The Grape Nut

with Ben MacPhee-Sigurdson

Email Ben MacPhee-Sigurdson

  • The Grape Nut - big in Germany?

    When I decided to keep a running account of my time here in Germany, I did so partly for my own benefit - so I could blast out some thoughts before while they were still fresh. It turns out at least one German occasionally reads them.We set out this morning from Deidesheim (in the Pfalz region) to visit Lingenfelder (it should be noted that many of his well-priced animal label wines are available at private wine stores). 13th generation winemaker Rainer Lingenfelder bounced out to our van and jumped in with more enthusiasm than I've yet witnessed on the trip.I had heard that Mr. Lingenfelder was a lot of fun, and as he immediately set in to describing his estate and the surrounding area, I could see that the reputation was justified. Suddenly, he said something along the lines of "Well, I KNOW you all know that this area is on the 50th parallel - as does, of course, WINNIPEG!" Yes, he sort of shouted this, and since it had become a running joke amongst me and my fellow travelers, we burst into applause.It turns out Mr. Lingenfelder just happened to read about the continuous references to Winnipeg on this blog (in yesterday's installment). Now that, my friends, is preparation. This was also one of the few stops where we actually got to try a red wine (two even!), which was a welcome pause from the barrage of Riesling. Don't get me wrong... I love the stuff. But if you had something you loved (say, for example, a KitKat) thirty times a day, you'd want to have something else after a few days. But I digress.Anyhow, we had a great visit at Lingenfelder, trying a good cross-section of wines before leaving the Pfalz region for Trier, in the Mosel region. We attended a large tasting of 30ish producers in this fabulous rec centre that had once been a cathedral. And yes, almost all the wines sampled were Riesling.We drove out of Trier in the early evening, checked into our hotel in Muhlheim, and out the door we went to dinner, which was quintessential German food: large pieces of meat, potato sides, asparagus (seriously, asparagus is in some way incorporated into every meal), and the occasional garnish all washed down with a wheat beer. It's heavy stuff.Tomorrow we ride bikes to Bernkastel-Kues for a winery visit before an afternoon hike through some vineyards. Vines cover the rolling hills (small mountains?) at a ridiculous slant, so this hike could really be something...
  • Germany, Day One - groggy

    Well, here's my first update from Germany, coming to you from Oestrich-Winkel, situated a (long) stone's throw from the Rhine river. The Toronto-Frankfurt flight was delayed, didn't have the chair-back TVs, and featured two young siblings who seemed to delight in emitting blood-curdling screams all night. As the parent of a young child, I can understand how tough this can be (having dragged our daughter to Prince Edward Island), but these people had no food, drinks, toys or books to keep the children occupied, for which they deserved worse than what they got (some serious cringing from other passengers). I don't even think I heard the parents talk to the children very much. If I had nothing to do but sit on someone's lap for eight hours, I'd be cranky too.Needless to say, there wasn't much sleep to be had on the flight, despite trying to induce slumber via a couple of glasses of cheap Sicilian Merlot and a quick brandy. So it's now 5:30 a.m. Winnipeg time (12:30 p.m. here), and I'm trying desperately to stay awake so as to confine the jet lag to one day.I have a couple of hours to kill, but there's not much open on a Sunday here, so this is actually a good opportunity to get a jump on some work, maybe do some reading and have a shower. Despite the beautiful exterior of the Hotel Nagler, my room is very much a snapshot of the '80s; for interest's sake, here's a picture of me (courtesy of the new laptop) in my room.
  • Grape Nut seeks travel tip

    I'm leaving for Germany in a few hours, and I'm packed and ready to get this show on the road.Any good tips on avoiding jet lag? Most importantly: will I be able to watch Game 4 of the Stanley Cup finals on the plane?I think I know the answer to the second question.My next report will be from overseas. On an unrelated tip, watch for a bunch of single malt scotch reviews in the coming days, as well as many updates from the field (or the vineyard, as it were).
  • Germany, day three? Riesling galore

