The Grape Nut
with Ben MacPhee-Sigurdson
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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...
- 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).
- 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?
- 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!
- 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.
- terroir and Weir. Again, this is why I don't work writing headlines.
- 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...
- 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.
- é 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
- 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.
- 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.
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.
Blogs that Ben MacPhee-Sigurdson follows:
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