The Grape Nut
with Ben MacPhee-Sigurdson
05/17/2013 2:48 PM
While my initial plan was to write about many more of the wines brought in special for the Winnipeg Wine Festival, a quick trip to the Grant Park Liquor Mart (where all the leftovers landed) Thursday revealed many of the wines have already flown out the door.
What I thought I'd do instead then is let you know about a half-dozen of my favourite festival-only wines that you are still actually available at the Grant Park Liquor Mart. A few of the Argentine and New Zealand wines I wrote about a few days ago are still hanging around too, but not in large quantity for the most part.
Cono Sur NV Sparkling Rosé (Bio-Bio, Chile — $13.99)
This dry pink bubbly is made from Pinot Noir grown in the Bio-Bio region of Chile — further south than most grape-growing regions, Bio-Bio is a touch cooler than other spots, which is good for Pinot. Toasty bread dough notes work well with raspberry, cherry and strawberry aromas on the nose. It's lighter on the palate and the bubbles are very lively, adding intensity to the red berry flavours here. That bread dough note comes through on the finish as it does on many of my favourite sparkling wines. A fantastic value. 89/100
Musita 2012 Catarratto (Sicilia, Italy — $13.99)
Mineral, peach skin, perfume, lemon and green apple notes are aromatically intense on this Sicilian white. It's a medium-bodied, viscous white (Catarratto is the grape variety, incidentally), with big red apple and mineral notes, a dollop of honey and an almost-peppery complexity to the finish. It sounds weirder than it is; the Musita over-delivers for the price, and would be excellent with most seafood dishes. There's some of the 2012 Grillo left too, which is also quite a good Italian white. 90/100
Lionel Osmin 2011 Villa Grand Cap (France — $16.23)
A blend of Colombard, Sauvignon Blanc and Grand Manseng grapes, this French white offers mineral, herbal, lime rind, pear and spice notes on the nose. It's a lean, light-plus bodied white with lots of complex mineral, chalky, herbal, and lemon flavours and a splash of racy acidity that would work wonderfully with mild, creamy cheeses or pasta with a cream sauce. I still can't get over the fact that of the 130+ booths at the Winnipeg Wine Festival, only two were pouring French wine. More on this in a column to come. 88/100
Peter Dennis 2011 Matilda Shiraz (McLaren Vale, Australia — $20.04)
Aussie winemaker Peter Dennis can be found pouring his wines himself nearly every year at the Winnipeg Wine Festival, and this year was no exception. Cherry, raspberry, perfume, vanilla and spice aromas are accentuated by a hint of wet earth. A full-bodied Shiraz, the Matilda delivers on these same traits on the palate, with some black pepper notes in there that are typical of the grape. This is an elegant, restrained Shiraz. 88/100
Rodney Strong 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon (Alexander Valley, California — $29.99)
If you like California Cabernet Sauvignon, you'd be doing yourself a favour by treating yourself to the Rodney Strong. Juicy blackberry, blueberry, licorice, vanilla and spice notes on the nose are unmistakably (and enticingly) New World. It's a dense, silky, full-bodied Cab that balances dark ripe fruit with a hint of bell pepper, light but firm tannin and just enough oak. Impressive stuff. If you want to take it to the next level, the 2010 Symmetry, Rodney Strong's icon red blend, is one for the cellar and available among the fest wines at Grant Park for $79.99. 91/100
Rosewood 2008 Mead Royale (Ontario — $16.01)
If you've never tried a mead (honey wine) before, this is as good a place to start as any. Perfume, light herbal, citrus rind and floral notes make the distinct honeyed aromas sing. There's a great viscous texture to the Mead Royale, and while it's unmistakably honey in here it's not overly sweet. Floral and spice notes add great depth here, as does a bit of time in oak barrels. I typically try about a dozen meads a year — most of which are made in Canada but aren't available here — and this is one of the best I've had. 90/100
05/13/2013 11:22 AM
How many wines did I try at the 2013 Winnipeg Wine Festival? From the opening ancillary event to the end of the Saturday matinee tasting, I figure about 200. And while I can't possibly talk about all of them in great detail, I did pick a few of my favourites.
Below are some of my picks, in no particular order, that stood from Argentina and New Zealand, the two theme regions of the fest. Most of what you see here was brought in special for the festival, and some may have sold out on-site. Anything left was sent to the Grant Park Liquor Mart, and are there while supplies last. Get while the getting's good.
My next post will feature wines from other countries that I tried and loved...