    We're getting ready to leave Oestrich-Winkel on this muggy Tuesday morning, and so far the trip has been great - decent weather (although there was a big booming storm last night), great people and great wines.A quick recap: Sunday evening was spent at Burg Crass, a cafe along the Rhine, where we took part in a local ritual of cake and coffee. Except when you've got a bunch of winos in tow, that becomes cake (of the delicious local strawberry variety) and sparkling wine. Let me tell you, German sparkling wine (often called Sekt) is one of the hidden gems of this country's wine production.That night we went up the valley to Schloss Vollrads, a beautiful, castle-estate type property, where we were treated to some great food and wine, as well as a tour of this phenomenal estate.We got started early Monday morning with a quick (but phenomenal) buffet breakfast before heading out to Weingut Kunstler (apologies for the lack of umlauts), whose fairly modern estate (on the inside, at least) included a series of winding cellars that have to be seen to be believed. Next up (and just down the street) was Domdechant Werner'sches Weingut, a much smaller producer run by Dr. Franz W. Michel, a 75 year-old grandfather of 15 who shows no sign of letting up.Balthasar Ress was our third stop of the day - some of Stefan Ress' wines are available in Manitoba, and we sampled those and many others before being whisked off to Schloss Reinhartshausen, another producer whose wines are available at home.This morning we're off to the Pfalz region, to Gunderloch (some of whose wines are available in Manitoba... at private wine stores, I believe). There's a quick recap of our activities, and I'll have more later when we check into our next hotel. Suffice to say I've tried many great Rieslings - in fact, of the 60ish wines tasted, all but about five have been Riesling. Many are now being made in a far drier style than the Canadian wine buying public might believe.Interestingly, Winnipeg has come up at almost every stop so far. Why? Well, this region sits on the 50th parallel, which just so happens to run right through Winnipeg. In fact, it's now a running joke that every winemaker we meet will mention Winnipeg as a Canadian point of reference as to our latitude.More later... there is more Riesling to be tried. Hopefully my gums don't peel back from my teeth (Riesling can be fairly high in acidity)...
  • Nosing Me, Nosing You (apologies to ABBA for the horrible pun)

    Before continuing to chronicle my adventures in Germany (which, sadly, come to an end tomorrow), I just remembered that in tomorrow's column I wrote that I would post some more info on whisky. And just my luck - I had already sent the column in before a copy of the late (and unfortunately named) Michael Jackson's Whisky: The Definitive World Guide showed up at my house. So here's some extra info on how whisky is made, how to taste whisky, and a few more tasting notes I didn't have room for in the column...The basics on how whisky is made: malted barley and water are combined or “mashed” to produce wort; at this point yeast is introduced, and the fermentation process of converting sugar in the wort to alcohol begins (the conversion takes longer than it would with grapes). The end result of fermentation is then distilled (which involves vaporization and condensation) either in vats (bigger companies) or in copper stills (the traditionalists).Tasting whisky: first off, it's often called "nosing" rather than tasting - after all, many of the subtle differences come from the variances in aromas. Start with a small, tulip-shaped wine glass - nothing etched or fancy. Don't bother trying to pick up all the subtleties from a glass tumbler. Check out the colour - is it deep gold? Amber? Pale straw? This will be a good indication as to what type of cask it was aged in, and for how long.Now take a sniff, just like you would a glass of wine, noting all the aromas. Before tasting the whisky, don't be afraid to dilute it slightly using bottled water - tap water will impart chlorine aspects. Many whisky buffs add water - this way you get the aromas and flavours without the raging alcohol content. Avoid ice cubes or soda water. And obviously cola or ginger ale isn't the way to go here.Some folk place their hand over the rim of the glass and give the whisky a good shake. I've tried this and the results (to my shirt) haven't been pretty. Doing this, however, will maximize the odours and flavours released.The actual tasting process is the same as wine - note the flavours, weight, texture and finish on the whisky. And there you have it - you're ready to get nosing.Some more single malt Scotch whiskies I've tried as of late follow - I was lucky enough to try a whole whack of whiskies side by side. Most of these should be available at Liquor Marts.Glenfiddich 15 Year Old Single Malt Scotch Whisky ($58.78)The bourbon-sherry-ish notes (likely from the casks) shine through on the nose, as do aromas of oranges and toasted oak. It's very mellow on the palate, with orange peel and cocoa flavours before a medium finish.Glenfarclas 12 Year Old Single Malt Scotch Whisky ($62.32/700ml)Loads of nuts on the nose of this one, especially almonds, with some pear undertones. Much bigger peat on this single malt, with the nutty, caramel components coming through on the palate.Highland Park 12 Year Old Single Malt Scotch Whisky ($54.95)Vanilla and fig dominate on the nose, while a toasty, burnt tire flavour comes through on the palate. It's a juicy, weighty single malt.Bowmore 15 Year Old "Mariner" Single Malt Scotch Whisky ($53.74)Big aromas of vanilla, caramel and cinnamon prevail on the nose, while the palate is far more complex. Fruity, floral, peaty and toasty flavours make this a well-rounded single malt and a definitely fine dram.Glenmorangie "The Original" Single Malt Scotch Whisky ($58.74)The nose brings aromas of honey, flowers, almonds and peanuts - that Scotch saltiness - with juicy citrus flavours on a round, full palate.Glenmorangie "Quinta Ruban" Single Malt Scotch Whisky ($71.67)Sherry casks are in play on this single malt, with a round, nutty nose counterbalanced by some ripe green apple aromas. There's a slight sweetness here, with some definite sherry characteristics as well as chocolate and spice. Excellent.Glenfiddich 21 Year Old Grande Reserve Single Malt Scotch Whisky ($120.97)Vanilla, spice, and lemon pepper aromas all emerge here - not too unusual, as this single malt is aged in Cuban rum casks. Lemon and other citrus components interact with rounder vanilla flavours, both of which impart a slight sweetness.Glenfarclas 105 Cask Strength Single Malt Scotch Whisky ($76.51)This big fella weighs in at 68 per cent alcohol - some diluting recommended. Honey and banana dominate the nose, with a hint of some sort of anise aroma that reminded me of Jagermeister (in a good way). It's a big, ripping single malt with lots of peat and pepper.Auchentoshan "Three Wood" Single Malt Scotch Whisky ($74.02)Ah yes, three wood... yet another golf club I destroy golf courses with. It's triple (rather than double, which is the norm) distilled, not peated, and aged in oloroso (Sherry) casks. The nose is quite complex, with aromas of barley, mint, herbs and lime. The palate is clean due to the lack of peat, and features fruity characteristcis blended with nuts and pepper.
  • The Grape Nut, dinner planner

