipeg Free Press' weekly wine columnist in 2005, and two years later joined Wine Access magazine as a contributor, a member of their national tasting panel and a judge at the Canadian Wine Awards and International Value Wine Awards until the magazine closed up shop in 2013.
In 2013 Ben joined the Winnipeg Free Press as a copy/web editor.
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