The Grape Nut

with Ben MacPhee-Sigurdson

Email Ben MacPhee-Sigurdson

  • A taste of wine (and beer) on the web

    Here are some quick hits for your reading/viewing pleasure...

  • The Grape Nut catches up

    First off, a quick rounding up of my time in the Okanagan...The four days I spent judging at the Canadian Wine Awards were valuable ones, to say the least. Let me just say that the state of Canadian wine is good - very good. There were many stellar reds, whites, pink wines, sweet wines, fruit wines and bubblies being made in Canada, and crowning the best of the bunch was a hard-fought battle whose results should prove interesting. Gold, silver and bronze medal winners will be detailed in the December 2008January 2009 issue of Wine Access.The Okanagan Valley was a gorgeous venue for the awards - and no worries about regional bias... all the wines are tasted blind - and local wineries/winemakers were more than hospitable at functions I attended in the evenings.Next year's awards will likely be in Ontario's Niagara Peninsula region, which I'm very much looking forward to exploring as well.Also, I was interviewed by Terry David Mulligan - yes, the one that used to interview rock stars, etc. - for his wine radio show The Tasting Room. Judging by his site, I'll be on this coming Saturday... I think you can listen online. As a former university radio programmer at CKUW 95.9 FM, I've long thought about trying to get my own wine-related radio show up and running, but I'm waiting until someone adds about three or four hours to the average day so I'll have time...Back at home, I've been swamped with wine-related emails and events, and am doing my best to stay on top of everything. On top of that, I had my first class of the International Sommelier Guild's Wine Fundamentals I course, so I've got some studying to do - both text- and tasting-wise. No complaints here, especially on the latter.The rest of the week is devoted to beer - namely, the Flatlander's Beer Festival this Thursday and Friday. Check Ticketmaster for details as to whether tickets are still available - chances are at least one of the nights will sell out.Lots of other stuff happening in the wine world:-Amazon, the website best known for selling books, CDs and DVDs, is looking to get into the business of selling American wine in the US in the coming months. The Wall Street Journal is doing the same - see their website here.-My Globe and Mail colleague Beppi Crosariol has waded into the election foray by asking whether any party is willing to strike down the Importation of Intoxicating Liquors Act, which prevents wineries to ship directly to customers (rather than going through provincial liquor boards). Direct-to-home shipments had been offered by some wineries, but the Manitoba and Ontario liquor boards recently reminded a few of them that interprovincial shipping of wine is illegal unless done through those boards. I haven't done enough research about the subject to form an opinion one way or the other, but I'm definitely going to look into what the issue is all about.-On a non wine-related note, I was deeply saddened to learn of the passing of author David Foster Wallace at the age of 46. Wallace had long been one of my favourite writers - both of essays and fiction - but was clearly troubled, and ended his life over the past weekend. A quick internet search will turn up many moving tributes. To get a taste of Wallace's style (and his incredible skill), check out his piece on Roger Federer he wrote for the New York Times - it's a brilliant, moving piece of sports writing that is among some of the best I've ever read. His opus novel Infinite Jest is among my favourites. RIP, DFW.
  • My dentist is gonna have a field day...

    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).
  • The Grape nut goes west

    As of Sunday, I'm off to the Okanagan Valley for a week!I'm heading out as a judge for Wine Access' Canadian Wine Awards, where the best from our fair country go head-to-head for bragging rights. Canadian wine has come a long way over the last twenty years, and I'm excited to have the opportunity to taste through the best of what Canada has to offer. I'll also be partaking in a two-day media tour of wineries prior to the judging, which begins next Tuesday.I'll be reporting back throughout the week on what's going on in BC, what's hot and what's not, and hopefully gloating about the weather. I'll also see if I can post some pictures as I go along.***In the Saturday Detour section, I talk about some of my favourite places around town to have a glass of wine. I could have included dozens of great spots to sit and sip, but there's only so many words I'm allowed to submit, so I had to keep it to five. So what I thought I'd do is highlight some other great spots to have a glass of wine in Winnipeg, starting with...Fusion Grill - 550 Academy Road, 489-6963Fusion features Winnipeg's best selection of Canadian wines, selected from various shops around town and sourced out in BC and Ontario by owner Scot McTaggart. Fabulous regionally inspired cuisine pairs very well with Fusion's unique wine list, which features a heaping helping of Okanagan and Niagara Peninsula wines by the glass. Reservations recommended.
  • The Grape Nut goes back to school/a cure for what ale's ya

