Winnipeg Free Press - ONLINE EDITION

My dentist is gonna have a field day...

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Well, hello, Winnipeg! You'll have to excuse me for not updating sooner - it's been really hard to find spare time and an internet connection at the same time. It's been nothing short of a whirlwind Okanagan Valley primer.I arrived Sunday night after some pretty uneventful travel (although I did watch Iron Man on the plane... not bad). Sat and had dinner at the Barking Parrot, a lounge in the hotel I'm staying at here in Penticton. Nothing like pizza and a beer whilst looking out at the picturesque Lake Okanagan...Monday was a whirlwind tour of five Okanagan estates owned by Vincor, namely See Ya Later, Nk'Mip, Sumac Ridge, Osoyoos Larose and Jackson Triggs Okanagan. We started out just after 8 (!), and by 9 a.m. I was tasting the See Ya Later bubbly.The estates were great, and as an Okanagan newbie I was able to really get a good idea of how the vineyards and regions really do vary quite a bit.In contrast, Tuesday involved just one winery - Inniskillin Okanagan - but our travels took us to various vineyards held by them so we could see plantings of a whole cross-section of grapes, most of which are relatively obscure within the Okanagan: Sangiovese, Tempranillo, Malbec, Marsanne, Roussanne, etc. We tasted the pertinent wine at each site, which was a really neat way to both see and taste a grape and its soil, location, etc. Earls Restaurants (who work closely with Nk'Mip) had food stations set up throughout the vineyard, and also did lunch on a gazebo in the Sun Rock vineyard as well as dinner back at Nk'Mip.Before dinner, a few of us went on a tour of the Nk'Mip Desert Heritage Centre, an outside trek through the desert. When I say desert, it's not like the rolling hills of sand like the Sahara, but rather is scattered with cactus, sage bushes, etc. There are also deer, bears, and a whole lotta snakes in that neck of the woods. But let me tell you, there are few better places to eat dinner than looking out over the Okanagan Valley as the sun sets. Wow.Wednesday was all business, namely the first day of tasting wines at the Canadian Wine Awards. The first flight of ten reds arrived just after 9 a.m., and by lunchtime we had tasted five flights in total (there were four more after lunch).What's a flight? Well, the wines are tasted blind - that is, they're poured into glasses and judges aren't shown what wine is in the glass. Then about 12-15 glasses come out, numbered with stickers - that's a flight of wines. Judges (split into four panels of four) taste through the flight, scoring the wines out of 100, and then confer to compare scores.So all in all we tasted just over 100 wines yesterday, with much of the same for today and Friday. Saturday will involve some taste-offs of some of the best wines. So far (post-lunchtime) we had 13 Pinot Grigio, 13 Merlot, 10 Sauvignon Blanc, 10 Gewurztraminer, and about 7 dessert wines. My mouth is feeling a wee bit rough.And, by the way, nothing cleanses the palate after swirling, sniffing swishing and spitting wines like a cold beer, but that won't come until later.Anyhow, we toured Mission Hill's Naramata Bench vineyards before dinner nearby... I've got to get some of the pictures up here, 'cause the view is spectacular (as was the food).

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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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