The Grape Nut
with Ben MacPhee-Sigurdson
- here. I'm feeling pretty well-rested - so far, so good.Number of wines sampled today = 0.Number of wines sampled this week = 0.Well, that explains why I'm feeling so well-rested. I'll try and keep a tally of just how many wines I try this week. Somehow I don't think I'll get to all 585+ of them...
- Winnipeg Wine Festival kicks off this weekend, with the first of the ancillary events Sunday night at 529 Wellington. Unfortunately, the event is sold out.In its place, I suggest you go check out Ms. Marnie Old, an ex-Winnipegger living in Philadelphia and making a name for herself in the wine world as the go-to girl for help with wine lists, wine events, and everything else wine-related. Heck, she's the Director of Wine Studies at New York City's French Culinary Institute (great website, by the way). That's HUGE.Anyhow, she's hosting a dinner at Bistro Seven and a Quarter (725 Osborne Street South) based on the book she co-wrote with brewmaster Sam Calagione called He Said Beer, She Said Wine. Three courses will be tasted alongside both beer and wine. Tickets are $85 plus taxes and gratuity. To reserve a place, call the Bistro at 777-2525.On Wednesday, Marnie will be at McNally Robinson Polo Park at 7:30 for a talk, signing and tasting.***I'll be blogging pretty much every night this coming week in an attempt to cover as many Wine Festival-related activities as possible. Then, at the end of the week, I'll probably check myself into rehab. Good times!
- Winnipeg Wine Festival. I must, after all, get my taste buds in shape in time for the Big Show... *The Chard shall remain nameless, as I'd rather not give it a bad rep with out merit.
beer winebeverage fridge, and realized that the stew would likely be the perfect food pairing for the porter.So I cracked it and managed about five or six sips as I alternated between shoving food in my face and feeding Frances, and the pairing was divine. Maybe it was just the perfect way to take the edge off a frantic evening, but I popped the glass of porter back in the fridge until I managed to get the little gal to bed.So here I am, and here are my thoughts on the Pothole Porter...Half Pints Pothole Porter (Winnipeg, Manitoba - $3.62/341ml, available at Liquor Marts - seasonal, so quantities are limited)Espresso in colour, the nose brings aromas of cola, toffee and mocha. It's 7.9 per cent alcohol, but since it's a heavier beer I can't see too many people chugging this back and feeling the effects. Not as chewy as the colour might suggest, the Pothole Porter has nice weight, a soft, creamy texture, and great flavours of toasted nuts, cinnamon, and toffee with a hint of dark coffee.It matched the stew oh-so-well - a little pat on the back for myself on remembering at the last second. It's also proving to be a most satisfying way of winding down for the night.
- Banfi 2003 Brunello di Montalcino have been confiscated by authorities in Italy.Authorities suspect the wine (which is supposed to be made from 100% Sangiovese grapes) may have been cut with another grape. They calculated how many acres were supposed to be allocated to Brunello wines and determined the number of bottles from the 2003 vintage seemed too high.More on this here. I know some of the private wine stores carry the Banfi Brunello di Montalcino, but I'm not sure what vintage is out there. I'll check it out this weekend.In the meatime, here's a wine I tried recently...Rosemount 2006 Grenache Shiraz (South Eastern Australia - $13.99, available at Liquor Marts and beyond)A big, fruity nose of ripe cherries, pipe tobacco and cola here - lots of fruit and no funk. As is sometimes the case with New World Grenache, there's a grapey-ness that's somewhat reminiscent of Kool-Aid (not necessarily in a bad way), but the Shiraz brings up the rear with some peppery cherry components. It's definitely a fruity, New World red that's medium-bodied and juicy. Chilling it down for 10-15 minutes wouldn't hurt, especially once (or if) the mercury (ever) rises.
- Saturday's column on sake/rice wine I said:"Here are some of the things you wouldn't have found in Winnipeg 10 years ago: an National Hockey League team, a street without potholes, an IKEA and sake."What I meant to say/should have said was:"Here are some of the things that would have been hard to find in Winnipeg 10 years ago: an National Hockey League team, a street without potholes, an IKEA and sake. "There was sake available in Manitoba ten years ago (and long before, as well) - I was just trying to convey the difficulty one might have in finding any decent selection a decade ago. Apologies for the misunderstanding.On a somewhat-related note: I had some great sushi for lunch today from Asoyama on Academy. See their website here or a recent review here.Yet another blunder on my part was brazenly proclaiming that the Habs would beat the Leafs on Saturday. This prediction only serves to remind me why I'm near the bottom of my hockey pool.So, of course, I had no reason to celebrate/crack the Half Pints Weizenbock on Saturday night, so I saved it for last night, when I toasted Team Canada's win at the Ford World Women's Curling Championship. Congrats to Team Jennifer Jones for their deserved win! It's a good thing I decided to not jinx them by predicting their victory.And now, my tasting notes...Half Pints Weizenbock (Winnipeg, Canada - $2.59/341ml, available at Liquor Marts... although it's a seasonal brew, so move it or lose it!)Dark copper in colour, the Weizenbock has a great nose of pistachios, toffee, and a hint of chocolate. It's quite smooth, with the nut and toffee components shining through on the palate. There's some good weight to the Weizenbock; the colour and flavours make me glad I took it out of the fridge about 20 minutes before drinking it. My impression is that chilling it down too much might kill/mask some of the more nuanced flavours. It's a strong beer (6.2 per cent alcohol), but nothing is overpowering - flavours, alcohol, or otherwise.