    Fall is in the air, our football team's in the basement, and the kids are heading back to school... and so am I!That's right - starting on the 15th, I'll be taking Wine Fundamentals I offered by the International Sommelier Guild (via Banville and Jones). It's the first level of a three-level series of courses geared towards those who want to enhance their wine knowledge. La Boutique del Vino also offers the ISG courses for those who are interested.I feel like I have a pretty good knowledge of wine in general, both through my general interest in wine as well as my having worked in the local biz for ten years. But there's endless amounts to be learned in the world of wine, and I feel going back to school, so to speak, will be both a benefit and a pleasure. Maybe I'll even get to buy school supplies!It's worth checking around at Liquor Marts and private wine stores to see what's being offered in terms of wine/wine-and-food/beer or spirits courses. Chances are you'll find an area of interest worthy of your time. Plus the, uh, 'research' and 'homework' is a lot more fun.I'll have more on wine education in a couple weeks' time in the dead-tree edition of the paper, and will keep you posted on how things are going via this blog.***Be sure to check out the Flatlander's Beer Festival on September 18 and 19 at the Winnipeg Convention Centre. The list of featured products is now available - tickets are $27.95 plus any additional fees, and are available from Liquor Marts and Ticketmaster. Entry includes five sampling tickets; additional sampling tickets are available for purchase on-site - it's $3 for 5. Proceeds benefit the Manitoba Moose Yearling Foundation.There's also the Flatlander's beer dinner on Wednesday, September 17 at the Exchange Restaurant at the MTS Centre. Various courses are paired with different beers; I've gone each of the last two years and am always blown away by how well the beer and food works together. Tickets for the dinner are $125, and are available by contacting the Manitoba Moose Yearling Foundation at 926-5524.Look for more on beer in next week's dead-tree column.
  • The state(s) of wine/a provincial challenge

    First things first, some business...Liquor Marts will be closed on Monday, so stock up early so you're not stuck in line on Saturday or Sunday. Alternately, some beer vendors and private wine stores will be open on Monday - it might not be a bad idea to call ahead.I found a piece yesterday on Time Magazine's website called "Fifty States of Wine" - writer Joel Stein, upon discovering that every state produces some sort of wine, decided to take on the task of trying one from every state. The results are all over the map (pardon the pun) check it out for yourself here. You can also check out the video he shot with Wine Library TV's Gary Vaynerchuk, where they tasted through ten wines from various states.So I thought I'd do the same north of the border - try and track down/taste a wine from every wine-producing province of the True North Strong and Free. I've already tasted wines from Ontario, British Columbia, Manitoba, Prince Edward Island, and Nova Scotia. I think that leaves Newfoundland, Quebec and Alberta (to my knowledge, there is no wine made in Saskatchewan, but I'll check around). I'll post the results here as I go through them - if you have any insight/tips, let me know.UPDATE: Apparently there is wine made in Saskatchewan - a reader alerted me to Cypress Hills Winery... another one to add to the list.Not surprisingly, Bottle Shock has already left the theatres - I apologize for failing to get to see it and provide a review. I guess I'll have to wait for the cheap theatres to pick it up or for its release on DVD. From the sounds of things, I/we didn't miss much.Have a great long weekend and - dare I say it again? - Go Bombers! Hey, last time it worked...
  • Bats, rats and fine French wine

    While I can't yet vouch for whether wine film Bottle Shock is any good, I can say this with great certainty: The Dark Knight is fabulous. Heath Ledger and Christian Bale make Jack Nicholson and Michael Keaton (from the first installment of the Batman films) look like parodies of the super hero genre. And don't even get me started on the dreadful Kim Basinger...Oh yeah, right, this is a wine blog... well, I do plan on catching Bottle Shock before it's gone from the one theatre in which it is being shown. We'll see when I can actually fit that in - my bachelorhood comes to an end today, as my wife and daughter return from PEI after a two-week absence. While they've been gone, I've been rewatching the final season of The Sopranos - probably my favourite TV series of all time.In a recent episode I watched, Christopher Moltisanti and Tony Soprano steal a whole bunch of wine from some bikers (who were in the process of lifting the stuff themselves). Their haul? Cases of 1986 Chateau Pichon-Longueville. According to reviews, it's good stuff. Christopher, a recovering alcoholic, then goes on a bit of a bender.Product placement is rampant in The Sopranos, and I've noticed that the Sopranos tend to enjoy the tan-labelled Ruffino Chianti Classico Riserva Ducale on a regular basis; it's a widely available Italian red (it sells in Manitoba for $29.05).
  • The Grape Nut twiddles thumbs

