The Grape Nut
with Ben MacPhee-Sigurdson
06/1/2013 9:00 AM
In reviewing my email interview with Wes Pearson, a former Winnipegger now making wine in the McLaren Vale under the Dodgy Bros. label, I realized I had a lot of good stuff that couldn't possibly fit in the dead-tree version of the Winnipeg Free Press.
Pearson had lots of valuable insight into making wine in Australia, how he got into wine and his Winnipeg connection...
Did you have any interest in wine while living in Winnipeg, or was it not until you moved to Whistler that you caught the wine bug, so to speak?
I moved to Whistler at 18, so to be quite honest I was completely clueless about wine when I left. I think I had tasted Baby Duck or Hochtaler (I remember these great commercials with lederhosen involved I think?) once or twice. Certainly wasn’t my drink of choice at the time.
Once you caught the wine bug, when did you decide you wanted to be a winemaker?
I worked in the restaurant biz [in Whistler] for about five years before I started to figure out that there was something to this wine thing, and so after that I started to pay attention. Another five years later and I was well on my way to becoming a sommelier, working in some of Whistler’s nicest restaurants. But I always thought that the restaurant business wasn’t for me, it was just a means to an end — working nights allowed me to play in the snow during the day. But as I got older I was less interested in snowboarding and more into wine, so my wife and I decided that we would pull the plug on the Whistler thing and I’d go back to university. So we picked up, moved to the Okanagan and I enrolled in UBC and did a degree in wine biochemistry.
It had always been a mandate of mine that when I did choose a career it would be one that I loved to do, not one that just paid the bills, so everyday I’m thankful that I make a living doing something that doesn’t feel like work at all.
How did working for an Okanagan Valley winery (Tantalus) shape your ideas about making wine?
It was absolutely fundamental to my education in wine. The winemaker at the time (Matt Holmes) was very helpful. He was not only extremely knowledgeable winemaker but he was also very practical and a good winery manager. Working with him definitely put me on the path to where I am today.
And what did you take away from working in Bordeaux?
Bordeaux was incredible. It was my first job out of school so to go to a situation like that where you’re living in this Chateau making wine and there is no expense spared and the attention to detail borders on insanity was pretty cool. To give this some perspective: my first job in Australia was at a winery [Pirramimma] that crushed 1500 tonnes of grapes a year (just over a million litres of wine), and we had about 15 staff. In Bordeaux [at Château Léoville-Las Cases], we crushed 1/4 of that, and had 150 staff. It was so over the top. But to be immersed in that culture, with all that history, and everything that goes along with it, was simply magical. It’s a very special place.
Was there a particular reason you chose McLaren Vale over other Aussie regions?
My wife and I decided that if we were going to move to Australia, we wanted to be able to experience the "beach culture" that is an integral part of life here. And while the Barossa Valley may have a slightly larger reputation than McLaren Vale, it’s at least an hour and a half from a good beach. Here in Willunga (five minutes south of the Vale), I can be on the beach in 10 minutes. In the end we thought that it would make a better home for us. Looking back I don’t regret the decision one bit. I’d be much worse at surfing than I am now if we lived in the Barossa (but to be clear I’m still bad).
What kind of misperceptions are out there about Aussie wine?
That all we make is big, jammy, over-oaked Shiraz? When you think about the size of Australia versus the size of France or Italy, for instance, either one of those countries could probably fit in any one of the states in Australia. And look at the diversity of the wines produced in those countries. It’s no different here. There are so many different regions, sub-regions, micro climates, etc. here that the diversity of wines produced domestically is astounding. There are so many small producers making interesting, delicious, and affordable wines. It’s just a shame that a lot of them aren’t exported.
Other than McLaren Vale (presumably), what are some of your favourite Aussie and/or international wine regions?
Without taking away from all the wonderful regions elsewhere in Oz, South Australia has all the bases covered: nervy, cool-climate Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs from the Adelaide Hills; Riesling from the Clare and Eden Valleys; Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon and Grenache from McLaren Vale and the Barossa; and everything in between. Tough to beat for me.
Internationally: for obvious reasons Saint-Julien in Bordeaux is my all-time favourite — I just can’t afford to drink them very often. The Mosel in Germany, the Côte d’Or in Burgundy, Priorat in Spain, Bolgheri in Italy, Washington State. I could go on and on. That’s part of what makes wine so interesting, its always so different everywhere you go.
Are there any other Aussie winemakers playing hockey Down Under?
No, I’m afraid I’m the only hockey-playing winemaker around in South Australia. There’s a wine rep from Detroit that plays, and there is a guy studying wine marketing from Ontario who is a good player, but I’m the only winemaker out there. It’s a better league then you’d expect — lots of Canadians of course.
Any plans to expand beyond the one red blend you currently have on the market?
For 2012 we will likely have very small volumes of a Shiraz from a single vineyard about 50 metres from my house that we think is pretty special. We’ve also got a Bordeaux-style blend of Cab Sauv/Cab Franc/Petit Verdot we’ll be releasing, as well as our GSM. Hopefully all three will make it to Manitoba.
How did it make you feel to get your wine into the Manitoba market?
It felt great. Manitoba is definitely a big part of who I am. To have buyers taste my products and tell me they love it and want to sell it feels great, whoever and wherever they are. But to be able to do that in Manitoba is extra special. It’s a cliché but it’s like giving back. It’s the first (and so far the only) place we’ve exported to. I hope that I can be more involved in the local wine scene in the future as well. Then I can tie in a visit with my family too.
In the Dodgy Bros. blog you are pretty honest about the 2011 vintage, and caution not overblowing a particular vintage about how good or bad it might be. On that note, looking back now a month after that blog was posted, how do you see 2013 shaping up?