    Some quick notes about upcoming events on this Wednesday morning...

  • The adventures of The Grape Nut - 2008

    Happy Saturday, everyone.* Summer's always a busy time of the year for The Grape Nut, and I'm currently prepping to head off to Germany for a week with some other wine writers. I've been to Germany twice, but never specifically in a wine-related capacity. The first time was in high school (a St. James institute which closed its doors last summer) with our concert band. As you can imagine, scores of Canadian teenagers that are suddenly of legal drinking age isn't pretty.My second trip was in 1999 when I played drums in a local band. We travelled through Germany, with quick stops in Austria, the Czech Republic, and France's Alsace region. By this time I was working in the local wine industry, so it pains me to think that I never took the time to visit wineries or drink much wine there. I did, however, get to try many regional German beers - after every show, the promoter would typically load a milk crate-like container into our van, full of half-litre bottles of the local brew. When I got home a month later, I brought home a shameful spare tire as, uh, "carry-on."I'll be the first to admit that I often overlook German wines, so it'll be a good opportunity to connect with the Riesling-heavy European producer. I'll also be interested to see what German producers are doing with other varietals; many typically produce Pinot Gris (aka Grauburgunder), Pinot Blanc (Weissburgunder) and Pinot Noir (Spatburgunder), but some are starting to plant Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, and other common varietals.Providing I have access to "das Internet", I'll be updating on a daily (or at least regular) basis on what's shaking along the beautiful Rhine river.It looks like I'll be stopping in Calgary for a couple of days to participate as a judge in Wine Access' International Value Wine Awards. I participated for the first time last year, and learned a tremendous amount about wine judging, blind tasting, and how to trash your palate by tasting 500ish wines in a week. Good times!A Chilean adventure seems to be in the cards as well, but not until November. Winnipeg will be going into a deep-freeze while Chile will be heading into summer. Sounds like perfect timing to me.* The tributes continue to pour in for Robert Mondavi, who died May 16. Check out this hour-long radio tribute here (it's the third selection down, under "What's Cookin' on Wine"). There are some fond remembrances here, here, and here (among many others) as well.
  • Get while the gettin's good

    With a respectful hat tip to Wine in the 'Peg, two things I meant to mention in the last few days (which have been taken up by day job stuff and trying to figure out my new laptop):