    Things tend to slow down a bit over the summer, as many of the "movers and shakers" on the Winnipeg wine scene go on vacation, or are busy with festivals, concerts, and so forth. My wife and daughter are in Prince Edward Island on holidays (my holiday time has been spoken for by various wine trips this year), so I've been living a relatively solitary life of a bachelor over the past week. In other words, I'm bored outta my tree.I've been compiling my wine blog roll call over the past couple of weeks, including a couple of great local wine bloggers - watch for the list in the days to come. I'm also working on a longer piece for next Saturday's dead-tree edition on great places to enjoy a glass of wine - wine bars, lounges, restaurants, hotels, etc. Where is your favourite place to go for a glass of wine?I've also been keeping my eye open for the local release of Bottle Shock, a film that recalls the events leading up to The Judgement of Paris, a 1976 blind tasting between French and American wineries. Reviews have been decidedly mixed, with most critics hailing Alan Rickman's performance as Steven Spurrier and deeming the rest of the film less than stellar. As the wine critic (and former Film Studies minor), I'm interested in seeing it, and wonder if the success of Sideways (and, to a lesser extent, Mondovino) will result in more wine-related movies. So far I haven't seen any listings for it...FRIDAY MORNING UPDATE: Looks like it opens today at Grant Park... I'll try and get to it in the next few days.I don't know if it's even worth saying, but: Go Bombers?
  • Meta-Reflections, sorta

    Finally! For your reading pleasure, I reflect on Neil Rosenthal's Reflections of a Wine Merchant. I was originally going to make it a column unto itself, but changed my mind...***

  • Going once... going twice...

    As of today, a few of Manitoba's liquor laws will change, although many won't directly affect consumers. You can read about it here, or read the amendments themselves here.Indeed, Manitobans may not be directly affected by many of the regulation changes, and some of the changes are more technical/administrative. There are some new security measures, higher fines for breaking the law, and so forth.There are a few specifics I'm interested in, especially amendment 39(2.2), which states that "A family member of a deceased person or the executor of a deceased person's estate may obtain a special permit that authorizes the holder to sell or auction liquor owned by the deceased person."Another amendment that will directly impact Manitoba imbibers is that the maximum amount of alcohol one person can buy at a time has been changed to 750ml of beer, 500ml of wine, or 85.2ml of spirits or fortified wine (port, sherry, etc.). Essentially, this means one individual can now buy two drinks at once.The impact this might have on pubs could be interesting - Manitobans have long been buying scaled-down pints of beer (about 500ml, or 16 ounces), and could now be offered an Imperial pint (586ml, or 20 fluid ounces). In fact, the Lo Pub (330 Kennedy Street, in the Hosteling International building) is celebrating the change in legislation with an "Imperial Dance March" tonight (if you're on Facebook, check out the details here (warning: some commentors have used profanity on the "wall" of this page).Overall, I think the changes that have been made to the Liquor Control Act are positive. I'm going to spend the weekend looking over the fine details, perhaps over a big pint - nothing goes better with a long weekend and some legalese than a fine lager. I'll report back if anything else of interest pops up. If you go out over the weekend and find things are a bit different because of these amendments, I'd love to hear about it.***Long weekend alert! Manitoba's Liquor Marts will be closed on Monday, August 4 for the long weekend. One exception: the Gimli Liquor Mart will be open from 10:00 AM - 5:00 PM to serve those pesky Icelanders celebrating Islendingadagurinn (I DARE you to try Brennivin. It won't put hair on your chest, but it might peel it right off). Winnipeggers can still pick up brewskis at beer vendors, or some vino at private wine stores, as most will be open on Monday (although possibly operating on a holiday schedule). Call in advance if you're not sure.***Coming soon: my book review, a wine blog roll call, and more. Go Bombers!
  • The Grape Nut goes nuts for Grange