The date: March 14.The place: Keith's Brier Patch, Winnipeg Convention Centre.
yesterday's business section of the paper, local brewery Half Pints will be moving production over to a bottling line, meaning they'll be producing their three regular beers (in addition to their seasonal fare) in 341ml bottles rather than the larger 660ml bottles they've been producing (all by hand, no less).The first product to hit the shelves in the smaller bottles is the Weizenbock (click on the blue label), which rolls in at $2.59/341ml. I have a bottle chilling down right now in my
beer winebeverage fridge right now... I'd pop it right now were it not for the fact that it's just after 1 p.m. on a Saturday and I've got running around to do today. I'll try it later when my Montreal Canadiens take on the deplorable Toronto Maple Leafs. The taste of victory will be sweet, which should pair nicely with a cold, locally made brew.Half Pints has yet another seasonal beer heading our way on Tuesday, and it's quite timely. The Pothole Porter is, according to the brewery's press release, "a strong, dark ale brewed using pale, crystal, chocolate and melanoidin malts. It is finished with UK Fuggles hops, aged with French Oak, and cool fermented for a sweet, toasty malt finish."Fuggles and melanoidin malts... I think I saw a doctor about that once...As an aside, I recently had my own pothole mishap - I was turning on to Portage Ave. from Route 90, and as I entered traffic, I hit a pothole. I watched in my rear view mirror as one of my hubcaps careened across all four lanes... a Mitsubishi sportscar swerved just in time to avoid running it over, but it was subsequently destroyed by a cube truck. Anyone with an extra hubcap for an '02 Toyota Corolla? Get in touch.In all seriousness, if the Pothole Porter is a hit, perhaps brewmaster David Rudge will consider taking his frothy crusade to the City's Public Works Department...
- this AP report, Lloyd's of London worked out the policy with Gort after a series of intensive tests. Their policy states that Gort isn't allowed to become a boxer or ride a motorcycle, and the insurers even included a clause about going to experienced barbers to keep his facial hair in order (if you click on the link to the story, you'll see why - he sports a hideous, curly something-or-other on his face).Gort isn't the first in the industry to insure his nose - revered critic Robert Parker has a $1 million policy on his own schnoz.I don't think I have the patience to go through the tests to have my nose insured - besides, living with two cats and a baby would likely jack up my premiums.***I recently had a chance to make notes on a stellar bottle of 2005 red Burgundy. In Calgary this summer I tasted a couple bottles of some initial bottles that had been creeping into the country, but I had already made notes on 80 wines earlier in the day...Louis Latour 2005 Aloxe-Corton 1er Cru "Les Chaillots" (Burgundy, France - $67.99, available at select Liquor Marts and beyond)The nose on this red is classic French Pinot Noir: lots of mineral components, cherry and cherry stone aromas, and hints of herbs and dry earth. It's a light, delicate wine with some big tannins to bring structure, and beautiful flavours of juicy cherry, cinnamon and leather. I tried it decanted, and would suggest decanting most 2005 red Burgundy if you're looking to drink it in the next few years. If you have patience, put it away for at least 5-8 years.
First off, a flat-out recommendation, although not a wine: I just picked up the new Kathleen Edwards record, Asking for Flowers, and it's fantastic. It's the Ottawa singer-songwriter's third full-length, and (in this humble listener's opinion) her most well-rounded, accomplished release to date. Both times I've seen her I was bowled over by her powerful voice, charisma, and razor-sharp band.