  • Best of the Fest... and so long, Bob

    update:  California wine pioneer Robert Mondavi died yesterday at the age of 94. Raise a glass to the man who broke the mold and changed the way the world looks at California wines...***Hope everybody has a great long weekend. To my knowledge, Liquor Marts are closed on Mondays, while some private wine stores and beer vendors will be open, mostly with Sunday/holiday hours.Since the task of writing out tasting notes for a whole pile of wines seems like a bit of an overwhelming task right now, I thought I'd at least post the names of some of my favourites wines tried at the Winnipeg Wine Festival. Plus that way I can always review the wines in the column. Of note: these are wines that are new to me... in other words, wines I hadn't tried before the Winnipeg Wine Festival. There were a lot of great wines at the show that I had either tried or didn't get to try (but heard good things about).Not all wines from the main tasting area will stick around - as I mentioned, the Grant Park Liquor Mart already has a rack devoted to get-em-while-you-can wines from the fest. Once they're gone, they're gone.As for wines from the Private Wine Store Village, I'll list the store's booth at which I tried the wine, as many of them are exclusives to that particular store. If a store isn't listed it means I tried the wine in the main tasting area (or at an ancillary event).So, in no particular order except that in which I can decipher them from my ratty notes...Best WhitesI thought I'd specifically mention whites that weren't 100% Chardonnay and/or Sauvignon Blanc just to mix it up a bit...Einig-Zenzen 1975 Valwiger Herrenberg Riesling Auslese This one was particularly special, as it's the first time I've been able to try a wine from my birth year. 32ish years later, it's still holding up nicely (unlike yours truly was by the end of the wine fest).Torres Vina Esmerelda (Spain)Trius Riesling Dry (Niagara Peninsula, Canada)Pelee Island Reserve Gewürztraminer (Pelee Island, Ontario)Ganton & Larsen Prospect Winery 2006 "Ogopogo's Lair" Pinot Grigio (Okanagan Valley, BC) - watch for a review on this one in this tomorrow's columnBalthasar Ress Rheingau Riesling Trocken (Rheingau, Germany)Mt. Boucherie 2006 Pinot Gris (Okanagan Valley, BC)Basa Do Rueda 2006 (Spain - sampled at De Luca's Fine Wines booth)Casa Tamaya 2006 VCS [Viognier-Chardonnay-Sauvignon Blanc] (Chile)Red Truck "White Truck" white (California)Bridlewood Reserve Viognier (California)***Best RedsIronstone Reserve Cabernet Franc (California)Rutini 2005 Malbec (Argentina)Tolaini 2004 Picconero (Tuscany, Italy - sampled at the Banville and Jones booth)Peter Dennis 2004 Shiraz (Australia - sampled at the Pembina Fine Wines booth)Coyote's Run 2004 Meritage (Niagara Peninsula, Ontario)Sandhill 2005 Cabernet Merlot (Okanagan Valley, BC)[yellow tail] 2006 Reserve Shiraz (Australia)Hedonist Shiraz (Australia - sampled at the Fenton's Wine Merchants booth)Rochioli Pinot Noir (California - sampled at the Kenaston Wine Market booth)Anakena "Ona" Pinot Noir Merlot Syrah Viognier (Chile)Francis Ford Coppola Ivory Label Cabernet Sauvignon (California)Nepenthe Zinfandel (Australia... yes, an Australian Zinfandel)Rosemount Estate 2005 GSM [Grenache-Shiraz-Mourvèdre] (Australia)Santa Carolina El Bosque Syrah (Chile)Tintara Reserve Grenache (Australia)***Bubbly/Rose/Dessert/FortifiedChamarré 2006 Grenache-Syrah Rose (France - watch for a review in this tomorrow's column)Umberto Cesari Refolo Brut (Italy - sampled at La Boutique Del Vino's booth)Casa Tamaya 2007 Pink Goat Rosé (Chile)De Bortoli Deen Vat 5 Botrytis Semillon (Australia)Ganton & Larsen Prospect Winery "The Last Bars" Vidal Icewine (Okanagan Valley, BC)Segura Viudas Brut Heredad Reserva (Spain)Warre's 1999 LBV [Late Bottled Vintage] Port (Portugal)Wolf Blass Yellow Label Brut (Australia)Chamarré 2003 Jurançon [dessert wine] (France)Whew... lots more to come here in blogsville...
  • Wine Fest post-mortem