    Remember when I mentioned I had tried a truly legendary wine? I wasn't messing around.A couple of weeks ago I was fortunate to taste through a collection of Penfolds wines - many are availble on the market in Manitoba, and a couple were wines produced in limited quality and highly allocated.One such wine is the Penfolds Grange. It's the flagship luxury wine from this extremely consistent Aussie producer, and is next to impossible to find in the local market. For this tasting, I was lucky enough to try the 1998 vintage. Scores from wine critics don't make it or break it for me, but when influential wine writer Robert Parker gives a wine a 99 out of 100, I pay attention. This particular bottle was added to the tasting from a private cellar. Here goes:Penfolds 1998 Grange (Australia - $ hundreds or so, not available)The nose on the Grange (97 per cent Shiraz, 3 per cent Cabernet Sauvignon) is subtle but complex, with aromas of leather, black cherry, cinnamon, and a hint of ash. The fruit component on the nose is bright and concentrated. It's ultra-soft and velvety on the palate, with tannins that are still fairly pronounced but quite supple. There's some great up-front juiciness to this wine, with beautiful cherry and plum flavours. It's an extremely elegant wine - some wine geeks would call this a 'feminine' style, but I've never liked the feminine/masculine descriptors - and the finish is extremely long and smooth. Penfolds' tasting notes suggest drinking between 2010 and 2040, but it didn't seem like this bottled was opened too early. Not as big as some of the other wines we tried from more recent vintages, but a wine loaded with character and finesse. Were I to score it out of 100, I'd probably lean in the direction of about 97-98. It is the complete package.For more thoughts on the '98 Grange, check out these reviews. I'll try and think of some more legendary wines I've been lucky enough to try, if people are interested in hearing about 'em. I'll also try and compile some notes on all the 2007 Rieslings I tried in Germany.Oh yes - I've almost finished writing up a review of Neil Rosenthal's book, Reflections of a Wine Merchant. It's been a somewhat onerous task, not unlike writing book reports in grade school. I hope I pass.
  • Terr-Weir

    Having covered Wayne Gretzky wines in my last entry, today there's news that Mike Weir's wine affiliations will be changing soon.In this Saturday's dead-tree edition of the wine column, I tasted the Gretzky, Weir and Greg Norman wines. It appears future Weir wines will be substantially different - as in, possibly coming from the Okanagan Valley instead of the Niagara Peninsula. Weir's current wines are made by Creekside Winery Group, but he and Creekside recently severed ties. Apparently, Weir (currently right in the thick of things at this year's British Open) is looking to set up his own Niagara winery and/or partner with an Okanagan winery while creating a golf course in the BC winemaking region.Anyhow, lots more to come in the next few days, including a book review and my notes from tasting one of wine's best-known and majestic red wines. Hint: it comes from Greg Norman's home country...Apologies for the horrible pun in the title... my pathetic attempt at combining terroir and Weir. Again, this is why I don't work writing headlines.
  • The Great One has arrived

    I just received the latest Sip 'N' Savour e-newsletter from Manitoba's Liquor Marts, and it looks like The Great One is hitting the 'Peg this summer in advance of his Phoenix Coyotes' visit to the MTS Centre this fall.Well, if you count his wine, that is. That's right - Wayne Gretzky Estates wines (from the Niagara Peninsula) are now available in Manitoba. The red (a Meritage blend - that is to say, a Bordeaux-style blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot) will set you back $15.95 plus taxes, while the unoaked Chardonnay is fifty cents cheaper.Gretzky is one of many celebs to lend their name to wine; in Canada there's also Mike Weir and Dan Aykroyd, there's Greg Norman, Nick Faldo and Olivia Newton-John from Australia, Ernie Els from South Africa, and many from the US, including Francis Ford Coppola, Motley Crue's Vince Neil, and even Elvis Presley.[note: I'm way too lazy to search for links to each of these wineries - a quick Google search should get you to the websites.]In Manitoba, Gretzky's wines are in the same price range as Aykroyd's (and the Elvis wines), while Norman, Weir and Faldo are slightly more (the latter is available exclusively at Kenaston Wine Market, I believe). Coppola's wines run the gamut in price, and he's by far the most involved in the actual winemaking process - most of the rest simply give their approval or lend their name to wines.Obviously, Elvis has little to say about or do with his wines... OR DOES HE?  I can just see the headlines at the grocery store:"ELVIS SPOTTED PRUNING MERLOT IN CALIFORNIA!"I think I see a celebrity wine blind tasting column in my near future...
  • Fill 'er up... with wine