- 2008 Tim Hortons Brier. If you're a volunteer, you'll have witnessed my artistic and editorial stylings via the volunteer handbook and the RockTalk newsletters. In my humble opinion, our little paper is doing a fantastic job of covering the Brier. The Brier Patch, in case you were wondering, does have a limited selection of wine... maybe I'll do a little tasting there this week.So here I am, updating the blog on a sick day. I couldn't make out any flavours in a wine today to save my life...If you like Niagara's 20 Bees wines, you'd better pick some up soon. Decanter is reporting that the cooperative winery made up of 19 grape growers and one winemaker has gone into receivership after just one year. More on this story from the St. Catharines Standard. An interesting note at the end of the Decanter article - there's a possibility the facility used by 20 Bees might become a custom crush facility like Napa Wine Company.Personally, I'd love to see something more along the lines of Crushpad, a do-it-yourself facility that helps customers (not just wineries) craft wines - from grape selection to bottle and label design to length of barrel aging.
- this past Saturday's column (March 1) I mentioned that Mirlycourtois had an all-French wine list, which in fact is no longer the case. In March of last year they changed it to include both Old and New World wines to match their fantastic French cuisine. In fact, their wine list won a silver medal at the Winnipeg Wine Festival's Wine List Award. It's very good, as is the food.On another note, does anyone out there watch The Thirsty Traveler? If you thought being a wine columnist was a good gig, Kevin Brauch has the best job going.
- Monarchy: The Royal Family at Work. I don't consider myself to be a died-in-the-wool monarchist, but there's something about all the pomp and ceremony that I find fascinating. (Plus I happened to be downtown when Queen Elizabeth was in Winnipeg, and she waved at me; as a result, I feel a deep connection to Her Royal Highness. But I digress.)The filmmakers spent a year behind the scenes with the Royal Family over the course of a year, documenting the travels and rituals of Queen Elizabeth and her family, and offered fascinating insight into what goes in to getting the Queen & Co. around.So why bring all this up? Well, in this installment they took a brief peek around Buckingham Palace's wine cellar. This ain't your dad's collection of homebrew stored in the laundry room; rather, it's a 25,000 bottle cellar that boasts some of the world's best names and vintages. There's even a bottle of sherry dating back to 1660!I guess when you spend most your time entertaining heads of state and other dignitaries (among the 20,000 or so that stop by Buckingham Palace every year), you have to keep a few bottles of everything on hand. The Guardian reports that in 2002, £97,000 was spent on restocking the palace cellar. In total, the cellar's contents carry an estimated value of £2 million.There's very little information out there about Buckingham Palace's wine cellar - I found this article by the Telegraph, but there isn't much else to be found, as the cellar is rarely opened to the public. It was recently retrofitted to be cooled by borehole water in an attempt to curb energy consumption.Of course, someone has to manage such an extensive cellar, which is why the Royal Family retains positions such as Yeoman of the Cellar and Royal Sommelier. These chaps monitor inventory and select wines for all official functions at Buckingham Palace. How does a guy go about putting his name in for that type of job?
- Little Black Dress (at this writing the site was down for maintenance) at La Cantina di Mona Lisa. It's a California brand with a very user-friendly look and style.The coolest part was getting to use the Enomatic wine dispenser in Mona Lisa's wine bar - it allows users to choose their wine by a two-, four-, or six-ounce pour using a pre-paid charge/gift card. La Cantina is the only place in town (to my knowledge) with such a machine. The finger food was also quite tasty.***The two wines sampled were as follows:Little Black Dress 2006 Chardonnay (California - $14.99, available at Liquor Marts and beyond)The nose on this Chardonnay brings vanilla, peach and almond, with a hint of apple. It's medium- to full-bodied on the palate, with lots of typical ripe stone fruit, apple and vanilla flavours. It has a nice, vibrant mouthfeel that kicks it a notch above your average California Chardonnay.Little Black Dress 2005 Merlot (California - $14.99, available at Liquor Marts and beyond)Aromas of plum, cinnamon, perfume, and a hint of oak are in charge on the nose. More big plum, mocha and cedar jump out on the fruit-forward palate. The tannins are very low; it's a red meant for drinking now, and is soft enough to enjoy on its own. A nicely balanced California Merlot for this price point.***Maybe instead of turning back to the game, I'll get back into a new wine book I picked up. It's called First Big Crush by Eric Arnold, and details his adventures in New Zealand as he tries working at a winery in an attempt to write a book about it all. I'm only about 30+ pages in, but I can already say it's a riotous account of the less sexy aspects of winemaking - namely, cleaning and re-cleaning machinery. Full review once I'm done, but be warned - the language is pretty saucy.
- a glass of wine and some chocolate. Besides, the lineups are probably longer at the florists.If you'd rather take that special someone out tonight, consider stopping by Centre Court of St. Vital Centre today or tomorrow from 1:00 - 7:30 PM and sample some wines at the For the Love of Grapes festival. Winnipeg's six standalone private wine stores will be pouring some sippables, and there are a variety of prizes to be won. Net proceeds go to Winnipeg Harvest.
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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