Giesen 2011 The August 1888 Sauvignon Blanc (Marlborough, New Zealand — around $33)
Wild yeast fermentation and about six months in oak helped Giesen's flagship Sauvignon Blanc stand out from the many lighter, racy examples of the grape at the "Big Sky Party" Argentina/New Zealand showcase tasting/ancillary event at the Qualico Family Centre. Lovely honey and light vanilla notes join the tropical, peach, and lemon-lime notes here — it's a medium-bodied, viscous, elegant Sauvignon Blanc. Sadly, I think this one might be all gone — it's made in pretty small quantities — but their entry-level and "The Brothers" mid-price Sauvignon Blancs are also excellent. This was probably my top pick from the entire festival. 93/100
Seresin 2010 Sauvignon Blanc (Marlborough, New Zealand — $26.02, Liquor Marts and beyond)
Kiwi cinematographer Michael Seresin has worked on such films as Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban and The Life of David Gale, but is also making some pretty stellar wine. This Sauv Blanc brings honey, peach, fresh lime and tropical notes with a hint of nuttiness. There's some great texture and complexity here. This wine's regularly available, and will be flipping to the 2011 vintage shortly. 90/100
Sileni 2011 The Straits Sauvignon Blanc (Marlborough, New Zealand — around $20)
Bright herbal, lime rind, lemon, gooseberry and mild bell pepper aromas are pretty textbook Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc on the nose. The Sileni shows great balance on the light-bodied palate, with the herbal and lime notes front and centre and secondary herbal and green apple notes bolstered by bright acidity. The entry-level Sauvignon Blanc is also very good (and regularly available) at $13.49. 89/100
Kim Crawford 2012 Unoaked Chardonnay (Marlborough, New Zealand — around $20)
Peach, red apple, tropical fruit and lemon candy notes on the nose are gorgeous, and on the medium-bodied palate there's some honey notes added into the mix thanks in part to malolactic fermentation and aging on the lees (dead yeast cells - it's a good thing, trust me). Maybe it seemed a welcome reprieve from the abundance of crisp, citrusy New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs, but this unoaked Chardonnay showed very well. 90/100
Finca Las Moras NV Sparkling Viognier-Shiraz (Mendoza, Argentina — $13.95)
I've heard of Viognier (a white grape) being blended in small quantities into Shiraz (a red grape) in Australia — it can add great aromatic complexity and actually darken the colour — but I've never heard of Shiraz added to Viognier, in Argentina or otherwise. This bubbly was a goldmine of intense aromas: pineapple, spice, fresh flowers, peach and more. Medium-bodied but rich on the palate, the bubbles lift the tropical notes as well as some minerality, and there's almost a hint of tannin herer from the Shiraz. 89/100
Amalaya 2012 White (Valle Calchaqui, Argentina — around $13.99)
While the red blend in this line is regularly available, as far as I know the white was a festival-only pour. A blend of Torrontes and Riesling (a 90-10 split), there's loads of bright peach, mandarin orange and floral notes on the nose. Honey and tropical fruit flavours dominate on the dry, medium-bodied palate, with orange peel notes lifted by a hint of sweetness. 90/100
Yealands 2008 Pinot Noir (Central Otago, New Zealand — $21.25, Liquor Marts and beyond)
Another regularly available wine from Liquor Marts (and private wines that choose to carry it), it's rare to find a New Zealand Pinot Noir from a relatively older vintage. The Yealands is turning a touch brown in colour around the edges (completely normal), but aromatically still shows pretty berry, cherry and plum notes on the nose as well as a hint of caramel — all without seeming sweet. It's light-bodied, and the berry and cherry notes are still alive thanks to a splash of acidity to counter the light black-tea-like tannin. With age this Central Otago Pinot Noir has started tipping its hat to Burgundy while retaining that new World fruit. 88/100
Bodega Septima 2010 Gran Reserva (Mendoza, Argentina — around $22.99, Liquor Marts and beyond)
This blend of 55 per cent Malbec, 35 per cent Cabernet Sauvignon and 10 per cent Tannat is available regularly at Liquor Marts and beyond, although not in great quantities. Cherry and blackberry aromas work well with dark chocolate and black tea notes; on the dense, full-bodied palate there's some medium tannin that provides grip and vanilla/spice notes thanks to time in oak. 91/100 (PS. The festival-only Septima Noche Pinot Noir was fantastic as well, especially for those that like the grape made in the more Old World/Burgundian style.)
Benvenuto de la Serna 2008 Trisagio (Uco Valley, Argentina — $24.99)
A nearly even split of Malbec, Petit Verdot and Tannat, the Trisagio has an intense nose of blueberry, plum, raisin, perfume and spice. Aged 18 months in new French oak barrels, it's a decidedly rich, full-bodied and chewy red, with blackberry, white pepper, black tea and cocoa notes. This needs a big steak. 91/100
03/29/2013 9:51 AM
Véronique Rivest has made wine-related history, becoming the first woman and the first Canadian to land on the podium at the 14th Contest of the Best Sommelier of the World, held over the past few days in Tokyo, Japan. Rivest was the runner-up at the contest, besting an impressive collection of palates from around the world.
Rivest and Ontario sommelier Will Predhomme earned entry to the international competition, held every three years in different locations, by qualifying through the Canadian Association of Professional Sommeliers (CAPS) national competition in Halifax last September. Rivest and Predhomme came 1-2 in that competition, and Rivest went on to win the title of best sommelier of the Americas as well. Predhomme placed in the top 20 in the Tokyo competition.
(Aside: There were no Manitobans in the Canadian competition, although CAPS is just in the process of setting up a Manitoba chapter, so that should change going forward.)