    Are wine-powered cars the way of the future? If the future King of England has anything to say about it... maybe.As I mentioned in my last post, Prince Charles has converted an Aston Martin to run on wine. The science behind wine fuel is detailed here. Decanter reports that the English wine community (oh yes, there is one) is up in arms over a comment made by the Prince's personal secretary that the wine was made with surplus English wine. In fact, it's being made using wine that is no longer fit for consumption.At the rate gas prices are rising, maybe it won't be long before I'm filling up my Corolla with unleaded Zinfandel...***I've just about finished Neal Rosenthal's Reflections of a Wine Merchant, a charming tale of his adventures in France and Italy as a wine importer over the past thirty years. Rosenthal is one of many interviewed featured in Mondovino, a documentary about wine and globalization that came out a few years ago. I'd definitely recommend the book - it's an easy, engaging read that pays homage to the hard-working small producers whose wines are (or were) imported to the US by Rosenthal. A more complete review to follow.***Santa Margherita is once again a principal supporter of the AIDS - Walk for the Cure event. From July 21 to August 17, 50 cents from every bottle of Santa Margherita Pinot Grigio purchased will be donated to the National AIDS Walk for Life (the walk itself will take place in mid-September). Last year, national sales of Santa Margherita Pinot Grigio resulted in a donation of $65,000 to the cause.
  • Canada Day - red and white (or pink and amber)

    Question: What will you be sipping on tomorrow?If you're looking to pick up some bevvies today to celebrate Canada's birthday tomorrow, chances are you'll stand in line. While Liquor Marts are closed tomorrow (unless you live in Gimli), don't forget that some private wine stores and beer vendors will be open - your best bet is to call ahead.As for me, I might pop a cork on some dry rosé or some bubbly. If I'm going to have a white wine, it might be a Portuguese Vinho Verde or an Italian Pinot Grigio - something crisp and refreshing.  If I opt for a red, it'll be light and fruity - a Beaujolais, perhaps, or a New World Pinot Noir.But if the mercury soars like it has been today, odds are I'll opt for a Canuck microbrew.**UPDATE** How could I not link to this story by the Telegraph: Prince Charles's Aston Martin is wine powered
  • Insert wine pun headline here

    First off, best wishes and speedy recovery to WFP columnist Lindor Reynolds, the Grape Nut's fallen comrade who was stricken (or struck) by a rogue Segway whilst wheeling about the Twin Cities. Read about it here. When I think of Segways, I can't help but think of Will Arnett's character (G.O.B.) from the too-quickly-canceled Fox series Arrested Development. I'd prescribe a big, ripe Aussie Shiraz for the aches and pains, but don't call me in the morning.I'm heading out to Calgary this afternoon for two days of non-stop tasting in conjunction with Wine Access' International Value Wine Awards. The goal is to find the best wines under $25; the wines are tasted in flights (groups) of about 15-18, and are tasted blind by the judging panels. This means we don't know who the producers are or what country the wines are from, ensuring some form of objectivity (taste is obviously subjective, but at least craftsmanship and the like can be judged pretty fairly).So tomorrow and Thursday I'll be tasting (and spitting) about 100 wines per day. I participated last year, and found it was an extremely valuable (and fun) experience as a taster. Frankly, I'm looking forward to tasting anything other than Riesling - it seems like I've had very little else since returning from Germany.Anyway, once the judging is over, we're given all our tasting notes and scores (out of 100), and the wines we tasted are revealed. Seeing the nearly 1,000 bottles lined up in various groups is something else (I've remembered to pack my camera this time, and will be sure to try and capture the magnitude of the event). I'm hoping to get in a bit of wine shopping in while I'm there, but since I'm only bringing carry-on luggage, my options are somewhat limited. Besides, after picking up a box full of German wines after my last trip and finding three of them broken, I'm not encouraged to travel with wine at present.
  • Finals tasting post-mortem

    200 wines later, the finals tasting is done. My teeth are stained, my pants are stained (warning: never wear beige pants while tasting 15 Carmeneres), and my tongue feels like sandpaper. The results are already being tallied, and in six hours I'll be curled up in my own bed. More to follow, including some pictures from the event, but suffice to say it's been a great learning experience, and some great wines under $25 were tasted. I've got an arsenal of tasting notes for the next few months too, which will come in very handy.I think the eleven Malbecs we tried in the last flight effectively wiped me out. Time for a beer to cleanse the palate...
  • Finals tasting, day one, AM