    I guess that's not a very good blog title, as it implies the Wine Fest has kicked the bucket. Fear not! It will live to see the day next year...I've been sort of avoiding the giant recap that the Wine Festival deserves (I have a few pictures I might upload as well), but suffice to say that the entire week was great, I had a great time, and everyone involved with the Fest seems to be pretty pleased with the Fest as a whole.New this year was the Saturday matinee public tasting; formerly open to trade and hospitality folk only, it was opened up to the public this year. It wasn't a jam-packed affair like the evening tastings, but attendance was good (which means more money for Special Olympics Manitoba) and the extra elbow room allowed folks like me to make notes without worrying about getting an elbow in the face.Saturday night is typically sold out, and this year was no exception. Many attendees like to get their party on Saturday night, and why not? Some of us look at the Wine Fest as an opportunity to try and learn about many new wines. Others see the opportunity to get dressed up and tie one on. No harm done either way, and the sound of glasses breaking was surprisingly absent this year.One bittersweet moment at Saturday night's tasting - a voice over the PA announced the final score in the Philadelphia Flyers/Montreal Canadiens game, and the result (the Habs lost) sent a chorus of dejected "ohhhh"s through the room. I immediately headed for one of the booths pouring port to drown my sorrows.While I haven't tallied the exact numbers, I'd hazard a guess that I tried around 60 wines over the course of the day. So, to close out the tally:Number of wines sampled Saturday = 60.Number of wines sampled over the week = 158.

  • Wine Fest - the home stretch

    Well, today's the last day of the Winnipeg Wine Festival, and it's been a blast so far. Thursday was the Gala dinner, with each course paired with two different wines. The combinations were almost as interesting and entertaining as Master of Ceremonies Rod Black, his second go-round in such a capacity.There were some fabulous items won in both the live and silent auctions: special/large format/signed bottles, trips to wine regions, chefs cooking for you in your backyard, etc.Yesterday was the first of the three larger public tastings at the Winnipeg Convention Centre, and I only ran around for about the last 45 minutes tasting wine, as it was also my brother's 30th birthday. I also figured that since I'd be around the WCC all day today, I'd have plenty of opportunities to get to a lot of wines.So, having said that, let's update the numbers, shall we?Number of wines sampled Thursday = 10Number of wines sampled yesterday = 18Number of wines sampled this week = 98Guess at the number of wines I'll sample today = 70Number of photos I got of my brother singing Bon Jovi's "Livin' on a Prayer" with a cover band last night = 6
  • Hump Day - a day late

    As I mentioned, yesterday's activities consisted of two events - the [yellow tail] Outback BBQ and Wines From Spain: Grape Stomp. Two events in one night plus a couple of post-event beers equals one tired wine writer, especially when this wine writer carries a day job on top of the column.Anyhow, a good time overall at both events, about which I currently can't go into too much detail, as I have to iron one of my two suits for tonight's Gala Dinner. Both of last night's events were very well-attended, and everyone seemed to be having a good time.So let's just update the tally, and I'll be able to provide more insight later...Number of wines sampled yesterday = 23.Number of wines sampled this week = 70.Number of marsupials sampled yesterday = 1 (kangaroo)Number of lizards sampled yesterday = 1 (alligator... wait, is alligator a lizard?)
  • If it's Tuesday, I must be drinking Canadian wine

    Well, I managed to have a relatively early night for a Wine Festival week, as my only commitment tonight was the Wines of Canada VQA tasting at Tavern United. When you're trying to taste as many wines as possible, two hours is a pretty narrow window of opportunity, so it didn't help that I burned half an hour (and WAY too much money) filling up my car and getting a car wash.Anyhow, it was a sold out event, and while I managed to get through a good number of whites, I only did so-so on the reds. I've never tried so many Gewurztraminers at one time - it's a relatively spicy and tropical fruit-driven white grape varietal that both the Niagara Peninsula and Okanagan Valley producers do well.Number of wines sampled tonight = 31Number of wines sampled this week = 47.Number of consecutive Gewurztraminers tried = 6.Tomorrow is the [yellow tail] Outback BBQ at the Inn at the Forks and the Wines From Spain: Grape Stomp at Blaze Bistro. I was one of the "local personalities" who stomped at the latter event last year, but (thankfully?) I was overlooked this year (although rumour has it Doug Speirs will be a-stompin'...). Don't get me wrong - it's a great event. It's just that I wiped out post-stomping pretty good and wrenched my back last year. The crowd's collective, pity-driven "Ohhh..." when it happened was enough to send me skulking away to clean myself up.I'll certainly be more careful and discreet this year...
  • WWF day 1, part 2 - getting started (but not literally sauced)