Really good and consistent quality. Every year (including this one) you hear people say "best vintage ever!" It’s not in my nature to get too excited about anything, so I’ll say this: It’s not the best vintage ever, but it’s really good. The Shiraz ripened very fast, which is sometimes a worry, as the grapes can be "sugar ripe" but not "flavour ripe", so patience was paramount. In the end though, quality is excellent and very even. They’ll be some fantastic wines from 2013 for sure. We’re very happy with what we’ve got.
Is there a particular grape you'd like to try growing that you're not right now? If you could make a wine in another Aussie region, what would it be?
Tempranillo is a very intriguing variety for me. I think it has enormous potential in South Australia. There are already some fantastic local examples around. I’m hoping to make some more Mourvèdre as well and perhaps release it as a standalone wine. It’s such an interesting variety, so unique. McLaren Vale doesn’t really grow the white varieties I’d like to make very well, so perhaps Riesling or Gewürztraminer from Tasmania. One day, maybe...
For more on Dodgy Bros., check out their website. I'm hoping to do more interviews like this with Winnipeg ex-pats — if you know of any or have any ideas along those lines, please let me know.
05/23/2013 1:22 PM
Other than sherry, sour beer has been the toughest category for me to truly embrace/"get into" in all my years tasting grown-up beverages. (Well, schnapps might be up there too but that has more to do with a bad experience in Germany on a high-school band trip.) It took a while but I've come to embrace Spanish fortified wines as better-quality options became available in our market.
Thankfully, I can now say with some certainty that I'm a sour beer convert as well. It just so happens that Half Pints Brewing Co. is releasing the Old Red Barn this Saturday — the brewery opens at 9 a.m., and if you want to grab some of this stuff for yourself you'll have to move quickly.
It's the brewery's first foray into the world of sour beers, a style that's popular among the hardcore beer geeks but not so much on a wider scale. With nasty-sounding bacterial cultures in the brew like Brettanomyces, Lactobacillus, and Pediococcus, it sounds more like high-school science class than it does beer.
Well, these cultures are what create the sour notes as well as complex, earthy/barnyard characteristics in the brew. Brettanomyces (or Brett as it's often called in the drinks world) pops up in certain wines as well, delivering a slightly funky, gamey component sometimes found in reds, particularly from South Africa, Portugal, Spain and occasionally Italy.
Anyway, the Old Red Barn has was fermented in both stainless steel tanks and oak barrels over the course of the last couple of years. Only 500 bottles (650ml format) were produced, and they're sure to sell out at the brewery this Saturday — likely by lunch time. There's a three-bottle limit per customer, and with a devoted legion of fans (read: beer geeks), Half Pints surely won't have leftovers. Get there early.
Half Pints Old Red Barn Strong Ale (Winnipeg, MB - $13.30 [plus tax and deposit], brewery only this Saturday)
I got a sneak peek at this brew last week, and really liked what I tasted. Cloudy in colour and looking a bit like a glass of iced tea, the Old Red Barn has a remarkably complex nose of sour cherry, earth, barnyard, raisin and some resinous notes. There's certainly some bitterness on the palate, but in a way that accentuates the sour cherry flavours and raisin notes positively. There are hints of figs and dates in there too, and just a touch of sweetness — but light acidity and 6.4 per cent alcohol keep things vibrant and lively on the palate.
More on local beer to come, including Half Pints' Queer Beer (a fantastic seasonal brew for warmer weather) and the latest incarnation of Fort Garry's Angry Fish Pilsner (one of my favourite beers in a can). With the Winnipeg Goldeyes having won the American Association championship last season, here's hoping their beer delivers a home run as well.
There's a continuing trend to honour certain grapes/wines on a particular day of the year in the social media/marketing world, and it just so happens today (Thursday, May 23) is Chardonnay Day. With the #ChardDay hashtag being used by wine lovers everywhere on Facebook and Twitter, it's a chance to pop open a bottle of the much-maligned stuff and enjoy while contributing to a global conversation about the stuff.
I've always loved Chardonnay — the trouble is navigating the ones on our shelves to avoid examples of the wine that are over-oaked and overripe. When made in this style they get sweet, creamy and flabby, showing bruised apple and tropical fruit notes. California was a major culprit in this style's popularity some 15ish years ago, although the Aussies did their bit to further the problem.
Thankfully, producers worldwide have dialled back the oak and malolactic fermentation — the conversion of malic acid to the softer lactic acid, which imparts the creamier texture — and as a result more and more Chardonnay in our market brings balance as well as vibrant fruit... sometimes with no oak at all. Some of the most delicate, balanced Chardonnay I've ever tasted was when I was in Australia, where cooler regions like the Yarra Valley, Mornington Peninsula and Tasmania work their magic.
The balance of cool-climate Chardonnay means Canadian producers are well-positioned to take the lead globally when it comes to making these whites with finesse and elegance. Judging by the response to a recent tasting of Canadian wines in London, it seems as though people are starting to take notice beyond our borders.
It's Thursday — why not crack open a nice Chardonnay?
Jackson-Triggs 2011 Black Label Reserve Chardonnay (Okanagan Valley, BC - $13.99, Liquor Marts and beyond)
This Chardonnay sees eight months in oak - a 50/50 combination of French and American barrels, only 10 per cent of which are new (used barrels offer more subtle wood, while new oak is more intense). Red apple, peach, and lemon candy on the nose are bright, while there's an underlying vanilla/butterscotch component that reflects the time in barrels. It's a medium-plus bodied Chardonnay that has flavours of red apple skin (the whole thing - skin, fruit and seeds), mango, pear, peach, lemon candy, and some modest vanilla on the finish. The oak and malolactic fermentation provide a slightly viscous texture, yet the crisp acidity of the fruit means it ain't flabby. Great value. 88/100
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
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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