    Started at 9 AM with 12 Chardonnays, 14 Merlots, 14 Syrah/Shirazes, then 5 roses. Lunch was too brief, and now I'm staring down 16 Sauvignon Blancs, 20 (!) Cabernet Sauvignons, and 8 sparkling wines.I can hear my dentist laughing already...
  • Wine on the rise

    As you may have already heard, Statistics Canada released sales figures of alcoholic beverages in Canada for the fiscal year ending March 31, 2007. Wine continues to outpace beer and spirits in volume growth in almost every market, and while the sudsy stuff still dominates the market, beer better have a look over its shoulder - wine is on the rise.In 1997, wine accounted for 21 per cent of dollar shares in the Canadian market; ten years on, that number has increased to 28 per cent. In the 2007 fiscal year, Manitobans bought nearly $105 million worth of wine (compared to $244+ million of beer and $205+ million of spirits). This is fifth among provinces (behind, in descending order, Quebec, Ontario, BC and Alberta, and around $8 million more than Nova Scotia).Sales of the combined categories rose 5.9 per cent from the previous year, slightly higher than the national growth of 5.2 per cent. The full slate of information can be seen here. In total, Canadians spent an average of $667 per person (over the age of 15... an interesting age to choose) on alcohol.Just throwing the numbers out there for now, but I'll have more reflection on these new stats in the weeks to come, as well as news on some shake-ups at two of the world's largest beverage conglomerates.
  • Ich bin ein Grape Nut - Germany wrap-up

    On this glorious sunny Winnipeg Sunday, I look back at the last few days of my trip with nothing but Riesling-fueled fondness...Now, where I did I leave off? Oh yes, Thursday, we biked along the Mosel river to Bernkastel-Rues, a gorgeous, tourist-magnet town. There we traded our bikes for glasses, and sat down to sample the wines of Weingut Dr. Pauly-Bergweiler/Peter Nicolay. Fourteen Rieslings were tasted before we set out on our separate ways for a couple of hours of free time (which I spent searching for a gift for my wife, with no success). Next up was Selbach-Oster, where we hiked up into the vineyards (WAY up the hillside... at least for this flatlander) and managed to get a first-hand look at the vineyard's layered slate soil. We then headed back down the hill for a tasting, where we had my favourite wine of the trip, a 1976 Zeltlinger Schlossberg Auslese. I was rating the wines I tasted out of 100 (mostly for personal reference), and gave this one a 97.Later than night we went on a tour of the Moselland facilities, a massive winemaking and bottling facility that was in stark contrast to the smaller, older wineries that dominated the trip. It was a great reminder of the varieties of ways in which German wines (and wines everywhere, for that matter), are produced, and the head winemaker and Export manager joined us for a fabulous dinner and tasting at our hotel later that night.Friday: The last full day of the trip started at Schlossgut Diel, where we arrived to find the Canadian flag flying atop their castle's turret - a nice touch. Along with a nice sparkling wine (and, of course, the mandatory pile of Riesling), we tried a stellar Pinot Noir called Cuvee Caroline (sadly, not available here - we weren't even able to buy one at the winery). From there we drove to Oberwesel and hopped on the "Goethe", a paddle steamer named after the 17th/18th century German author.This segment of the Rhine river is the most dramatic to see: steep slopes covered in vines, towns stringing the riverside, and castles in various states dotting the hillside. It's truly breathtaking, and no words (or pictures, for that matter... I tried my best) can capture its stunning beauty. Our final tasting of the tour was at Kruger-Rumpf, where we also had dinner (schnitzel and, you guessed it, asparagus - this time in a salad format). Friday night was spent over many beers at a local tavern in Bingen.Saturday morning came too early, and we packed up and headed for the airport for our long trips home (two to Vancouver, four to Toronto, and me to Winnipeg via Toronto). I managed to get through customs without having to pay any duty on the wines I acquired, although my box ended up on the carousel in the Winnipeg airport slightly flatter than when I packed it... three of my eleven bottles fell victim to that Toronto-Winnipeg flight. I guess it was justice served for not having to pay duty. Oh well.I can't thank the following people enough for making this trip so fabulous: my traveling companions (Tim, Daenna, Eric, Anton, and Sara), the German Wine Institute folks (Ron and Andreas), and Stefan, our fabulous driver. All the winemakers/wineries we visited were also extremely friendly and accommodating.I don't think I forgot anything or anyone, but I'll pore over my unsightly notes and double check. But for now, I think I'll take a bit of a break from Riesling, asparagus, and even beer for a few days, and try to work off my Riesling gut...

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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