Contestants in the Tokyo event had to go through a series of tests including simulated wine services skills, decanting, blind tasting, and much more. Fifty-plus contestants began the event, and were then knocked down to 12. Predhomme didn't make the final 12 (he finished 17th), but Rivest did along with two other women — impressive considering there were only six women in the competition to begin with. Rivest then went on to make the final three, marking the first time a woman or a Canadian had done so.
This isn't just glorified restaurant service — it takes serious skills, a perfect palate and quick thinking on your feet to compete with the best. For example, at the national competition in Halifax contestants had to go through a table-side wine service in great detail, explaining the finer points of wine to faux-diners in a language other than their own native tongue.
Oh yeah, it's probably worth mentioning the winning sommelier was Paolo Basso of Switzerland, the runner-up in the 2010 competition. Aristide Spies of Belgium placed third.
Congrats to both Rivest and Predhomme in their impressive achievement — especially to Rivest for her impressive finish and her historic run. I've had a chance to taste wine with both, and they're as down-to-earth as they are wine-savvy. I know Rivest a bit better and she's a complete hoot — the complete antithesis of what one might assume about sommeliers and wine biz folks. (Half of the time we're just looking forward to the post-tasting beers.)
02/23/2013 10:31 AM
If we can't have grape wineries here in Manitoba, we should at least be thankful we've got some decent breweries in our 'hood (although we could always use more). Both Fort Garry Brewing Co. and Half Pints Brewing Co. have new brews out there worth trying — especially if you're after alternatives to mainstream, uninspired beer...
Fort Garry Brewing Co. just released their latest in the Brewmaster Series, the Portage & Main India Pale Ale. It's currently just at the Grant Park Liquor Mart, but will be hitting more stores next week. Check out the super-sharp packaging on the 650ml bottles via their Facebook page.
Fort Garry Brewing Co. Portage and Main India Pale Ale (Winnipeg, MB — $6.38/650ml bottle, Liquor Marts)
Copper in colour and just a bit hazy, the Portage and Main IPA is made using West Coast and Manitoba flower hops. In addition to the hoppy, slightly bitter/herbal aromas typical of an IPA, there's a floral component on the nose that's quite pretty. While it has that crisp sharpness of a classic IPA (it clocks in at 60 IBU), there's also a rounder toasty caramel note that brings some body on the palate. It's 6.5 per cent alcohol — not too crazy high for an IPA — and highly drinkable. I'm a fan of Fort Garry's Brewmaster Series (good news — the hearty Kona Imperial Stout is back on shelves now), and this is probably my favourite of the line. Here's hoping Fort Garry keeps this in regular rotation (it sounds like they are) — it has the potential to be a big hit with both beer geeks and those simply looking to try more local beer and/or IPAs.
Half Pints Brewing Co. released their Le Temps Noir last weekend, a bourbon barrel-aged Imperial Stout. This sucker spent six months sitting in barrels they sourced from Buffalo Trace and Heaven Hills, two killer bourbon producers. It sounds like the barrels will get used again for something down the road, but for now they're shifting their focus to other upcoming releases: the Pothole Porter, Queer Beer and eventually another batch of Weizen Heimer for summer. Until then...
Half Pints Le Temps Noir (Winnipeg, MB — $9.29/650ml bottle, brewery and select Liquor Marts)
Half Pints has made some dark, heavy brews in their time, and this one ranks right up there with the biggest and boldest of 'em. A bourbon barrel-aged Imperial stout, the Le Temps Noir is deep brown-black in colour, with a dark beige head that persists for quite some time. Toffee, raisin, plum, vanilla and a hint of bourbon come through on the nose. This rich, chewy stout is labeled as an "Extra Strong Beer," and Half Pints ain't kidding around — in addition to being 9.6 per cent alcohol by volume, the above-mentioned raisin, toffee and vanilla notes are remarkably intense on the palate. There's some sweetness to the Le Temps Noir, but the crisp hops (the beer weighs in at 85 IBU, which means it's darn hoppy) gives the beer some backbone. Throughout tasting this beer, the subtle bourbon flavours linger in the background, adding great complexity. Put a couple bottles away for a year or two and I bet this evolves really well with age.
The Le Temps Noir is on tap at the Yellow Dog Tavern (386 Donald) as well as Brogue Pubside (the lounge portion of the Round Table at 800-B Pembina Highway), with more taps possibly to follow.
And from elsewhere...
Muskoka Brewery Twice as Mad Tom IPA (Bracebridge, Ont — $3.27/355ml bottle, Liquor Marts)
The Mad Tom IPA was a nice addition into our local collection of crisp IPAs, and the Twice as Mad Tom ramps definitely ramps up the hops quotient from the former (which is $2.68/355ml bottle and also good). A twice dry-hopped Imperial Pale Ale, the Twice as Mad Tom clocks in at 8.4 per cent alcohol by volume. It's coppery orange in colour and cloudy, and brings greenish hops notes, grapefruit rind, floral and herbal aromas. Dry, crisp and with lip-smackingly racy hops, the herbal and citrus rind flavours on this double IPA are intense, and there's a slightly peppery note to the finish here.
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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