    Monday night's event at Fort Gibraltar was pretty well-attended, despite some construction on nearby roads that obstructed entrance to the Fort. [aside: if you've never been to Fort Gibraltar, it really is worth a visit.]As the moderator of the "Get Sauced" wine and sauce tasting, I'd hesitate to give any sort of review, as I'm my own worst critic. Suffice to say, I was pleasantly surprised by the number of relatively strong sauces (smoky BBQ, pesto, teriyaki) with which the Spanish Cava (a crisp sparkling wine) paired. The reception afterwards was nice too.Number of wines sampled today = 16.Number of wines sampled this week = 16.Number of fur pelts on the wall at Fort Gibraltar = 6-8.Number of animal traps on the wall at Fort Gibraltar = 3.And don't even get me started about the Montreal Canadiens...
  • Winnipeg Wine Festival Day 1 - gettin' started, Gettin' Sauced

    Well, technically the Winnipeg Wine Festival started yesterday, but for me today is Day 1. I'm moderating a panel on wine and sauces this afternoon for trade folk, and then tonight for the public. It all happens within the wooden walls of Fort Gibraltar - info 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...
  • Return to the Valley of the Imbibers

    Would you believe that in the last two weeks, I've had about less than a glass of wine? The only wine I've had was the suspect Canadian Chardonnay (see previous post), and I've since had one other bottle of Heineken, which tasted a lot better than my first one.Tonight, however, I return to the land of the wine drinkers. Quite frankly, I cannot wait. I've found that the last few days have been filled with daydreams of popping corks, sniffing and swirling (all in relation to wine, of course - lest you get the wrong idea).The 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!
  • Sending my palate to Boot Camp

    I guess you really just don't know airborne illnesses until you live with a young child. While I'm not 100% yet, I can say with utmost certainty that the flu/bacterial chest infection I've been battling for the past week has been the worst illness of my adult life. Yes, worse than when I took a road trip to Minneapolis with some fellow grad students and had a raging stomach flu ALL THE WAY DOWN (and I was the only one with a driver's license). But that's a different story altogether...This flu/chest thing came to a head on Thursday morning, when my 39.7 C fever broke, which resulted in my passing out and my wife calling the paramedics. As a relatively healthy 32 year-old, waking up after a whole minute - drenched in sweat not knowing what just happened - is a pretty terrifying event.Like I said, I'm on the mend, but have been prescribed these antibiotics that can apparently affect your sense of taste. I decided to put it to the test - I just opened a bottle of Canadian Chardonnay* and gave it a whiff. There's some mineral and tropical fruit components on the nose, but the former aspect is very strong, which may be due to the pills (they have this aftertaste of rancid Flintstone vitamins).And the taste? The wine, my friends, tastes bad... very bad. Like rancid Flintstone vitamins and an underripe peach thrown in for good measure.Of note, as well, is that this is the first drink of any alcohol I've had in a week (save for half a Heineken on Saturday, which tasted like old, semi-flat, rancid apple cider).So, folks, my palate is officially in basic training/boot camp in preparation for the 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.
  • checking in

    So here I am, many days past-due on a blog of any sort (at least in my mind), but I do have a legit excuse - I'm sicker than the proverbial pooch. As Foreigner once sang, "I've got a fever of 103" - except I'm sure Foreigner used that song to bed groupies, whereas I'm confined to my couch, suffering through Jim Morrison-esque states of delusion. I haven't even had a sip of wine for THREE FULL DAYS.So expect my review of the Eric Arnold book First Big Crush shortly, as well as more from the wine world as soon as I can stay upright for more than about seven minutes.
  • Finally - a pothole I can get behind...

    My wife's work schedule recently changed - two days a week I'll now be dropping off and picking up our daughter, then putting her to bed solo like I did about 15 minutes ago. Today was especially frazzling, as it was the first day of the new routine, and the little lady and I had to run and get groceries after I picked her up from my parents' place. My mom, bless her heart, packed me up some stew to bring home.As I got ready to wolf the stuff back while Frances made a mess of herself in her high chair, I remembered I had a bottle of Half Pints Pothole Porter in my beer wine beverage 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.
  • Is that a Cab in my Brunello?

    There have been no lead paint reports or choking hazards (yet), but apparently some 600,000 bottles of 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.

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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