Ben MacPhee-Sigurdson

  • Canada, meet the world

    Every year around this time I end up writing about drinks of the world, prompted in part by leafing through the Folklorama travel guide. The two-week festival, which kicks off Sunday, is a good opportunity to taste food and drink that might not otherwise be on the radar. But this year I decided to do something a bit different. Instead of tasting a bunch of drinks from around the world, I opted to taste a pile of Canadian drinks -- beer, to be precise, mostly from B.C. -- and pair them with dishes from around the world.
  • Scottish wine still needs refining

    While Scotland is primarily known for whisky as far as drinks go, chef/food and wine writer Christopher Trotter recently decided to have a go at producing wine there.

    Trotter told decanter.com his inaugural 2014 vintage at Chateau Largo was essentially an unmitigated disaster; grapes were left on the vine for too long and then once picked weren’t chilled long enough, resulting in oxidization.

  • Better with age?

    You stop at your favourite shop to pick up a bottle of wine on the way home: nothing special, just something drinkable and pretty reasonably priced. Looking for something new in that $15-$25 price range, you scan the bottle's label, noting the producer, the grape and the country of origin. Did you read the vintage? Should you, for that matter?
  • Keepin' it chill on the vine

    Some of the world’s great wines come from cooler-climate regions. Think French Champagne, firstgrowth Bordeaux, Mosel Riesling, Tasmanian Chardonnay, Alsatian Gewürztraminer or Hawke’s Bay Sauvignon Blanc.

    Closer to home, one need only look to the Niagara Peninsula and Prince Edward County regions of Ontario, or to Nova Scotia, or to Vancouver Island wineries to see and taste great examples of coolclimate wines.

  • Measuring up

    Canadian wine writers, sommeliers and other professional imbibers -- and I guess I'll include myself in this group -- descended upon Niagara Falls last week to taste through over 1,420 wines from 200-plus wineries from across the country (including Manitoba) at WineAlign's third 2015 National Wine Awards of Canada. The competition morphed out of the Canadian Wine Awards, which were put on by the now-defunct magazine Wine Access.
  • Free Press columnist doggedly works his way through new-to-Manitoba brews

    With Manitoba Liquor Marts' Coast to Coaster promotion in full swing, I figured I'd do my best to plow through as many of the new-to-us beers from across the country as I could -- consider it, uh, my public service. Overall, I was pretty pleased with what I tasted. The collection of 30-plus beers contains plenty of brews fit for summer drinking. Lighter wheat beers are especially prevalent in the promotion, especially those flavoured with one type of fruit or another.
  • This summer, why not punt the pinot?

    There are plenty of other palate-pleasing white wines to try this summer IF you stood in a wine aisle at your favourite shop and threw a cork, odds would be pretty good you’d hit a bottle of Pinot Grigio. (Do not attempt this experiment.) Other than maybe Greece and Hungary, there’s hardly a wine-producing country represented on local shelves that doesn’t have at least one Pinot Grigio — and typically there’s far more than just one.
  • From news of local brew pubs to craft brews, it's like Oktoberfest in June

    With all the developments on the local beer front, I feel like I can barely keep up in this space -- and I've already done a lot more writing about beer than normal as of late (no complaints from me, although wine lovers might be feeling a bit neglected). First off is the most exciting development on the local beer scene -- more local breweries and actual brew pubs. Three parties have now expressed the goal of opening brew pubs or craft breweries in the near-ish future -- ex-Half Pints CEO Nicole Barry is looking to open Peg Beer Company at 125 Pacific Ave. this year, Barn Hammer Brewing Company is slated to open before the end of 2015 at 595 Wall St., and Torque Brewing has announced itself via social media. Rest assured -- there are more to come.
  • Grilling or chilling, we've got your wine

    Is summer sipping in your future? Last month I compiled a column that featured a bunch of wines that fit that bill to a tee. Well, I've amassed a pretty hefty collection of tasting notes since then, both at the Winnipeg Wine Festival and at other tastings (including some, uh, homework of my own).
  • Ale watching: New beers popping up on local shelves every day

    The number of new brews and the speed with which they're hitting our market these days seems unprecedented in this province. And with the Flatlander's Beer Festival coming up next Thursday and Friday (June 4 and 5) at the MTS Centre, I figured I'd taste some more novel beers that are on our shelves. But first, a couple of quick tips on tasting at Flatlander's that should help you best enjoy the brews -- all decent tips for tasting wine as well, I suppose...
  • Stroll and sample

    Wine lovers will want to take note of a new tour being offered by Downtown Winnipeg BIZ this summer. The last Fridays of June, July, August and September see the BIZ's Winnipeg Wine tour take place from 5 to 10 p.m. Participants will enjoy wine at four different downtown stops (which vary by date), as well as some choice food pairings at each of the stops. Tickets are $75 per person; there's also an option to pay $285 for two people and have a one-night's stay at a downtown hotel (which also varies by date) included in the price.
  • Brews news

    This is shaping up to be a banner year for beer in Manitoba. Last week saw two big pieces of news confirm what beer-lovers already know -- we're buying the stuff in droves and are thirsty for new brews.
  • Nothing to whine about

    The official numbers haven't yet been tallied, but it's safe to say the Winnipeg Wine Festival was once again a big hit, with mostly sold-out events throughout the week. The fest continues to be one of Canada's biggest shows of its kind -- second to the Vancouver International Wine Festival, on which ours is modelled. Ticket sales to the weekend public tastings were strong as always, although they were initially slow due to the Winnipeg Jets making the NHL playoffs. Once the Jets were sent golfing and folks realized they wouldn't have to shell out big bucks for hockey tickets, wine-fest sales picked up.
  • Perfect for patios

