The Grape Nut

with Ben MacPhee-Sigurdson

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  • Home winemaking (sorta), etc.

    A couple of quick hits as the weekend approaches...

  • Explaining the ratings

    So in tomorrow's paper, the column will feature a new addition — the wines will now be rated on the 100-point scale that's incredibly common among wine magazines/writers/critics/bloggers. There are strong opinions about the ratings scale, but both advocates and detractors will agree that the system is popular.

  • Wine Stage Manitoba wrap up

    I spent Friday night and almost all day Saturday at MTC for the Independent Specialty Wine Stores of Manitoba's inaugural Wine Stage Manitoba, the new wine festival in town. By all accounts the event was a great success - lots of people through the doors, no incidents to speak of, and a whack of change raised for the theatre company.

    The set-up worked out well despite a last-minute change that led to visiting wineries placed in the foyer instead of on the stage itself. In fact, all the booths were in the foyer/lobby area that surrounds the theatre itself, which kept a bustling, buzz-y vibe about the whole thing. In total there were around 180 wines sampled, of which I'd say I tried about 100. I haven't had a chance to peruse my chicken-scratch notes yet, but each table (arranged by whites and reds and further by private wine store) had its share of winners.

    Speaking of winners, the third annual Wine List Awards were presented on Saturday afternoon to restaurants that had entered their lists, menu and overall mandate for judging. Restaurants were not judged against each other, but rather on their mandate relative to the menu and wine list - the type of program they claimed to believe in and the actual execution of that mandate. The seven-person judging panel (myself included) were apparently pretty consistent in our scores, and we all agreed that the lists presented this year were generally of better quality than the previous two years (which were presented at the Winnipeg Wine Festival). Congratulations to all the entrants - the list of award winners (and the other judges) is here.

    Kudos as well to the ISWSM group for organizing what seemed from the outside to be a very well-organized event. In fact, those organizers I spoke with were thrilled at the turnout. I look forward to seeing what they've got in store next year.

    I'll root through my notes and compile a "best of the fest" list for a future blog. Coming in my next blog - why I've decided to adopt the (sometimes contentious) 100-point scoring system used by many wine critics...

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  • Can't miss wine events

    Lots going on wine-wise around town in the next little while - so much, in  fact, that I can barely keep up:
  • Brew-haha

    Last night was the official kickoff of the 2009 Flatlanders Beer Festival, and there is no more appropriate place to kick off a beer festival than Luxalune gastropub. I had never been to Luxalune before last night, but will be sure to come back and taste through some of the approximately 100 beers they stock.

  • Drink up! Additions and corrections

    While I'm still trying to figure out what kind of a piece/pieces I can generate from my whirlwind trip to Toronto to judge at the Canadian Wine Awards (as well as a less-than-24-hours jaunt to the Niagara Peninsula), here are a couple of things that need talking about...

  • Winnipeg wine-rs, etc.

    So, the weekend is upon us again, and I figured it's as good a time as any to catch up via the old blog. I'm heading to Toronto on Sunday to judge at Wine Access Canadian Wine Awards — we judges will taste about 100 wines per day over the course of four days, all of which will be done blind (not knowing who the producer is). It's a fun but exhausting endeavour — one that will likely reaffirm my belief in the continued increase in quality in wines made on this side of the border.

  • Ludicrous news

    It's hard to believe that it's already been three years since Half Pints Brewing Company opened its doors, bottled some beer and hit the city's shelves. Where does the time go?

  • Sipping sangria

    As promised, here's the sangria blog entry featuring recipes, recommendations and more. But first - be aware that Manitoba's Liquor Marts are closed Monday, August 3rd. Winnipeg's private wine stores will be open at their discretion, likely on holiday hours - same with beer vendors across the province.

  • Obscene or obscenely good?

    OK, I'm compiling the replies I got re: Saturday's sangria column — recipes, recommendations, etc. — and will get it all up here before the August long weekend.

  • B.C. wine rises from the ashes

    The past couple of weeks have been quite the roller coaster ride for British Columbia wineries. Of course, the wildfires in West Kelowna and surrounding areas have been at the forefront of residents' minds; with highways re-opened and most of the fires contained or extinguished, people are now returning to their homes and trying to get their lives in order.

  • Merl-Oh! Canada

    It's been a little quiet on the blog front for me as of late - having this second child around has made life somewhat chaotic.
  • Getting Fest-ive with wine

    First off, I picked up a bottle of the Cono Sur 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon, which has been discontinued in Manitoba and is currently on sale for about $9. Very much worth it - in fact, I may pick up a few bottles and use it as the "house wine" for the time being...

  • Out with the old, in (and out) with the new

    Well, it's been a while since I last blogged... my absence is mainly due to the "in (and out) with the new" part of this blog's title — namely, the arrival of our son Owen one week ago. He (and Frances, our 2.5-year-old daughter) have been keeping my hands full, both literally and figuratively. But, of course, it's totally worth it. Moving right along...

  • Wine on Wheels

    Well, I guess I was "scooped" by Free Press columnist Gordon Sinclair Jr. on the Independent Specialty Wine Stores of Manitoba's fall wine event called Wine Stage Manitoba. As he mentioned in his column

  • Winnipeg Wine Festival wrap-up, etc.

    First of all, a quick note that Liquor Marts are open Saturday and Sunday (regular hours) but closed on Monday, most private wine stores will have regular weekend hours Saturday and Sunday and holiday hours on Monday, and beer vendors... well, who knows - they'll probably be open Monday, at least for holiday hours. After all, the next round of NHL playoffs start on Sunday...

  • Winnipeg Wine Fest, Day 3

    A favourite among Winnipeg Wine Festival attendees, the Wines From Spain: Grape Stomp was moved from the Delta Winnipeg's Blaze Bistro to one of the hotel's ballrooms to accommodate more people. As a result, it was a less sweaty, elbow-to-elbow affair than previous years. I liked the frenetic feel of the event in Blaze Bistro, but as a whole I think the larger room works better.

  • Winnipeg Wine Festival, Day 2

    Last night was the Hola Chile event, held at the Assiniboine Park Conservatory. And yes, as the name of the event suggests, it was all Chilean wines, music, culture and, ahem, a wee bit of food. More on that later.

  • Winnipeg Wine Festival, Day 1

    And so begins the week of madness that is the Winnipeg Wine Festival. Well, it's madness for me anyway - last year I managed to taste nearly 200 wines in a week. I'm actually hoping to come in a little lower this year - take it easy on my palate a bit - and just try to enjoy the events a bit rather than "power taste".
  • Palate push-ups?

    I suppose I should be doing palate exercises a-la Rocky in preparation for the Winnipeg Wine Festival. With ancillary events starting on Sunday and running through to next Saturday, I'll need all the stamina I can get. Maybe I should run a milk thistle IV drip...

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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