    At the time of writing this column, the week-long Winnipeg Wine Festival ancillary events are just getting underway, and I'm on the tail end of a cold that has me sounding like a low-end Rod Stewart impersonator. So rather than go on about a particular grape or region or beer, I'll cut to the chase. Here's a selection of patio-worthy drinks to go with the welcome warmer weather.
  • Visit reveals Chile's growth

    When I first got my itinerary for my recent trip to Chile (sponsored, full disclosure, by the Wines of Chile trade organization), I was a little miffed I was scheduled to see many wineries I had already visited in fall 2008, when I went to the South American country for the first time. As it happens, however, there was no need for me to get my knickers in a twist. Quite the opposite, in fact — revisiting some of the same wineries provided a great chance to see (and taste) developments in the world of Chilean winemaking.
  • Radio personality was a voice for wine

    While you may have known him best as the voice behind CBC Radio 2 program Disc Drive, which ran from 1985 to 2008, Jurgen Gothe was also an enthusiastic wine writer. His Uncorked column (no, I wasn't the first) appeared from 1997 to 2014 in Vancouver's Georgia Straight, and he also wrote about wine for the Vancouver Sun and Globe and Mail, among others. Gothe died on April 9 at the age of 70 after battling cancer.
  • Time for a beer break

    I'm up to my eyeballs in all things Chile. The Winnipeg Wine Festival's ancillary events start up in just over two weeks, and with Chile as this year's theme region, there'll be plenty of wines from that skinny South American country to be tasted during wine-fest week.
  • Wine festival's cork about to pop

    With just over three weeks to go until the first of the Winnipeg Wine Festival's ancillary events get underway, now's as good a time as any to have a look at the festival's program leading up to the two big weekend public tastings on May 1 and 2 at the RBC Convention Centre. First up are a couple of new events. On Monday, April 27, enjoy all things Argentina at the Winnipeg Art Gallery starting at 7 p.m., as part of Malbec World Day celebrations. While the official Malbec World Day is actually April 17, guests at this event can discover what makes this inky black, full-bodied red wine so captivating -- and try it with finger foods inspired by Argentine cuisine while enjoying live tango dancing. Tickets are $45.
  • Wine fest offers tasty VIP options

    Tickets are on sale for the Winnipeg Wine Festival's main weekend public tastings, which take place Friday, May 1 from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m., as well as Saturday, May 2 from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m., and 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. Tickets for the public tastings are $54.95 and are available at Manitoba Liquor Marts as well as winnipegwinefestival.com. The Friday night will once again feature a VIP component -- $79.95 gets one into the festival's theme-region area -- Chile this year -- at 5:30 p.m. (90 minutes before everyone else) and a wine reception with finger foods.
  • There's value at whisky-palooza

    Let's not kid ourselves -- $210 a ticket is a lot more money than the $50 or so per person thousands spend on entry to the Winnipeg Wine Festival every year. But unlike the wine fest, the Winnipeg Whisky Festival at the Fairmont Winnipeg featured a full spread of fantastic food, a souvenir Glencairns glass, a complimentary cab ride home and featured more than 100 whiskies from the U.S., Canada, Scotland and Ireland -- most of which were of the premium variety -- as well as a handful of premium rums, cognacs and brandies.
  • Provincial trade rules stunt growth of national wine culture

    A recent study released by Vinexpo, the world's largest wine-related exhibition and trade show, sheds some interesting light on wine-consumption trends in Canada, and gives pause for reflection on the state of the Canadian wine industry. The Vinexpo study, undertaken by British agency International Wine and Spirit Research, pegs Canada as the world's sixth-largest importer of wine in 2014, bringing in 32.7 million cases. That's 294.3 million litres of vino landing on our shores.
  • Portugal without the port

    Portugal's Douro Valley is best-known for the sweet fortified wines produced by in the region that we know and love as port. Perhaps this is why so many of their dry red wines -- typically made from the same obscure, indigenous grape varieties as port -- are both overlooked and underpriced. Located upstream on the Douro River from the seaside town of Porto, Douro producers have a centuries-long tradition of making both table wines -- i.e. non-fortified red wines -- as well as port.
  • Ideal for a thirsty voyageur: Spicy options arrive just in time for winter festival

    When a wine column falls on Feb. 14, the temptation is certainly strong to write about some aspect of Valentine's Day: wine and chocolate, sparkling wine for your sweetie, and so forth. But with the Festival du Voyageur having kicked off on Friday and running until Feb. 22, I thought it would be a heck of a lot more fun to think about the flavours of this province's favourite winter fest than to pore over which juicy Merlot will go with that heart-shaped box of chocolates.
  • Early bird gets the beer

    It seems as though products are coming and going faster than ever from Liquor Mart shelves (and, to a lesser extent, private wine stores). As they do a few times per year, last week Manitoba Liquor Marts delisted a bunch of products in order to make way for new and returning products. Of all drinks, it's beer that's trickiest to stay caught up on, and for me to review. Some of the more interesting new brews hit the shelves in fairly limited quantity, and with Winnipeg's relatively active beer community, once word gets out stock can dwindle pretty quickly.
  • Are you ready for some snacking?

    The Seattle Seahawks versus the New England Patriots. This is it -- the game for all the marbles (or a shiny trophy, if you will -- what can I say, I know next to nothing about American football). What is it about the Super Bowl that brings people together to watch like no other championship game? Is it the overall spectacle? The actual game itself? the commercials? The halftime show? The deflated ball scandal?

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